Here are some family-friendly ways to embrace October

It’s that time of year when the trees show off their best colours, apples and pumpkins are ripe for picking and woodland walks can inspire creativity.

Make the most of a fleeting season and embrace autumn and the magic of October at its peak: from local parks, ravines, orchards and pumpkin patches worth a visit to ideas for creative, kid-friendly nature-inspired crafts.

Our kids love witnessing the magic of summer changing into fall, said Holly Romero, who has made family hikes a part of their weekly calendar.

“It’s something the kids have come to expect, and it gives us a chance to escape from our busy schedules and the mental loads we all carry throughout the week. We always try to stomp on the crunchiest leaves when we’re walking and always make time to have a mid-morning snack along the way,” said Romero, who likes the trails available within the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington because they are well mapped and family-friendly. Favourites include the Hendrie Valley Sanctuary, the Marshwalk Lookout at the Arboretum and the Rock Chapel Sanctuary.

Come prepared, recommends Romero, who travels with a light backpack carrying water and snacks like granola bars and apples, and don’t forget to bring your imagination. “We love spotting fairy houses, troll bridges and witch houses on our hikes. Last of all, bring your cellphone. You never know when you need it in case of emergencies or to at least take some great fall shots.”

A walk beneath a canopy of leaves is a great way to experience this time of year, and Toronto’s ravines offer endless options. In October, the Toronto Botanical Garden offers guided walks of Wilket Creek Ravine. It’s a fun way to learn about the plants, history, wildlife and the ecological importance of Toronto’s wild spaces, all led by volunteer guides.

Ravines are an essential part of our city, our regional ecosystems, and our community’s well-being, said Stephanie Jutila, executive director of Toronto Botanical Garden. “The ravines invite our curiosity and our respect. If every Torontonian spent time, respectfully and gently, exploring our ravines—our awe and care of our natural world would increase in meaningful ways.”

Slow down and explore nature at a child’s pace, recommends Alexandra Iorgu , an artist and outdoor educator. “Something really special happens when you’re doing a nature walk and then creating after. You’re already immersed in the beauty of nature, the sounds, the smells, and then you’re drawing it outside. It’s a totally different experience,” said Iorgu, who enjoys hiking with her family at Etobicoke Creek.

You can be creative without spending any money.

“You don’t need much. Just bring a few pieces of paper and go out with the kids,” said Iorgu, who recommends using what you have so you don’t create waste. Give children materials and let them discover. Leave it open to them to create.

Keep an eye out for broken black walnut husks on the ground to make marks on paper, or use the husks to rub on fallen leaves to make leaf tracings. If you’re feeling more adventurous, make ink by boiling the husks in water and letting it steep. Clay is also a versatile material to use outdoors. It picks up so many textures, said Iorgu. “Kids can press things into the clay – pine cones, leaves, sticks, stones. You can squish it and reuse it over and over again.” Use fallen branches such as willow to make small baskets. Traditionally, stems are dried and soaked to make them pliable, but it’s easier to use them fresh, so they don’t break, Iorgu said.

When it comes to foraging, only take what’s on the ground. Be careful about how much you take and never touch a plant if you don’t know what it is. Learn about hazardous plants in your area to know what’s safe to touch, advises Iorgu. Toronto Field Naturalists and the Toronto Nature Stewards are two resources to check out for guided walks and information on local plants.

Toronto offers many ravines and parks to explore. In the west, the Humber River and the ravines surrounding it or High Park — the High Park Nature Centre offers guided family nature walks. Cedarvale Ravine and the Beltline Trail offer a nature-filled walk through midtown Toronto. Further east, explore the trails of the Don River Valley Park, which run alongside the Don River, or the Glen Stewart Ravine, with its elevated boardwalk that includes staircases and lookouts in the Beaches.

A trip to a local orchard or pumpkin patch is an annual tradition for many. Head to Carl Laidlaw Orchards in Brampton for apple picking (they have pumpkins, wagon rides, a corn maze and farm animals). Open weekends including Thanksgiving Monday. Downey’s Farm in Caledon has a pumpkin patch with classic jack-o-lantern pumpkins, specialty pumpkins, minis, ghost and pie pumpkins — all pre-picked. There’s a Pumpkinfest too. Open daily (including Thanksgiving Monday) until Oct. 31. Hutchinson’s Farm in Burlington pumpkin patch is open on weekdays and weekends.


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