The weather may not be as warm, but this time of year offers plenty of activities perfect for families. Make time to get out of the house and learn together.
Here are some ideas for outings appropriate for kids of all ages:
Nothing gets a kid further from her X-Box than a terrific bird watching outing. Prepare in advance by finding bird books at the library, reading resources online, and visiting a birdseed specialty store that can help you learn about and spot local birds.
On the day of your outing, bring a pair of binoculars to get your kid close to a bird. Don’t be offended when the other ornithologists shush you on the trail. We were all young once, right? And don’t feed the ducks — it’s illegal in most city parks!
What your kids will learn: Once you’ve read up on the birds in your area, you can share facts about them with your child as you explore. Bird watching will teach them to be respectful of the animals’ habitat, since loud noise will scare the birds away. You can identify bird calls, and explain how they function as a way for birds to attract mates.
Most classic music venues or ballets will have a short version for kids in the late fall. Dress up and have a spectacular evening. Make sure it’s followed with a treat, whether it’s a special dinner at home or a café visit.
What your kids will learn: In addition to learning about the etiquette of sitting through a performance, watching musicians play their instruments or dancers interpret a piece of choreography can add a new lens to appreciating the performing arts. If you happen to have a recording of the particular symphony you heard, put it on after the show and talk about how music feels different when you experienc it live.
The kids may resist the hiking idea, so spring it on them with the sunrise hike. A hot cocoa thermos is mandatory, as well as a smile to ward of the whining. Let your child take pictures of the plants and animals she is intrigued by. You may want to partner up with another family so your kids can have some fun companions their age.
Formal gardens in the winter are a boon because they are usually less crowded and thus more kid-friendly. They are often connected with a historic house, so you can learn about life in another era. Remember to follow garden etiquette; just because the family is outside doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep an eye on your children.
What your kids will learn: Hiking is a great way to practice orienteering. Learning to use a compass and map is a practical way to put visual-spatial skills to use. Being surrounded by nature, on a hike or in a garden, is a chance to talk about the different flora and fauna, and compare how other living creatures survive and thrive.
As weird as it may seem, the local garbage dump is a fascinating place for anyone. Bring all categories of trash, including batteries, recyclables, green waste, electronics, and light bulbs. I remember going to the dump with my dad and seeing mountains of garbage and seagulls in flight, set on a beautiful vista of garbage overlooking the Shenandoah Valley. Consider cleaning out the garage before you bringing your kids along to the transfer station. They’ll gain new insight into a critical piece of modern infrastructure. Use the tidied space as a place for your child to build things with recyclable materials.
What your kids will learn: Going to a transfer station is a lesson in ecology and landfills. Talk to your child about the importance of recycling and taking care of the environment. You can brainstorm ways to be more eco-friendly at home.
Fishing is a good way to get outdoors. Get a license — while kids can often fish for free, accompanying adults need a license — and head to the shoreline. You might try evening squid jigging if you’re feeling adventurous, but be sure to dress warmly.
Look for state-run fishing clinics and stocked ponds. Get a cheap rod and reel, or hook a bobber onto a bamboo pole and have kids swing it in. Remember the change of clothes and hand sanitizer!
What your kids will learn: Fishing is a great way to learn about marine ecology, hard luck, and the beauty of silence. It can also be an opportunity to talk about the food chain, and how different animals have adapted to their environments. For instance, point out the gills on the fish you catch and compare them to lungs, explaining how each structure serves the same function but adapted to each species’s surroundings.