Cool weather, changing colors and plenty of activities – indoors and out – make fall a fun time for curious toddlers.
Autumn is our family’s favorite season: the colors, crisp weather and end-of-year festivals and events make it one of the most fun and relaxing seasons. But the good times aren’t just for parents – toddlers have their share of things to do in the fall as well.
Depending on what part of the country you live in, you may see fall foliage anywhere from late August to October, which gives you a few weeks or months to enjoy fall festivities. For the best fall color options near you, check out TripSavvy’s state-by-state fall guide, or SmokyMountains.com’s interactive Fall Foliage Prediction Map.
With an eye on the calendar and the places around you, fall can be a busy time for you and your toddler. Here’s a rundown of some of our favorite activities for little ones this time of year.
Outdoor Fall Activities
1. Visit a pumpkin patch.
“Carving a jack-o’-lantern is so much more satisfying when he’s made from a pumpkin that your kids picked on their very own,” says Lisa Horten at POPSUGAR. We’ve taken our toddlers to pumpkin patches every fall, and it gets more fun with each visit.
A local pumpkin patch not only offers a place to run around, but toddlers will love the freedom of picking out their own pumpkins.
2. Go on a scenic drive to see fall colors.
Travel + Leisure put together a list of their favorite fall foliage drives, and you can find other routes in places like New England, the Midwest, the West Coast and Colorado. Northern states may see most of the fall foliage action, but even those in the south and west can find pockets of scenic roads here and there.
In Arizona, our favorite fall foliage drive is the winding switchbacks between Flagstaff and Sedona – if you’re in Arizona this time of year, it’s a must-see.
3. Check out an apple orchard.
Fall and apple season go hand-in-hand, and just as pumpkin patches, orchards offer toddlers a great place to run among the trees.
“Apple Orchards start picking in late August and runs through October, so it is the perfect fall harvest activity,” says Robert Melton at Funtober.com. “One of the big traditions in my family in the fall was heading to an apple orchard for some u-pick apples, followed by apple cider and donuts from the cider mill.”
4. Create a leaf maze.
If your yard accumulates leaves each fall, consider turning a tedious chore into something fun for kids.
“A leaf maze is so much for the hooligans to play in, and I really enjoy making one,” says Jackie at Happy Hooligans. “It’s not often that you get the chance to be excited about raking up a yard full of leaves, but this really does make the task fun.”
Throw a rake at ’em when you’re all done and you might be surprised to see how willing they are to organize them afterward (at least our kids were).
5. Go on a fall scavenger hunt.
“My daughter is a collector,” says blogger Stephanie at Raising Seraphim. “When we go outside to look at things, she would rather go and try to touch it or pick it up rather than just look and point. In the teaching world, we call that a tactile learner.”
Giving a goal or purpose to a nature walk can make it more enticing for toddlers. A fall scavenger hunt is the perfect solution: pick items and things that are fall-specific and they’ll love going through a park, neighborhood or town looking to cross things off their checklist.
6. Take a weekend trip to a small town with fall colors.
If a scenic drive just doesn’t cut it, consider making a weekend trip to one of the country’s best fall foliage small towns. If your toddler travels well, it can be a great way to experience something new while enjoying the crisp, refreshing fall weather.
“You don’t have to travel far to take in the phenomenon of fall foliage,” says Fodor’s Travel. “All across the U.S., from New England to the Pacific Northwest, deciduous trees put on their dazzling display of color.”
7. Make s’mores before it gets too cold.
If you have a backyard fire pit, a round of s’mores after dinner or on the weekend is a great way to enjoy the weather and colors before it gets too cold. For something extra adventurous, check out these delicious s’mores recipes that break the traditional mold.
9. Camp in the backyard.
Depending on your location and fall weather, camping in the backyard, even for a few hours, is a great way to get toddlers out of the house, but still in their safety zone.
“By sticking close to home, your kids can feel safe and secure, be within walking distance of a bathroom, and still enjoy a wonderful family bonding experience,” says Raven Snook for Parents Magazine. “In fact, there’s no reason to limit your guest list to family: A backyard campout also makes for a terrific sleepover party or birthday celebration.”
To make things even more comfortable, consider hosting the ultimate backyard movie night, complete with snacks, blankets and everything you need to brave the outdoors from the comfort of your own home.
10. Go on a hike through fall colors.
If your toddler likes to roam more than they do stick around at home, consider a pleasant fall hike while the weather’s still cooperating. Even if you can’t make one of the country’s best fall hiking trails, you may be able to find something nearby that’s easy to walk and offers good scenery.
Fall hikes are best in the Western US, where cool fall weather permits late-season strolls without running into harsh weather. Sunset made a list of their favorite fall hikes, and Backpacker has you covered if you’re in the Eastern part of the country.
11. Have a fall picnic.
“Grab a blanket and head to your local park to enjoy lunch al fresco. This does not have to be an elaborate venture,” writes Casey at Momma and the Pea.
