Cheapest, Easiest Fall Toy Ever — Leaves!

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Lest we forget the simplest things in life, I am writing this post about an abundant resource in the autumn (at least in much of the country).  Leaves!

It’s easy to see leaves as an irritation — a nuisance cluttering up your yard, a mess as they are tracked into the entryway, a frustration when they hide dog poop.

But to a small child, leaves are magical.  All of a sudden, the ground is overtaken by bright colorful things that are easy to pick up and have a pronounced texture.  The trees that seem so permanent and stalwart are suddenly looking very different.  The air feels cooler, and there’s a new sense of urgency among many of the animals as they gather food and prepare for the winter ahead.

Observing this childish perspective is an amazing change for an adult used to overlooking such “normalities” in the regular cycle of life.  It gives us a chance to renew our wonder about the universe.

So get out there with your children!  Here are a few activities that young children might enjoy:

  • Rake the leaves — get your big rake, and grab a small one for your little one, and show them how to rake.  You might be amazed at how good of helpers they can be.
  • Put the leaves into bags or cans — my toddler (“J”) loves to throw away garbage and yard waste.  Make a pile of leaves, find a bag/bin/can short enough for your child to reach into (or use a bucket that you transfer into a larger receptacle), and show them how you do it.
  • Throw leaves in the air — make a pile of leaves and gather around it.  Grab a handful and throw it into the air above yourself and/or your child.  The leaves fall slowly and catch the air as they go, blowing around a bit.  They also get stuck in your hair.  This can be a lot of fun for you and your child.
  • Bury yourself in the leaves — sit down or have your child sit down, and pile leaves around yourselves until you can only see your head sticking out.
  • Walk through a pile of leaves — a leaf pile doesn’t have to be particularly high for it to seem huge to a young child.  Rake some leaves into a pile, and show them how to run through it.  It’s fun to kick the leaves as you go and hear the swish as you walk through.
  • Make a fall “meal” — use the elements of fall in your outdoor play kitchen to make some new “dishes.”  Leaves can act as tortilla-like wraps.  You might pretend a branch of dead leaves is a kabob.  There are a million possibilities — just be sure no one actually eats them!
  • Compost — if you have a compost bin (or if you are willing to buy or make one and start composting now, your child can help add leaves to your compost bin/pile.  Explain to them what compost is and ask their help in turning the pile as needed.
  • Bring the leaves inside — collect a handful of leaves and bring them inside.  Press them flat by putting a heavy book on top of them for a couple of hours or more, and then make leave drawings by putting a piece of paper over the leaves and rubbing on top with a crayon.

Safety notes:
As always, you should take care to be safe in your play.  Watch your children closely so that they don’t eat leaves, nuts, branches, or other things in nature that are not edible.  If you have animals, do a preliminary search and remove any possible excrement from the leaves you’ll be playing with.  Supervise your children when using the rake, especially if it is metal.

What do you do with leaves in the fall?

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