Bring on the flannel and fall foliage! As autumn days grow shorter and perennials prepare for a long winter’s rest, trees will paint Northeast Ohio in a palette of brilliant reds, golds, oranges and yellows. Colors are expected to peak here mid-month (Oct. 19-26, according to the smokymountains.com prediction tool), though many factors affect timing and intensity.
Looking to go leaf-peeping with the littles? Whether you want to learn about the science of it all or simply take pretty pictures, here is a list of family-friendly activities across the region, plus some festive crafts for the enjoyment and education of your youngest explorers.
Make a Craft
On a nature walk (or romp around the yard), collect leaves of all shapes, sizes and colors, then get creative.
Do a leaf rubbing.
Place fresh leaves (dry ones can be too brittle) on a flat, hard surface (tip: use press and seal plastic wrap to hold the leaves and paper in place), cover with paper, turn a crayon on its side and rub it across until leaf images appear.
Play a color matching game.
Place pieces of colored construction paper — red, orange, yellow, green and/or brown — on the floor or table. Help your child sort the leaves into color piles. Count the leaves and ask questions such as, “which pile has more or less?”
Sort by Shape
Show your child that trees have differently shaped leaves. Print out free coloring sheets like birch, elm, maple and oak leaf images from smokymountains.com, and sort your collection.
Make leaf prints.
Cover your table with a plastic table cloth or scrap paper. Dip leaves in craft paint or use a foam brush to paint one side, then stamp the leaves onto paper.
Create leaf critters.
How about a lion or hedgehog? Easypeasyandfun.com offers a free printable lion image you can cut, color and glue colorful leaves around to create the mane. Or glue beech, elm, birch or similar leaves onto paper and use a black marker to draw on hedgehog faces and paws.
Creating Fall Traditions
Bay Village mother of two Jen Krueger embraces fall with a mix of family traditions and spontaneous outings with her husband, Dan, daughter, Frankie, 5, and son, Charlie, 4.
“Fall hosts many of our favorite traditions — colorful hikes, apple-picking, bonfires with s’mores and clam bakes with friends — but it is also a great time to get out and challenge yourself to explore places you’ve never gone before,” she says. “Our family is outside more now than any other season.”
They document their activities using fill-in-the-blank keepsake “adventure cards” and seasonal scrapbooks, which have become so popular among friends and family that she now sells them through her custom paper goods business, Minor Details CLE.
Want to create your own? Download the free printable carton cover image and colors worksheet at minordetailscle.com, then have kids label their finds with pictures or words inside the lid.
See the Leaves
Some programs need registration; please check park websites for registration and other information.
Leaf Trail. All ages can walk the trail through the gardens and practice tree identification. Pick up a map at the visitor center and take advantage of the only time leaf collecting is permitted on the grounds. Free. Holden Arboretum, 9550 Sperry Road, Kirtland, holdenarb.org
StoryWalk Trail at Bath Community Park. Parents and children enjoy an interactive experience reading book pages mounted along a trail. Books change monthly through fall. 1615 N. Cleveland-Massillon Road, summitmetroparks.org
StoryWalk Trail at Carolyn Ludwig Mugrage Park. Stop at sign posts along this one-mile paved trail through the woods to read pages of the book “Now” by Antoinette Portis. Books change quarterly. 4985 Windfall Road, Medina, medinacountyparks.com
Animal Crackers. Explore the world of leaves and trees with a hike and craft for ages 3-5 with an adult. 11:15 a.m.-2:15 p.m. Brecksville Reservation Trailside Program Center, 9000 Chippewa Road, clevelandmetroparks.com
Pre-K Nature Play. Indoor/outdoor sensory exploration of nature’s wonder with physical movement, language and fine motor exercises. Terrain: natural surface, some off-trail, up to 0.5 miles. 10 a.m. North Chagrin Nature Center, 401 Buttermilk Falls Pkwy., Willoughby, clevelandmetroparks.com
Nature Stories. Interactive, nature-inspired storytime for ages 18 months to 3 years with an adult. Registration is required. 9:30-10 a.m. Liberty Park Nature Center, 9999 Liberty Road, Twinsburg, summitmetroparks.org
October 5 & 6
Jump Into Fall Days. Celebrate autumn with hands-on activities: horse-drawn wagon rides, a new “Homespun Market,” kayaking, fishing, face painting, a food truck, seasonal treats and more. 1-5 p.m. Woods Edge Shelter at Swine Creek Reservation, 16004 Hayes Road, Middlefield, geaugaparkdistrict.org
Color Float. Join a naturalist on the water to enjoy the fall colors unfolding around us. Bring your kayak, paddle and personal flotation device to the program. 1-3 p.m. Hubbard Valley Park, 8600 Hubbard Valley Road, Seville, medinacountyparks.com
Colors of Fall Open House. Autumn brings colorful leaves, animals preparing for winter and southward migration of birds and monarch butterflies. Fun family activities include train rides. Free. 1-3 p.m., weather permitting. Noon-4 p.m. Penitentiary Glen Reservation, 8668 Kirtland-Chardon Road, Kirtland, lakemetroparks.com