If there’s a park nearby, pack the perfect picnic and find somewhere your toddler can eat and run around to enjoy the last nice days of the year. Bring blankets and warm drinks to stay warm and cozy during the cooler autumn days.
Indoor Fall Activities
1. Make jack-o-lantern sandwiches.
In our house, any chance to make lunch more fun is a win-win, and making jack-o-lantern sandwiches is a great way to get your toddlers in the fall spirit.
“Kids will devour these open-face bologna-and-cheese sandwiches,” says Better Homes & Gardens. “They’re a cinch to make: Use small cookie cutters to create the cheese faces. A basil leaf and bread-crust stem complete the pumpkin package.”
Finish off the meal with a delicious mini peach raspberry pie treat if you’re feeling ambitious.
2. Play with pumpkin clay.
Move over, Play-Doh. Blogger Crystal Underwood made this clever pumpkin clay using one can of pumpkin, a few cups of corn starch and some pumpkin spice.
If your toddler is anything like ours, a good chunk of this homemade clay will end up in their mouth at some point, but the natural ingredients make it safe to use and easy to clean up.
3. Make an autumn exploration table.
“On numerous walks to the park and even down the city streets, we have found so many leaves of all different shapes, varieties and colours,” says blogger Anna at The Imagination Tree. “We laid them out on the table and they ranged from bright green through to yellow, to orangey- red and even purply-blue in colour!”
Our toddlers, like many, have always enjoyed sensory-heavy activities, from picking up beach sand to organizing rocks, sticks and leaves while we camp. An autumn-focused exploration table is a great way to get the best of fall – leaves, acorns, pumpkins, apples – into one fun-to-use place.
4. Create fall arts and crafts.
There’s no shortage of fall crafts for toddlers online – thanks Pinterest – and a few of our favorites include Jamie Reimer’s red and yellow pumpkin crafts over at PBS Kids, an apple tree craft at Hands On As We Grow, and the fall leaf crafts over at Busy Toddler.
5. Make a DIY fall wreath.
Our house is fully stocked with all sorts of fall and winter wreaths, from burlap to pinecone, but there’s always room for another one, especially if it’s made with our kids.
Making a wreath can actually be an indoor and outdoor activity: by collecting items outside, you can get fresh air before spending your time putting the wreath together in the house.
“We gathered up various leaves and acorns from around the yard which we could use to adorn our fall wreath,” says blogger Ana at Mommy’s Bundle.
6. Create fall-themed sensory bags.
“I love that this sensory activity gets you and your little ones outside engaging with Nature and collecting all sorts of goodies to use,” says blogger Emma at Kids Craft Room. “A leaf sensory bag is a great talking point for children and a lovely way to practice all the vocabulary associated with Autumn or any other season you’re theming it to.”
Like an exploration table, sensory bags offer all sorts of stimulation and exploring that’s perfect for toddlers’ busy, curious minds.
7. Make leaf rubbing art.
Gravestone rubbing is frowned upon or illegal in many areas, so consider the less morbid art of leaf rubbing!
“We see so many beautiful leaves covering the ground that we are drawn to capture both their shape and hue on paper,” says Jacquie Fisher at Edventures with Kids. “I especially enjoy this activity in late October and November – it’s very creative and one of many fun Thanksgiving activities for kids that encourage them to get outside on those cool Fall days.”
These masterpieces are a great way for your toddler to practice arts and crafts while learning about nature and the way things change from season to season.
8. Read fall-themed books.
Chilly fall nights call for time around the fire at home, and what better way to pass the time than with booksfor everyone.
Find more fall-favorite books at The Best Children’s Books.
9. Make toddler-friendly caramel apples.
Caramel apples aren’t exactly the easiest or healthiest food around, but they’re a great way to spend time with your toddler in the kitchen. Don’t be afraid of the mess: blogger Lexy Ward offers tips on how to keep things running smooth while you tackle apples together. Working with her toddler, she was surprised how well everything turned out.
“She’s not even three years old, so I was a little nervous about the mess to follow (and skeptical about whether she’d be able to follow my instructions at all), but she did amazingly well,” says Ward. “Aside from melting the caramel, she did almost everything herself.”
10. Bake fall cookies.
If you think baking with toddlers is too much stress and mess, you’re not alone. Blogger Selena Mills says kids’ curiosity to learn new things makes baking a perfect activity, especially during cooler months.
“They want to be all up in that business,” she writes. “Which, since I love to cook and bake…it’s not a far stretch to imagine that I’d suck up the mess and get into some baking with my little ones.”
11. Make a fall-themed free-paint project.
“Tell them to go wild!” says blogger Jessica Hughes. “There were no rules except don’t put paint on Mommy.”
Sometimes, the best activities are those with few rules. They’re kids after all, and often the most effective types of play are those that are unstructured.