As we enter into a second fall season during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to start planning some family activities to celebrate the season.
The planning process seems both more and less difficult than last fall. There aren’t widespread lockdowns or virtual schooling, so we can do more things outside the house. At the same time, parents have more factors to consider in determining which activities are safe — the delta variant surge, the fact that kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated yet and lower compliance with proven mitigation factors like masking and social distancing.
Here’s what we do know. The CDC says people who are eligible should get vaccinated. That’s the best way to decrease hospitalizations and death as a result of COVID-19, and the best way to prevent the virus from mutating into more dangerous variants. The CDC also recommends that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, should wear masks indoors in public places (including schools), and unvaccinated people should also wear masks outdoors when there are crowds. Social distancing is also recommended.
As you determine the safest ways for your family to enjoy fall, here are 50 ideas. Many are activities you can enjoy with your immediate family in your house. Others are outdoor gatherings to take advantage of gorgeous autumn weather. Some are places to go, many of which require masks and social distancing.
1. If you plan to go to take advantage of the lower risk of COVID-19 while outdoors, harvest festivals are a great way to celebrate fall, particularly if you avoid crowds and wear masks when that’s not possible. If you’re uncomfortable attending events, you can do many of the typical activities in your own backyard, including pumpkin bowling, caramel apple eating and relay races. If you really want to step up your game, help your kids make a catapult to do some pumpkin launching.
2. So far, most movie theaters remain open, and there are lots of movie opportunities this fall since so many were delayed as a result of the pandemic. Choose weekday matinees to avoid crowds, and reserve your tickets online where you can choose seats away from other moviegoers. And wear masks.
3. If you’re not comfortable going to movie theaters this fall, have your own movie marathon at home with some fall-themed films and TV specials. Some ideas? “It’s the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “Spookley the square pumpkin,” “Hotel Transylvania” or “Coco.”
4. Take a drive to see the fall colors. Maybe even take a picnic lunch with you.
5. Make fall-themed sugar cookies. Use cookie cutters shaped like pumpkins, leaves and witch hats. Decorate with orange and black icing and lots of sprinkles.
6. Check out your local nature center to see if they’re offering haunted hikes this year. Many of them are not-too-scary for kids. If you’re not comfortable on a group hike, make up your own spooky stories to share with your family while you trek through the woods, or head to a trail that has historical (and spooky) buildings.
7. Build a scarecrow. Stuff old clothes with newspaper, and either use a pumpkin or a balloon to make a head. If you don’t have a garden to house your scarecrow, set it up on your front porch, or even just prop it up on your couch.
8. Go to an orchard to do some socially distant apple picking.
9. Head to a socially distant farm, grocery store or roadside stand to pick out some pumpkins.
10. Enjoy the fall harvest by buying some produce at a farmers market.
11. Harvest your own garden.
12. Use your harvested produce to make some comfort food — homemade applesauce, pot pie made with fresh vegetables, pumpkin soup or vegetable stew.
13. Gather your children to start making homemade holiday gifts for grandparents, family members and friends.
14. Check ahead for safety precautions you feel comfortable with, and head to Milwaukee family destinations like the Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee Art Museum, Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and Discovery World. Currently, the public museum, art museum and Betty Brinn have mask requirements, while Discovery World recommends masks.
15. Zoo trips are fun throughout fall and winter as long as you dress for the weather. And, pandemic bonus: they’re mostly outside. Take a trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo or the Racine Zoo.
16. Snuggle together with your kids and a few snacks to have a read-aloud marathon.
17. Nothing feels more fall-like than football. Watch the games on TV in your favorite team jerseys and T-shirts, make some football party snacks and head outside to play football with your family during halftime.
18. Jump in a pile of leaves.
19. Go to a craft store like Michael’s or Joann, or the craft section of dollar stores, Target or Walmart. Let your kids pick out a fall-themed craft. Do the art project together with cider and cookies, and decorate your house with the resulting project.