Lake Shore Live Steamers: Colors of Fall. Take a scenic miniature train ride through the woods. For safety reasons, pregnant women are not permitted to ride. 1-3 p.m. Penitentiary Glen Reservation, 8668 Kirtland-Chardon Road, Kirtland, lakemetroparks.com
October 6, 12, 20 & 26
Fall Colors Hike. Search for beautiful fall foliage. Level 2/moderate. 1-3 pm. Wellington Reservation, 535 Jones Road, Wellington, metroparks.cc
Fall Leaf Stroll. Join the park staff to learn about and enjoy the fall colors along the trail. 6-7 p.m. Towner’s Woods Park, 2264 Ravenna Road, Kent, co.portage.oh.us/portage-park-district
Yoga for Preschoolers. Learn about nature, the seasons and animals through yoga poses, a story, songs and a game. Bring a yoga mat or small rug to sit on and prepare to be barefoot. Ages 3-6 with an adult. 10:30-11:15 a.m. Susan Hambley Nature Center, 1473 Parschen Road, Brunswick, medinacountyparks.com
Preschool Explorers. Get outside with this monthly series for ages 3-5. Seasonal topics engage the senses and self-exploration. 10-11 a.m. Liberty Park Nature Center, 9999 Liberty Road, Twinsburg, summitmetroparks.org
Preschool Fall Hike. Ages 2-5 with adult enjoy fall leaves and explore nature with a hike. Terrain: natural surface, 1 mile. 10 a.m. Bedford Reservation, Egbert Picnic Area, 18753 Egbert Road, clevelandmetroparks.com
Garden Sprouts Program: Fall Leaves. Preschoolers ages 3-5 with an adult will learn about the fall leaves through outdoor exploration, a story and a craft. Meet in the lobby; no registration required. 10:15-11 a.m. Miller Nature Preserve, 2739 Center Road, Avon, metroparks.cc
Fall Colors Hike. Discover why the leaves change colors and what other plants and animals are doing to get ready for winter. 1-2:30 p.m. Chapin Forest Reservation-Twin Ponds, Hobart Road, Kirtland, lakemetroparks.com
Flower/Leaf Suncatchers for Families. Design a suncatcher for your favorite window using flowers and leaves found in nature. 1:30-2:30 p.m. Odom Branch Library, 600 Vernon Odom Blvd., Akron, 330-434-8726, akronlibrary.org
Fall into Nature. Family fun and seasonal activities, including hayrides, face painting, pumpkin patch, community booths, refreshments and tours, and demonstrations in the UA field station. 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Bath Nature Preserve, 4160 Ira Road, bathtownship.org
Creative Kids: Fall Leaves. Autumn leaf creations for ages 3-8. Cost: $5 for one child with one adult; $5 per additional sibling. 10 a.m.-noon. Children’s Schoolhouse Nature Park, 9045 Baldwin Road, Mentor, lakemetroparks.com
Fall Colors Hike. Search for beautiful fall foliage. Level 1/easy. 3-4:30 p.m. Kopf Family Reservation Trailhead, Avon Lake (behind Avon Lake Public Library), metroparks.cc
Into the Wilds: Fall Puppet Trees & Leaves. Ages 2-3 can listen to a puppet tree tell a story about how its leaves change colors, make a puppet tree craft and enjoy fall leaves. Cost: $5 for one child with one adult. 10 a.m. Children’s Schoolhouse Nature Park, 9045 Baldwin Road, Mentor, lakemetroparks.com
Young Explorers. Ages 3-5 with adult discuss what happens to plants and animals and go exploring for signs outside. Terrain: paved, 0.5-1 mile. 1 p.m. Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation CanalWay Center, 4524 E. 49th St., Cuyahoga Hts., clevelandmetroparks.com
Nurture with Nature. Ages 3 and older with adult learn why leaves change color and explore nature through books, games, hikes and other activities. 6:30-7:30 p.m. Brecksville Reservation Trailside Program Center, 9000 Chippewa Road, clevelandmetroparks.com
Leaf Party. Ages 6 and younger can come for stories, songs and crafts all about leaves. 10:30 a.m. South Lorain Branch Library, 2121 Homewood Drive, 440-277-5672, lorainpubliclibrary.org
October 23 & 26
Nature’s Expressions: Fall Leaf Sun Catcher. Ages 2-3 enjoy role-playing fall trees with a rhyme and song, then take a hike to collect leaves to make a stained-glass-looking suncatcher. Cost: $5 for one child with one adult. 10 a.m. Chapin Forest Reservation, 9938 Chillicothe Road, Kirtland, lakemetroparks.com
Fall Leaf Stroll. Join the park staff to learn about and enjoy the fall colors along the trail. 5:30-6:30 p.m. Shaw Woods Park, 7075 Beery Road, Ravenna, co.portage.oh.us/portage-park-district
October 24 & 25
Tales for Tots. Ages 3-6 with an adult listen to a story about what animals do to prepare for wintry weather, followed by a short hike. Oct. 24, 10-11 a.m. & 1-2 p.m.; Oct. 25, 10-11 a.m. Wolf Creek Environmental Center, 6100 Ridge Road, Wadsworth, medinacountyparks.com
Trailside Tales: Fall Magic! Ages 4-6 will learn how nature works its fall magic, then perform fall color and art tricks of their own. Cost: $5 for one child with one adult. 1 p.m. Chapin Forest Reservation, 9938 Chillicothe Road, Kirtland, lakemetroparks.com
Fall Night Hike for Little Kids. Enjoy nature at night without staying up late. Join a naturalist to meet a live animal and go on a night hike. Terrain: paved surface, 0.5 mile. 6:45-7:45 p.m. North Chagrin Reservation Nature Center, 401 Buttermilk Falls Pkwy., Mayfield Village, clevelandmetroparks.com
Fall Family Hike. All ages can enjoy the sights and sounds of late fall. No registration required. 2-3 p.m. Carolyn Ludwig Mugrage Park, 4985 Windfall Road, Medina, medinacountyparks.com