By Virginia Yurich

People say that nothing beats a Michigan summer, but it is also true that nothing beats a Michigan fall. As beach time and camping slip into hoodies and apple orchards, we physically feel the change of the seasons in Michigan. With the purchase of new backpacks and colored pencils, there is anticipation for change and new experiences.

The start of a school year is such an exciting time that we can easily forget that there are many things that contribute to learning beyond pen and pencil. There is more and more research confirming that the brain and the body are intricately related, and that movement can actually increase the capacity of the brain. As we slide into the routines of fall, we can still impact our children’s development by continuing to prioritize experiences in nature. The fall is the perfect time to schedule outdoor hikes, playtime, and observation.

Fall hikes in Michigan are full of wonder. I love that quote, “My favorite color is October.” In the metro-Detroit area, there are many opportunities for shorter hikes with children. We use Google Maps as well as city and county websites to find good hiking options. A one- or two-mile hike with children during the peak color season will be awe-inspiring for the entire family. Hiking aids in learning; increasingly challenging movements, such as hiking over rocky terrain, develop the brain. Learning is not just a process of the brain, but of the entire body. Think of the sensory input a child would receive during a fall hike in Michigan. There would be a vast array of colors, sounds, and smells from the crunch of the leaves to the brilliance of reds and oranges contrasted against the blue sky. All of these sensations are foundations for knowledge. 

Playing outside in Michigan is so much fun in the fall. The weather is often perfect and kids can play for hours without overheated or getting too cold. Play is one of those overlooked elements of childhood that also greatly aids the learning process. Free time in nature where kids can imagine and create, alone or with friends, will offer many learning and brain growth benefits. Kids learn an immense amount when they have time to draw from their inner resources to engage with others and with the world around them.

Fall is a perfect time to observe and learn about the many wonders of nature. As we watch the leaves change into fiery colors before eventually falling to the ground and turning brown, we can talk and read about photosynthesis. As we watch the birds fly south, we can delve into wonderful books about migration and migratory patterns. There are a vast array of beautiful books where we can read about where insects and amphibians go during the cold months and how certain mammals prepare for hibernation.  

One of my favorite things to learn about in the fall is apples. I was floored to learn that there are over 7,500 varieties of apples. We love to take our kids to the different apple orchards in the area. Week after week, the types of apples that are ripe will change and we get to see and taste the variation, from Braeburns to Galas to Ginger Golds and beyond. Some are great for eating, some are great for applesauce, and others are great for pies. The simple apple harvest provides endless learning opportunities. You can compare and contrast different varieties, work with fractions by doubling or tripling pie recipes, or make graphs charting the number of apple seeds.  

Fall tends to be a busy season. Back-to-school activities and extracurriculars often leave families with little down time. Nature can’t advertise itself, so here is a reminder that family time outside offers immeasurable benefits to your child. Take advantage of our beautiful Michigan fall and make sure to pencil in some hikes, a few apple orchard excursions, and some empty spaces in your calendar just to play! 

Virginia Yurich
Virginia YurichAuthor

Ginny Yurich is a local Michigan mother of five. Through her blog 1000 Hours Outside, she is challenging parents around the world to consider matching outside time with the amount of time kids spend in front of screens. In America, that is currently around 1,200 hours a year.