7 fun things to do for autumn
Who cares what the weather's doing, says Lizzie Catt. With a little planning and a few basic props, it's easy to entertain the troops.
1. Get out!
The growing Forest School movement serves as a great reminder that iffy weather's no reason to stay inside. Marina Robb, co-author of Learning with Nature and founder of Circle of Life Rediscovery, says, 'There are so many benefits to outdoor learning, but with under-threes the main thing is simply to make sure that they're wrapped up warm and then get them outside!
'Follow their lead and let them play. It's all about trying and testing, learning balance, becoming confident in body and mind. They love hiding, so hide with them and mirror what they do. Three- to five- year-olds enjoy collecting blackberries and making blackberry cordial, mixing mud in a bowl and making bird feeders. Bring in a maths element by counting things that you've collected and seeing which are the longest and shortest sticks.
'And remember, even a tiny space is huge to a child, and the local park is as good as open countryside – you can even make friends with the tree down the road.'
2. Become a face-painting master
Break up long afternoons and impress your kids by becoming a dab hand at face-painting. There are lots of online tutorials, or you could splash out on Face Painting, which comes with paints, brush and sponge, clear instructions and easy designs that, be warned, older tots will want to try out on you. Just don't let word get out or you'll be going to a lot more birthday parties...
3. Throw a 5pm disco
You know what you can't have when it's sunny? A disco. As soon as the sun sets, drag out all the flashing toys, invest in a rotating disco ball light, crank up the stereo and throw some shapes with your little ones at Club Bambino.
You might have been listening to Daft Punk, not Taylor Swift, last time you hit the dance floor, it may have been 1am not 5pm and no, you probably weren't swigging diluted apple juice, but you couldn't really call your night out an 'educational multi-sensory play experience' either.
4. Get into autumn art and craft
Autumn is the only time of year when art supplies are literally falling out of the sky. Try something a bit different with the bounty your tots collect on a walk, such as cutting out a mask shape and gluing leaves on – pre-schoolers will love racing around the house as an autumn fairy (add glitter) or 'leaf boy/girl' (add stick) almost as much as you'll enjoy sweeping up the dead foliage left in their wake. Wreaths are also easy to make, and tiny tots with short attention spans will be tickled by the addition of googly eyes and a felt-tip smile to pretty much anything that fell off a tree.
5. Hold a mothers' meeting
If you've just had your baby (congrats!), the onset of autumn can make it feel like you're stuck indoors. While the odd duvet day is to be encouraged, watching back-to-back Girls with somebody whose dialogue is limited to 'goo goo ga ga' can send you a little peculiar. So make a weekly plan with fellow new mums – enjoy pub lunches and coffee shops before babies get mobile and friends start going back to work, check out mum-and-baby cinema shows and sign up for classes. If you haven't made new mum friends yet, start at your local children's centre.
6. Bake spuds the old-fashioned way
Long afternoons at home give you the perfect opportunity to cook up one of autumn's biggest treats – a slow-cooked spud, baked the old-fashioned way. Scrub them, prick them all over, rub them with oil and salt and pop them in the oven for an hour and twenty minutes at 200°C, or gas 6. Drop the heat and cook them for longer for extra-crispy skin – if you can bear to wait!
7. Nap when baby naps
You probably didn't nail this one when your baby was tiny – most mums don't, despite the insistence of health visitors, friends, parents and the woman in the chemist. But it's never too late to start. Besides, conflicting nap schedules can really stuff up your social life. So whether you have a teeny tiny, a toddler or fully house-trained pre-schooler who still likes to catch a few daytime zzzs, forget the chores, kick off your slippers, switch on the monitor and crash out. Parenting is 24/7, not 9 to 5, and bath time is a long way off.