Rich in loose parts, colors and textures, Autumn outdoor activities are endless fun for kids and encourage them to spend even more time outside.
There are so many outdoor activities for kids that are especially enjoyable in Autumn, beyond jumping in leaf piles and visiting an orchard. Autumn is a great time to spend outdoors and provides us with an abundance of loose parts (leaves! acorns! pinecones!) and things to observe (leaf colors changing, birds migrating, animals prepping for winter). Read on for a treasure trove of ideas that will keep your kids active, curious, and never ever bored outside this season.
(n.b. This list of ideas is valid for all, whether you call it “Autumn” or “Fall”!)
BE A SCIENTIST
autumn outdoor activities for the curious kid
On your next foray into nature, make a leaf collection as you go. When you stop for a rest or return home, sort your collection. Think about different ways to sort: by color, by size, by tree type, by venation, by condition… So many possibilities!
When your child finds a fallen leaf on the ground, have them look up and see if they can figure out from which tree it fell. Look at the leaf color and shape and see if they can find a match.
Using basic classification and cues from the leaf’s characteristics, see if your child can figure out what kind of leaves you find. Oak? Maple? Elm? Sassafras?
Don’t miss our Autumn Leaf Identification Cards and their accompanying resources and posters.
Citizen science — where members of the public help collect scientific data (especially observations) in collaboration with scientists — can be done year round, but some projects are specific to the fall. For example, if you live in the Southwest of the US, you can participate in the Southwest Monarch Study by reporting sightings and tagging monarchs. Or consider other year-long projects. Sign up for Nature’s Notebook and send in observations of the life cycles of plants and animals — even just in your backyard. Or you can organize your own citizen science project by getting your community involved in a BioBlitz. There are many more options!
Read more about citizen science here:
Citizen Science for Kids: Engaging with Nature While Helping to Save It
BE AN ARTIST
autumn outdoor activities for the creative kid
make a leaf mandala:
Using leaves as your loose parts, create a leaf mandala using concentric circles. Add in a few other items such as rocks, acorns or pinecones for variety!
practice leaf threading:
In addition to your leaf collection, find two pencil-sized sticks (to act as anchors), one toothpick-sized stick (to act as a needle, so it should be sturdy). You will also need a length of jute, twine, string or yarn — approximately 1 yard, depending on how big you want your final product to be.
Attach one end of the twine to one of the anchors, and the other end to the “needle”. Push the needle through one of the leaves and out the other side, “threading” the leaf. Push it down the length of twine and start on your next leaf.
Decide if you’re going to make the order arbitrary, or if you’re like to thread the leaves in a specific order. From smallest to biggest? In a pattern: big/small/big/small or maple/oak/oak/maple/oak/oak/maple?
You can also turn your threading exercise into a wall hanging to celebrate the season!
make leaf rubbings:
Choose several different colored crayons (no paper wrappers), some thin paper and a variety of textured leaves. Place a leaf (bottom side up) under a sheet of paper. Using its side length, rub a crayon over the surface of the paper, directly over the leaf, making sure to keep the leaf in place. As you continue, watch what appears on your page! (n.b. – pastels and chalk also work)
Choose another leaf and another section of paper and begin again!
make animals using leaves. Using paint pens or markers, draw eyes, noses and mouths on your leaves and turn them into wild creatures.
Hints: A tuliptree leaf can transform into a cat; an upside down maple leaf can become a fox, an elm leaf makes the side view of a chick, a birch leaf can become a bird. (Check out some great examples here.)
research a few different ways to preserve leaves and try at least one. Then you can make a display and enjoy them all year round!
- pressing with heavy books or a press
- ironing with wax paper
- using a glycerin bath
- painting with mod podge or glue
- dipping in beeswax
make a leaf crown:
Leaf crowns are a colorful and oh-so-photo-worthy autumn craft. There are a few different techniques, from and easy version involving a strip of paper and tape or staples, to the more challenging weaving technique.
make an ephemeral self-portrait:
Using natural loose parts that you find (on the ground) in your yard, make a self portrait. Use leaves for your face, sticks for your hair, acorns for your eyes… Get creative!
