We recently moved to South Florida, so it doesn’t feel much like the fall we had in PA a few years back. Nevertheless, fall is still my favorite season. For one, it’s my birthday season, which is of utmost importance. But it is also the season of crisp air, leaves afire with color, hayrides–all the fall things! Crisp apple fall, my friend and I often call it. Magical things can happen in crisp apple fall.

Perhaps because I’ve worked so long in the field of education, fall always feels like starting anew to me. It’s a time of new possibilities–a new semester, a new school year. It also brings back wonderful memories of play as a child. I remember my dad raking up all the fallen leaves and then challenging me to jump in them before he raked them all up again. I remember turning puddles into lakes for action figures and dolls (and a bevy of doodlebugs). Even as an adult, fall stirs up the playful. When I lived in Chicago, I used to make the fall pilgrimage to Long Grove for their apple festival. I can still smell the apple donuts in my mind.

Fall is the perfect time for children and adults to play outside. I don’t mean just in team sports or on a playground but instead, losing oneself in the freedom of nature play. Recently, child development research has focused on how play is so significant for children as they grow and develop, but a particular subset of theorists focus on the importance of nature play for children’s physical, social, emotional, and creative development. It also benefits them in terms of problem solving ability, especially if they are given a chance to explore their environment with some independence. Check out the resources The Children and Nature Network has to offer. And if you’re incredibly bored one day, you can read some of my articles on children’s hide and seek play, indicating that children love to create spaces of their own, often outside.

As adults, I think we’ve forgotten how to play somewhat. Sure, we join rec leagues and have drinks on the patio with friends, but when is the last time we played with abandon? Ran through a park like Phoebe from Friends? Ok, maybe that’s too much, but there’s got to be a middle ground. Give children a chance to play freely outside, and they will give you ideas. Fall gives you so many elements for perfect outdoor play, even in your backyard. Here are a few:

Dirt and Mud: Dirt is your friend. Sure it gets on your clothes, so grab clothes that can get dirty. Set aside a space where you can create a digging area or a dirt pile. Even better, add a little water and create a mud kitchen. It could be fancy like these or if you’re completely uncrafty like me, a small mud pit with some mismatched measuring cups and old baking pans will do.

Water: Speaking of water–kids love water play, even in fall. It might be a bit too chilly for running through sprinklers (except in South Florida), but you can play with spray bottles, buckets, watering cans–even build a rain barrel together. Find outdoor spaces nearby with a creek or rivulet.

Shrubbery: Let the Monty Python quotes commence. But really, plants and shrubs create great hiding spaces and attract wildlife to examine. They also provide quiet spaces where children can spend time reflecting and daydreaming. A nice tree is great for that, as well. Deep mulch underneath can help cushion any falls. And yes, even though tree climbing can sometimes result in a minor injury, research has deemed it safe overall AND this type of risky play is beneficial for many developmental reasons, including learning how to navigate risky spaces.

Logs and Rocks: Ok, this might not be something feasible for a backyard, but there are plenty of parks with logs and large rocks to play on. This type of play creates opportunities for learning balance and building those climbing muscles.

Family Play: Fall is perfect for backyard campouts, picnics, planting a garden, watching insects, splashing in puddles, picking apples, tossing a ball around, and going on a nature scavenger hunt. Take a break from busy schedules and play together as a family.

If you need more ideas, NAEYC has you covered. Set aside some time to play this fall or at least to take a walk and savor the gifts nature has for you.