I live in the Upper Midwest, specifically in Nebraska, USA, where we have 4 distinct seasons every year: a bitter winter, a stormy spring, a hot and humid summer, and a gently cooling fall. Our routines change with the seasons: We spend almost all of our time outdoors on our farm in the warm months, and much of our time indoors in the cold months.
The warm, but not humid, weather of fall is welcomed after an often-stifling summer. But it is also a herald of the impending cold, dark winter days. So some years, especially those where the previous winter weather was especially long — sometimes lasting for 6 or more months — fall is kind of a sad season, a time to say goodbye to frolicking bare foot outside, running through the sprinkler, watching chicks hatch and baby lambs being born, picking fresh vegetables from the garden, marveling at insects and snakes and the magic of nature, being out outside without the need of a coat, hat and gloves as much as possible.
It can be easy to overlook the unique gifts of fall.
This year, I decided to throw a “fall party” on the first day of fall, September 23. I told my 3 kids — Rachel, 9; Emily, 7; Nathan, 4 — about my plans the week before, and they immediately set about making decorations out of supplies from our craft drawer. I found a clean canning jar for my children’s creations — hand-traced turkeys, paper flowers made from colored coffee filters, and pipe cleaners taped onto wooden dowels — to use as the centerpiece for our kitchen table.
My kids were so excited! They helped each other pick the last of the pumpkins from our garden and decorated the stems with curly pipe cleaners. And each day, they asked what we were going to do for the party. But I said it was a surprise.
Then the first day of fall arrived. All my kids left for school on the school bus that morning, giving me time to work on my fall party plans. I started by considering what changes fall brings — how the greenness of the growing season fades into golden-brown, how the leaves rain down from the trees in our yard, how the squirrels hurry around burying walnuts for the winter, how the songbirds fly south but the winter birds come back, how the landscape changes from a sea of 8-foot-tall corn fields to harvested 6-inch stubble dotted with grazing cattle.
My son came home from preschool at noon and shared with me all he learned that day about how field corn and soybeans are harvested. Living in America’s Heartland, our livestock farm is surrounded by a sea of corn and soybean fields. Farming is an important part of our family heritage and of our geography, and I’m thrilled that the local school finds agriculture important enough to add into their curriculum. Nathan’s excitement gave me an idea: I went to the barn and brought in a bit of field corn to spread out on a cookie sheet to contain the grain, where he demonstrated with his toy combines, tractors and wagons how the corn is cut and eventually makes its way to the grain bin before being sold in town. He had so much fun showing me over and over again how the combines work in the fields that I ended up adding this activity into the party schedule as well.
The fall party began as soon as my daughters came home on the school bus that afternoon. My husband joined in at times, too. Here is what we did:
- An afterschool snack of homemade pumpkin pie
- Walnut bowling — where we rolled nuts from the many black walnut trees growing around our farm down the driveway, attempting to get the most distance or get around obstacles like my son’s toy dump truck
- Jumping in piles of leaves — my kids loved taking turns with the rake, too!
- Resting in the hammock, looking at the leaves turning yellow and listening to the calls of the cicadas
- Releasing seeds from the milkweed pods in the pasture — we plant wild milkweed plants to provide habitat for the monarch butterfly, which has been petitioned to be listed as an endangered species. Even so, with fine cotton attached to each of the hundred seeds in each pod, releasing the seeds is a bit like blowing bubbles in that we like to see how far and high the seeds fly, wishing them well on their journeys and imagining all the butterflies they’ll support.
- A snack of homegrown yellow grape tomatoes
- “Harvesting” field corn with my son’s toy farm equipment
- Making more fall crafts
- Dancing to Irish music including the family favorite, “Rattlin’ Bog”
- Playing board games, like Memory and chess
- Eating a late supper of homemade lasagna and homemade grape juice.
I think the fall party served its purpose. My kids were reminded of the fun activities of fall, and we were able to share time together and in nature without the distraction of screentime — which becomes more tempting as the weather cools down and the days shorten.
I think a Fall Party will have to become an annual tradition, and that perhaps the advent of each of the seasons deserves its own celebration.