One of my favorite aspects of fall is the changing colors. I know I’m not alone, especially considering there are whole maps forecasting when peak fall foliage will occur. Mid-October is usually when leaves turn across central Wisconsin.
Lake Michigan causes a micro-climate close to its shores, which creates one of the coolest fall color effects. Looking west, you can actually see the gradual change of leaves, block by block, from the shoreline on down the road. It has the opposite effect in the spring; lake shore trees won’t have budded by the time trees west of town are in full leaf.
Wisconsin also has some of the most gorgeous landscapes and that is even more the case as the leaves change. Trees aflame with vibrant reds. Golden corn fields stretching to the horizon. Evergreens cling to their color as trees beside them shed their cloaks in preparation for winter.
Each year, my husband and I wait until the colors are at their peak, then plan a leaf watching day. Having done this for the past several years, we’ve found some of the best spots with the the most gorgeous leaves. Just seeing the leaves from the inside of a car is great, but getting out for a stroll is even better. Especially as we became parents.
Introducing our son to the wonders of fall has been great fun. There are sticks to pick up, pine cones to spot, and leaves to shuffle through. Something I hope for is that none of us lose the wonder of the beauty of this time of year.
Taking a nature walk is just as much fun going solo as it is taking your whole family. It also has incredible benefits.
Walking in and of itself improves mental health, including combating depression and anxiety. However, taking a nature walk ups those benefits even more. It can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. It can make you more productive at work, too. Walking among trees helps boost the immune system and speed recovery from surgery. It also helps improve focus, even for children who suffer with ADHD.
Taking children out into nature may seem like the opposite of stress-reducing. For parents at least. However, there is great benefit for everyone.
Just like with adults, walking outside can improve children’s mental health, reduce their stress, and help them focus. It can also aid in their intellectual development while prompting curiosity and whole body interaction with their world.
There’s a social benefit as well since kids shouldn’t go for a walk in the woods alone. And this is where parents/caregivers have a chance to increase the innate benefit of being outside.
When taking kids to the grocery store, it’s easy to be more exacting of them. We are surrounded by potentially judgmental adults in a closed environment that amplifies noise. Not to mention being surrounded by so many items calling to be touched or purchased. How can a child resist?
In nature, there are no such limitations. Other than assuring they do not hurt themselves, kids have the opportunity to let loose. They can be as loud or quiet as they want, interact with all sorts of textures (though, you may want to brush up on plant identification so everyone can be wary of plants like poison ivy), and expend all that energy in the fresh air.
Going on an adventure walk together as a family builds memories and can strengthen familial relationships. Hopefully it will refresh everyone’s spirit, too.
Activities in Nature
If you’re looking for more structure in your walk, whether as a solo explorer or because you have a collection of kiddos, scavenger hunts are one of the more fun activities to do while on a nature walk.
Taking a sampling of nature home adds another layer of fun. Just be sure to check any regulations about what collecting is allowed based on where you are walking. Here is a list of items to bring home:
- 10 Red leaves
- 5 Orange leaves
- 3 Yellow Leaves
- 2 Acorns
- 6 Pine Cones
- 4 Maple Seeds
- 1 Walking Stick
Collecting isn’t the only fun part of scavenger hunts, so is simply looking for different things. Here’s a list of items to spot while on your walk:
- Spider Web
- Red Tree (look for a Maple or Dogwood tree)
- Orange Tree (look for a Hickory or Beech tree)
- Yellow Tree (look for a Birch or Aspen tree)
- Fallen Log
If you’ve collected a variety of nature items, you have the option of leaving them outside or you can bring them inside to create fall decorations. There are several ways to turn leaves and seeds into decorative creations. And all these ideas can be as simple or complex as someone’s skill requires.
The first step is to press the leaves you brought home. The traditional way is to sandwich the leaves (chose the most flat ones) between two pieces of wax paper and pile heavy books on top. This is an activity even a two year old can do, with direction. (I tested this activity with my own son and he loved finding books to stack on top of the leaves). How long it will take for pressed leaves to dry depends on how long those leaves have already been on the ground. The more moisture, the longer it will take.
If you’re in a hurry and want to get to the more creative parts of decorating, I recommend using the microwave. I recently tried this method and it worked beautifully. To dry leaves in the microwave, place leaves in between two paper towels and place in microwave. Run the microwave in 30 second intervals until leaves have lost their flexibility. For best results, chose the freshest (aka, moistest) leaves. Also, keep close eye on the leaves because if they over-dry, they can catch on fire.
As those leaves dry, it’s time to get creative. For the artists in the room, no matter the skill level, try placing a blank piece of paper, wax paper, or tracing paper over one of the leaves and rubbing a crayon, pencil, or oil pastel over the top.
The more advanced artists can design their leaves in a pattern or use multiple colors to highlight the texture of the leaf/leaves.
Even toddlers can enjoy this activity since all they need is to be able to scribble a crayon on paper. You can cut out those rubbings to create a larger montage or decorate the fridge with your creations. I’m sure grandparents would love a leaf rubbing, too!
Leaves and Seeds
Once you’ve exhausted the leaf rubbing activities, it’s time to take the pressed leaves and seeds and turn them into a decoration.
For littler people, try using a paper plate with the center cut out as the base. (You could even glue a wax paper rubbing over the center hole). Then, glue the pressed leaves and seeds on the plate to cover all the white spots. Glue-sticks should be plenty sticky for leaves, but liquid glue may be more helpful for seeds.
For more advanced crafters, collecting more sticks and hot gluing them into your shape of choice before gluing on the leaves will create a more authentic fall decoration. Liquid glue may also work if that is all you have on hand, but hot glue dries exponentially faster.
If you have any pine cones leftover after creating the fall decoration, there are two options for using them. An extremely kid-friendly activity is to smear peanut butter (or other nut butter) all over them, then roll the pine cone in a plate of bird seed. Tie a string on the pine cone and hang it outside. It will be a great chance for kids to spot some of the animals they saw out in nature come to their own backyard.
If feeding wildlife isn’t something you want to do, you can do a similar activity for indoor decorations by using liquid glue in place of nut butter and glitter/artificial sprinkles in place of bird seed. Then place the decorated pine cones in a basket or line them up on your mantle. You could even mix in cinnamon sticks or dried citrus pieces to add a pleasant aroma.
Walking in nature has great benefit and having a chance to enjoy the last days of perfect weather make fall leaf-watching walks even better. Perhaps the walk will even spur on your creativity as you bring home a sampling of the nature items you searched for. Bringing a touch of nature home will also be a wonderful reminder of the memories built during your nature walk.
In the comments below, leave a note about something unique you spotted on your nature walk or what type of nature craft you created from the items you brought home. And may nature be the self-care activity you need this week.