By Caroline Graham
The days are getting gloomier, shorter and wetter and sometimes the prospect of being trapped indoors with little ones can seem overwhelming.
But don't be put off.
Children still need to spend time outdoors and move about even in the colder months and thankfully Autumn offers a rich bounty of inspiration for exploring and imaginations.
Chances are if your children are in nursery, they'll be doing lots of activities related to Autumn and getting them outdoors with some Autumn-inspired activities will continue this learning at home — bonus.
So get out the anoraks and wellies and get outside.
Here are a few seasonal activities that can make good starting points for play and discovery.
1. Observational art
Get some sketch pads and some coloured pencils and get out into the garden.
If you have a garden with trees and hedgerows, give children time to look closely at the colours and patterns in nature. This ‘mindful’ activity encourages children to touch, smell and listen, using all of their senses to begin to make sense of what they are seeing.
If you don’t have a garden, you can walk or scoot up to your nearest park.
2. Picture making
This activity only needs the equipment that nature provides, but a few old picture frames either from home or the charity shop will really encourage little artists to create their own masterpiece.
Lay out the picture frames on the ground or grass and then let them gather twigs, conkers, leaves, pinecones, berries with which to create their own pictures. Then you can use a camera to record and show the child the results – it should be a picture within a picture.
Get the children to hold up empty frames to frame the view in front of them — this is a great way to introduce the more complex ideas of perspective and distance as they come to realise that they can fit a whole tree into a frame by moving further away.
3. Playing with pumpkins
If you are lucky enough to have a local farm or pumpkin-picking patch nearby then picking out a pumpkin can be a great way to spend an afternoon outdoors.
Otherwise at this time of year they can be bought from the supermarket and are great for a really messy activitiy.
Pumpkin carving can be very exciting for children although you will need to do all the sharp knife handling.
But children can help with scooping out the pumpkin and have fun discovering the pulpy flesh and smooth seeds inside before carving begins. This may not appeal to every child though as sometimes scooping can be frustratingly hard work for them.
If you're not going to use your pumpkin for carving you could just use the scooped out pumpkin as a treasure basket that can be filled with autumn goodies, such as crisp leaves, knobbly pine cones and spongy green moss.
Pumpkins are brilliant studies for observational art too.
4. Create a bug hotel
Young minds will be intrigued by the idea of building a hotel for bugs to hibernate in over the winter.
And half the fun of this activity is going to collect the wood, logs, bricks, tiles, twigs, sticks, leaves and other materials required to actually make the bug hotel.
Once you have gathered your materials, find a spot in the garden or park and stack the bigger materials such as the logs or tiles or bricks on top of one another, filling in the holes with twigs, soil and leaves.
5. Tic tac toe with sticks, conkers and acorns
This may be better for slightly older children of four and five years old. Collect some larger sticks and arrange them in a tic tac toe grid. Then collect conkers, acorns or stones as counters to play with.
6. Build a mini den for toys and dolls
Building a big den involves too much heavy lifting for under fives so an alternative is to collect smaller sticks and lean them against each other to make a mini den for dolls and toys. You can experiment with making different floors with leaves or grass and even make furniture out of stones, conkers, acorns or anything you can find. Great for fine motor skills and imaginative play.
7. Leaf collecting
This is an easy one but even older children can really get into seeing how many different colours, shapes and textures they find for their own collections.
8. Plant bulbs for Spring
This is really two activities for the price of one - you get the fun of planting and getting messy in October plus the excitement and joy of seeing the bulbs poke through the soil and grow into colourful blooms in Spring. Bulbs are easy to grow too!
9. Blackberry picking
If you're quick you can still get in some blackberry picking as the best time for this is usually August to early October. If you're lucky you may have them growing in hedgerows. Even if the yield isn't very high, just walking around with a basket or pot and hunting for them is half the fun. Just be careful your little ones don't get prickled.
10. Apple picking
Some varieties of apples come out earlier in August and September but October can also be fruitful. If you don't have access to any apple trees in your neighbourhood, perhaps you could visit a pick-your-own farm or find your local orchard.
11. Outdoor kitchen
If you have any old pots and pans consider sacrificing them to make a quick outdoor kitchen where your children can use them to make potions, mud soup or spells for Halloween.
12. Fly a kite on a windy day
If it's blustery outside, seize the opportunity for some kite flying, fresh air and running around. If you're worried about how to get it airborne, check out these helpful tips on how to fly a kite.
13. Painting pine cones
If you're canny you could potentially turn this into two activities. The first being the collecting of the pine cones. Then on a different day you can do the painting — preferably outside if you have an outdoor space. Make a paint mixture that is three parts paint to two parts water. Then dip your pines completely into the paint until they are covered. Shake off the excess and then leave overnight to dry.
14. Bark rubbing
Get some large pieces of paper and some pavement chalk or crayons with the paper wrapping taken off. Place the paper over the bark and rub over the paper with the crayons. You can go for a walk and take different bark rubbings from different kinds of tree to compare the patterns you get.
15. Leaf rummage treasure hunt
Make some gold coins out of cardboard. Get the children involved in collecting a big pile of leaves. Then hide the paper coins among the leaves. The children's challenge is to rummage through the leaves to find as many coins as they can. Then you could either give a treat or prize to the person with the most coins — or just give nothing and encourage the winner simply to enjoy the glory of their victory.