When it comes to Autumn inspiration, the scenic mountains of Colorado and Aspen groves turning into blankets of pure gold never fail to take my breath away. One of my family’s most treasured Autumn traditions is taking fall foliage hikes in the high country.
This year, the trees are just starting to turn, so we haven’t made a trek up to the mountains yet. However, I’m excited to get up there soon now that I’ve picked up a new leaf preservation technique from Martha Stewart Living: Here’s her step-by-step leaf preserving article from this month’s issue. The best part of this Autumn tradition is that it’s the perfect combination of hands-on homeschooling and family fun.
Here’s what we do to turn our fall foliage hikes into a memorable hands-on homeschooling opportunity:
- Prepare: Find out where the autumn colors are looking most spectacular in your area. Often the local news will publish a list of the best locations. My sister lives near Vail, so she gives us regular updates as the trees start changing colors near her so that we don’t miss out. Once you know where you want to go, make sure you have maps, parking details, etc.
- Pack: Bring your best camera (make sure it’s charged and has lots of memory available), binoculars, one notebook or nature journal per child, colored pencils, a box or stack of baggies to collect samples, and a regional field guide for plant, flower, tree, rock and animal identification. Our personal favorite is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Rocky Mountain States.
- Observe: Your adventure doesn’t have to begin at the trail head — there’s plenty to see along the drive as well! I’m usually the one who can’t stop the ooohs and aaahs, pointing things out from the passenger seat. It’s fun to spot wildlife roaming, hawks and eagles flying overhead, and catch a glimpse of the occasional waterfall or roaring river.
- Explore: Once you reach your destination, you’ll continue to observe, but now you can also explore! Take in long views, then hike directly into the forest. Listen for birds and other animals. Look for animal tracks and other “evidence” along the trail. Gather fallen leaves and flowers, dried pieces of bark, and interesting rock samples. Have the children practice identifying objects and sounds using the field guide. When you take a break, give everyone a chance to sketch or take notes. And of course, take LOTS and lots of photos — they can be added to nature notebooks later and make great shots for Christmas cards!
- Preserve: In the past, we’ve pressed leaves and flowers for bookmarks, used dried bark to decorate frames, decorated rocks with paint, and filled jars with pine cones and fragrant herbs. As I mentioned, I’m really looking forward to trying a preservation method so I can use the leaves to make our own fall wreath. There are so many fun ideas for turning your finds into something beautiful and memorable, bringing your Autumn inspiration back to life in your home.
- Follow Up: As with any hands-on homeschooling experience, you can build on the adventure with related assignments and projects. Using the experience of your hike as a starting point, you can do further study on the geography, wildlife, and plant life you observed. You can have your children write a story or poem related to the experience. Maybe you’ll come up with a hiking song along your way. Or you can volunteer to help maintain a trail in your area. See what interests are sparked in your children on your hike and follow up on them.
The best part of the fall foliage hike is that it’s not just a hands-on homeschooling experience: It can become a treasured family tradition. It’s our way of celebrating this beautiful transition and appreciating God’s handiwork in the delicate details of the Autumn season.
What are some of your favorite fall activities and traditions in your homeschool? What inspires you in Autumn? Share your favorites in the comments below.