I’ve been reading a lot over the past few years about how important it is for children to have a strong connection with nature. More and more research is emerging all the time about the benefits of outdoor play. It’s all a very academic view of what those of us who grew up experiencing nature have known and lived for a long time.

For some of us, experiencing nature was just a natural part of childhood. I grew up in a very small town in western Massachusetts (way past Springfield but before New York). Our house was the last one on a long dirt road in what most people would consider “the middle of nowhere”. Cable TV wasn’t an option because it just wasn’t available. With no organized town activities to speak of, my sister and I were left with no choice but to play in nature, as it was the only place to play.

It’s hard to miss how very different it is these days – everyone is so plugged in that a connection to activities and entertainment are immediate, even at my childhood home in the “middle of nowhere”, but especially the closer you get to the city.

I’ve found that through all of the research about the importance of nature, there are two things to take away: We, as caretakers of today’s children, need to make a point of exposing children to nature and, even more important, children need to be shown HOW to enjoy nature by adults.

Which leads me to the title of this blog: My favorite ways to enjoy fall leaves. Fall is one of the best seasons to expose children to nature because there are just so many possibilities. These are my small-town favorites of fun with fall leaves. These could be tough if you are living in the city, so try calling upon your suburb friends to see they wouldn’t mind sharing their leafy yard with you for a little while.

  • Leaf pile – rake all of the leaves in your yard together into the biggest pile you can make and then hop into it. Leaf raking was never a fun chore, but the memories of my mom and dad playing in the leaves with us are ones I’ll never forget. Throw on your camp counselor hat and pounce into the pile with playful enthusiasm. It will be one of their favorite memories of you when they’re in their thirties.

  • Take a walk on a leafy sidewalk – shuffle and skip through it, kicking up the leaves as you go.

  • Scarecrow – grab dad’s oldest, ratty clothes, tie off the arm and leg holes and stuff them with leaves. Sit him up in a chair and give him a jack o’lantern head.

  • Leaf rubbings – make it a challenge to find the most perfect looking leaves. Lay one leaf under a white piece of paper. Take one color crayon and peel the paper off of it. Hold it sideways and rub the paper with it over the leaf. Repeat with different shaped leaves and colors. Leaf rubbings make great handmade cards.

Try to look past the headache that leaves covering your lawn presents to appreciate the potential for hours of family entertainment and a valuable opportunity to give your children the healthy exposure to nature they need!

If you’d like to read the research that I’m referencing, check out the following website: Children and Nature Network

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