Once you’ve done a self-portrait, consider doing an animal portrait. For inspiration on ephemeral land art, especially of animals (her birds are amazing), check out the art of Hannah Bullen-Ryner.
ephemeral = lasting for only a short time. Once you’ve created your masterpiece, take a photo, dismantle it, and return the loose parts to nature!
create acorn art:
Along with leaves and pinecones, acorns are another fantastic loose part that is abundant in the Fall. Paint them, make them into ornaments, or turn them into animals or fairies. Get inspired by the amazing (and entertaining) acorn elves at dubanci.cz!
BE AN EXPLORER
autumn outdoor activities for the adventurous kid
rainbow walk / rainbow scavenger hunt:
On your next nature walk, see how many colors of the rainbow you can see in the plants, birds and animals around you. Make your own checklist or use one of ours.
With the sun setting earlier, stargazing can even happen before bedtime. Wait for a clear night, find a spot of open sky, lie back and let your eyes wander. Bonus if you can go out during a meteor shower!
go bird watching:
Start by just pointing out and/or counting every bird that you see. Research common local birds and look at pictures ahead of time. Talk about distinguishing features for common birds. See if you can identify any of the birds in the backyard. If you have a camera with a powerful lens, snap a few photos!
go on a scavenger hunt:
Using a pre-made scavenger hunt or by building your own, go out into nature and see what you can find!
Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. (see geocaching.com) Bring a pencil/pen, your GPS and a small trinket. Once you find the cache, add your name and date to any logbook, and you have the option of exchanging trinkets if any are available.
Letterboxing is another treasure-hunting outdoor activity for kids to enjoy. The goal is to locate small weatherproof boxes that other ‘letterboxers” have hidden in publicly-accessible places. Clues are found online and will lead you to the boxes, which usually contain a logbook, rubber stamp (often hand-carved) and sometimes an ink pad. Bring your own logbook, your own personal stamp and an ink pad. When you find the cache, “exchange” stamps with the cache’s logbook: add the cache’s stamp to your logbook, and add your own stamp + username + date to the cache’s logbook. See how many stamps you can collect in your own personal logbook! (see letterboxing.org)
go on a color-matching walk.
Before going on a nature walk, gather a few items from your home: crayons, colored pencils, paint swatches, scraps of paper. Can you match their colors to things you find in nature? How close can you get to that particular shade?
go on a texture/sensory hunt:
Using a worksheet (like the one included in our Outdoor Sensory Activity Bundle) or by starting your own, see how many textures you can find in nature. Look at bark, rocks, leaves, nuts, etc. and write down what you find. Smooth? Delicate? Rough? Bumpy? Soft? Prickly?
watch a sunset or sunrise:
Sunsets and sunrises are beautiful all year round. Make a special effort and set an alarm to remind yourself of the sun’s performances. You can watch the sky from a sit spot in your yard, or take a short walk or drive to a special overlook. You don’t even need a clear sightline of the horizon — just look at the sky and observe how the colors change.
BE AN ACTIVIST
autumn outdoor activities for the altruistic kid
A Swedish ‘fitness trend’, plogging is a combination of jogging and “plocka upp” (picking up) trash. Find a version that works for you and your family (walking, jogging, scootering) and talk to them about the importance of caring for our natural spaces and being involved in our communities. Give yourselves a goal (filling up a bag, cleaning up a certain section) and see their faces light up with pride when you’ve accomplished it. You can incorporate this into all or many of your outdoor excursions by bringing plastic bags and gloves in your pockets/backpacks “just in case”.
Think about what you can do to help the neighbors and community around you. Offer to rake a neighbor’s yard, clean up a local trail or park (see “plogging” above), or set up a “free library” of nature treasures.
BE AN ADVENTURER
autumn outdoor activities for the active kid
play the acorn game:
This game is a variation on skee-ball… but outside, with acorns (or similar-sized items from nature), no flashing lights, and no prizes at the end. Just good old-fashioned fun with nature’s loose parts!
- Step 1: Choose 3 buckets/containers of various sizes. Identify your “starting line” and place the buckets in intervals, getting progressively farther away. Decide if the smallest bucket will be closest to the starting line or farthest away. Assign each bucket a points value — the closet bucket having fewer points than the farthest.
- Step 2: Give your children a small container or bucket and ask them to make a collection of acorns.
