The weather is turning cooler, leaves are falling from the trees, and pumpkins are a hot commodity. Fall is a beautiful time in many parts of the country and inspires many activities to keep children entertained. Even better, these kid-friendly fall activities won't put a dent in the budget.
Take the kids outside, rake the leaves into piles together, and make an afternoon of jumping in. Children love this activity, and it can even turn into a game of bagging the leaves afterward, resulting in a tidy yard -- can't beat that. (If your neighborhood is prone to ticks, and especially if your home borders the woods, keep in mind that jumping in leaves may not be safe in temperatures above 40 degrees.)
Make a list of fall items: an acorn, a pinecone, leaves of different colors (green, brown, orange), a scarecrow, etc. Print it out or keep it open on a phone and take the kids on a walk around the neighborhood. See who can spot the items and check them off the list first.
Apples are in season -- and, therefore, abundant and cheap. Make an afternoon of wandering through the orchard, plucking apples from the trees, and bring home a bushel -- there's lots to do with these.
With so many apple varieties on the market, fall is the perfect time to discover family favorites. Choose several different kinds, cut them up, and arrange a blind taste test. Have the children rank the apples from most favorite to least and incorporate a math lesson: Make a chart of who likes which apples the best and determine the most and least liked.
Caramel apples are a relatively cheap, easy treat children will enjoy making. All you need are small apples, caramel candies, and wooden skewers; sweet toppings are optional. Wash the apples well, remove the stems, and skewer with the wood sticks. Next, melt the caramels over low heat. In separate bowls, set out the toppings -- crushed cookies, sprinkles, chocolate chips, nuts, mini M and Ms, and the like. Dip the apples into the melted caramel, then into the toppings. Be prepared for things to get a little messy -- that's part of the fun. Cool the apples on wax paper in the refrigerator until the caramel and toppings set.
When the children have friends over, fill a large tub, bucket, or kiddie pool and throw in about a dozen apples (depending on the number of children). Use a stopwatch and give each child three minutes to see how many they can snare.
This costs a few bucks, but it's worth it for the fun of picking out pumpkins with the kids. Many pumpkin patches host fall-themed games, snacks, and hayrides. Choose one that offers all these for less to get the most value for your money and get into the fall spirit.
Once the pumpkins are picked out, it's time to carve them. This fall tradition is always a hit, and even the youngest children can take part. Let them scoop out the insides and pick out a design to carve. Or, to avoid using knives, let children paint the pumpkins.
Once the pumpkins are carved, bake the seeds. Start by rinsing them off and dumping them in boiling, salted water. Boil for about 10 minutes and rinse again. Season to your liking (olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, butter, sugar, cinnamon -- whichever combo the family prefers) and spread them on a baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees until the seeds are white and crispy, usually about 10 to 15 minutes.
Summer farmers markets are a riot of color and activity but often too hot and crowded for kids to enjoy. Now the local farmers market should be brimming with fall produce on the cheap. Look for free samples of favorites such as apples, apple cider, doughnuts, pumpkin pie, and more.
Fall brings some rainy days. Once the skies clear, take the kids out for a walk to let out some energy -- and be sure everyone is wearing rain boots. Children will have a blast looking for the biggest puddles and jumping right in.
To get the whole family and visiting trick-or-treaters into the Halloween spirit, turn the front door into a monster or mummy. Use white streamers and double-sided tape to wrap it like a mummy, with instructions from the blog Honey and Fitz. White paper plates and black contact paper can become eyes, and construction paper can be turned into other monster facial features.
Have a few extra minutes while dinner is in the oven? Grab a roll of toilet paper and wrap up your kids like mummies. If they're a little older, let them try to wrap themselves (it's challenging!). They'll get a kick out of this simple activity.
There are thousands of craft ideas to do with children to mark the fall season. Browsing Pinterest yields tons of ideas for any age, from a leaf collage to a paper-bag turkey puppet.
One way to burn off energy, take advantage of a crisp fall day, and spend time with family is to organize a game of flag football. Ask another family with children the same age to play the opposing team. This is also a fun activity for gatherings of extended family.
Children are especially thrilled when mom and dad get in on the action. Think of creative ways to turn your family into Sesame Street characters, minions, or superheroes. Keep costs down by using materials on hand and making costumes rather than buying them ready-made.