Fall is just around the corner and that means it is almost time for some outdoor family fun. Fall is the perfect time to explore the outdoors and turn a family outing into an authentic learning opportunity.
My family and I love to visit our local fruit orchard and pumpkin farm each fall. Our visits are something I look forward to each year. When our daughter was very little, we took her to a lot of fun places in the fall and let her explore. Now that she is a little older, we still take trips to those places, but our visits look and feel very different. They have taken on more of an educational feel (while still having fun) and we all learn something new together.
At Your Local Orchard
- Before hand, look up the website for the orchard you are visiting and see what types of fruit are ready to pick. Record the names of a few of the types of fruit or the kind (such as various varieties of apples) on a sheet of paper and turn it into a scavenger hunt when you arrive to your destination. Let your child be in charge of marking off each fruit as you trek through the orchard and they will love being the “leader” of your hunt.
- If your child is fairly young, you can go on a different type of hunt. As you walk around and pick fruit play I-Spy. Call out simple things for your child to find. Some ideas are things that start with various letters of the alphabet, things that are certain colors, any letters or numbers on signs that you see, or any wildlife that may be around. This will make your trip exciting and your child will feel like a nature detective.
- Let your child use their 5 senses. As you pick fruit, let them feel it, smell it, look at it closely, and eventually taste it. Ask them questions such as: Is it hard/soft or bumpy/smooth?, Does is smell sweet or sour?, What color is it on the outside and what do you think it will look like on the inside?, and Did it taste yummy or was it crunchy?
- Take a family poll and let everyone guess how many seeds will be inside your fruit when you cut it open. You can record all of the guesses and see who came the closest. If your family picks apples at an orchard, cut the apple horizontally in the middle instead of vertically from the stem to observe how many seeds there are inside. Your child will be amazed at the shape that is in the middle of your apple (a star) and they will think you have some sort of magical power!
At the Pumpkin Farm
Many of the same ideas from the fruit orchard can also be used at the pumpkin patch. Here are a few ideas you can use specifically with pumpkins:
- While exploring the patch and searching for the perfect pumpkin, look for pumpkins in all different stages of growth. See if you and your family can find one that is just beginning (yellow flower) and one that has sprouted (dark green). You can also hunt for big, big, big pumpkins and teeny, tiny pumpkins and have your child hypothesize about why some are so different in size. Their ideas will amaze you and probably make you laugh at the same time!
- Poll your family for estimates on how many inches around or how much your pumpkin weighs. When you get home, find a piece of yarn or string and wrap it around the middle of your pumpkin. Cut the yarn where the two ends meet and then line it up next to a ruler or yardstick. This is a fun way to introduce your child to measurement in a very simple and easy way. Weigh your pumpkin on your bathroom scale and see how that compares to your child’s weight. Ask them how big a pumpkin would be if it weighed the same as them and you will all giggle as they imagine what that would look like!
- Once home, make guesses as to how many seeds might be inside. When you are ready to cut or carve open your pumpkin, make sure to save all of the seeds as you clean your pumpkin out. Rinse them off so that they are not so ooey-gooey and then as a family (most children will need a little help with this), have everyone count out the seeds into groups of 10. Once you have them all into groups of 10, you can model out loud how to count by tens to see your total. I guarantee that you will be shocked by how many seeds are actually inside!
- Once you have the seeds all cleaned and counted, lay them on a cookie sheet, drizzle them with olive oil, give them a little sprinkling of salt, and roast them in your oven. Have your family try them out and talk about how they taste roasted versus raw. In my experience, most kids either love them a lot or not at all, so don’t be surprised if you are eating them all up yourself! Don’t worry though; pumpkin seeds are actually quite healthy for you.
Now of course there are probably 100 additional educational things you can do while out and about with your family this fall. These are just some ideas to get you started. Make your two main goals on your visit to: 1. Have everyone in your family learn something new and 2. Have fun together. If you do those two things, your trip to the orchard or pumpkin farm can’t be beat!
What is your favorite place to visit in the fall with your family and what do you like to do while you are there?