- Step 3: Standing on the starting line, your children then attempt to throw the acorns into the buckets. Points are won for each acorn that lands in a bucket.
- Step 4: Switch the order of buckets and see if it’s easier to have the bigger or the smaller bucket farthest away.
- Bonus: Make up a little dance or cheer to perform every time someone gets an acorn in a bucket!
go for a bike ride:
With cooler temperatures, fewer bugs, and beautiful fall foliage, Autumn is a great time for a bike ride! Find a nearby rail trail or single track. Try out a new form of biking: Road, gravel, cross-country, BMX, downhill. Look for a pump track or jump track to practice your skills.
make a shelter / lean-to / den:
Using materials that you find nearby, build yourself a shelter. This can take many forms, including teepee-style, tent-shaped, or a lean-to. If you can’t find branches long or plentiful enough to accommodate yourselves, consider building a den for a small animal or favorite toy. Unless you’re building on your own property, please dismantle the shelter before leaving.
Camping in the fall is an extra special experience for many reasons: no overheating at night!
- fewer mosquitoes and other pesky bugs!
- better weather for a campfire and s’mores (if fires are allowed/advisable)!
- earlier sunset = earlier skygazing!
- fall foliage is the best backdrop!
- a nip in the air is a perfect excuse for hot chocolate!
- so many fun activities to enjoy after dark!
go on a night hike / flashlight walk:
Give each person a flashlight, hold hands and set off into nature (or just your backyard). What can you see when you look up? When you look down? What happens when you turn off your flashlight — can you still see anything?
have an outdoor picnic:
Picnics aren’t reserved for summer days! Take your next meal outdoors — your backyard or a local park. Fall weather means fewer pesky insects to disturb your meal!
find a perfect climbing tree:
This one speaks for itself!
BE A NATURALIST
autumn outdoor activities for the nature-loving kid
sit spot activities:
What is a “sit spot”? It is exactly what it sounds like: a spot where you sit! This is a place away from distractions where kids will sit, be quiet, and observe nature. (High-traffic and noisy spots aren’t ideal.) Let them choose a favorite spot in your yard or a nearby park, encourage them to get comfortable, and give them a few ideas of what quiet, observational activities they can do:
- look for three different kinds of trees
- draw their favorite tree
- watch the clouds (it’s ok to lie down in your sit spot!)
- listen for nature sounds, draw a sound map
- blow a grass trumpet
There is much focus on deciduous trees in the Autumn, due to their beautiful falling leaves. But conifer trees shouldn’t be forgotten! Autumn is when pinecones start to fall, and pinecones are wonderful loose parts from nature! You can use pinecones for crafts, and turn them into firestarters or birdfeeders. Or just enjoy their simple, inherent beauty!
Find a sit spot and record what you see, hear, smell. Use ready-made nature journal pages or start your own. Write down or draw your observations.
make a rock collection:
While out in nature today, gather your favorite rocks into a curated collection. See how many different ways you can organize your collection: by size, by color, by shape, by texture, etc. Older kids can write down their observations of the rocks’ different properties: shiny, rough, bumpy, etc.
Check out our rock collection worksheet if you need more specific direction.
plant bulbs for spring:
Planting bulbs in the fall is a great way to learn the value of planning ahead. With many flowers not blooming until Spring, we can practice patience! Think about where you want the flowers to appear, dig up the dirt, and plant the bulbs. Fingers in soil is a wonderful sensory experience!
look for symmetry in nature:
Starting with leaves that you find, look for symmetry. If you draw a line down the middle, are the left and the right sides the same? What else do you see around you that is symmetrical? (hint: look at flowers, insects, nuts).
With so many autumn outdoor activities for kids to choose from this season (whether you call it Fall or Autumn), you’ll never want to go back inside! Enjoy the sights and smells and endless loose parts of Autumn. Are you ready to declare it your Most Favorite Season?
To help inspire your children or and keep all of these activity ideas within easy reach, check out our “Choose Your Own Activity” printout below. Just print/cut and let your child (blindly?) choose their next outdoor fall activity!
And don’t miss our Autumn Outdoor Activity Bundle, which includes details on all of these these outdoor activities, as well as nature crafts, games and leaf identification flash cards. (And more!)