20. If you have a fire pit, dress in sweatshirts and head out for a fall bonfire. And, of course, make some s’mores. If you don’t have a fire pit, don’t deprive yourself of s’mores. Make them on the grill or even on the stovetop or microwave.
21. Take your kids out for a fall-themed treat. Coffee shops, doughnut shops and bakeries have plenty of apple and pumpkin drinks and pastries this time of year. Let your kids pick out something fun and eat it on the shop’s patio or at a nearby park.
22. Work with your kids to make their own Halloween costume, or head out to a store to buy one and enjoy the fall decorations the stores have this time of year.
23. Community trick-or-treating and Halloween parties may not be safe this year. Brainstorm with your kids for other ideas to celebrate the holiday — like trick-or-treating within your pandemic bubble, going for a candy treasure hunt or setting out on a socially distant costume parade through your neighborhood.
24. You don’t have to leave the house to have a haunted house. Let your kids set one up in your basement, their bedroom or the garage. Then go through it and let them scare you. Or set up a haunted backyard and invite friends and family to walk through it.
25. Make a kid-friendly pumpkin spice drink, like a no-coffee latte or a milkshake.
26. Have a family board game marathon. Play silly games like Apples to Apples, classic games like Clue, Monopoly or Candy Land, and card games like Crazy 8s or Go Fish.
27. Have a family puzzle marathon. Jigsaw puzzles are great, but you can add some outside-the-box options like word puzzles, math puzzles or even an escape-the-room type of game with clues to solve.
28. Last year, the CDC recommended outdoor Halloween activities as fun alternatives to typical indoor parties. One great idea was to invite neighbors, family or friends for a backyard pumpkin decorating party. For little ones, set out paint, stickers and markers instead of carving implements. When everyone has carved their pumpkin, take photos, shower them with compliments and give out prizes (for everyone).
29. Small towns with picturesque main streets are great to walk around this time of year. Even if the shops don’t lend themselves to social distancing, a stroll outside them can be nice.
30. Take on the Ice Age Trail Mammoth Hike challenge with your family — to hike 41 miles of the Ice Age Trail (in honor of the trail’s 41st anniversary) in October. If that feels daunting, customize it for your family by allowing yourself all of September, October and November to complete the miles. That’s still a big accomplishment!
31. Recruit your kids to help with school lunch and snack ideas. Take them to the grocery store so they can point out their favorites. Then check out cookbooks and YouTube recipe tutorials together to ensure they’re enjoying their food this fall.
32. Bob for apples (by giving each person an individual bucket of water with apples in it — no germ spreading!)
33. Do something creative with your pumpkins. You can carve or paint favorite TV characters or quotes on them. You can clean out the insides and put pretty flowers in them. You can even use them to play catch or hot potato.
34. Set up a spiderweb game in your living room. Unwind different colors of yarn throughout the room, wrapping it around various pieces of furniture until you have a huge tangle. Hand each child the end of a different color of yarn and have them follow their color to see who gets their web unwound first.
35. Go on a walk around the neighborhood (or around new and different neighborhoods) to admire pretty fall decorations and creepy Halloween decorations.
36. Search for animal tracks in the mud or (gulp) snow.
37. Have everyone guess when the first snowfall will be this year. Make sure there’s a prize for the winner.
38. Doors Open Milwaukee is always a fun way to see places you usually don’t get the chance to see. Many tours will continue to be virtual this year, in-person tours have mask requirements and some have vaccine requirements.
39. Go all out decorating your space for fall. Have the kids make art from fall leaves, acorns and flowers. Make displays and centerpieces from pumpkins, gourds and colorful flowers.
40. While the weather is still cooperative, choose a favorite artwork to try to replicate on your driveway or sidewalk.
41. The Mitchell Park Domes traditionally holds a Dia de los Muertos event. Last year, it was virtual with Day of the Dead at-home celebration kits. That’s likely to be the case this year as well, with a possible return to an in-person event.
42. The cold weather will soon inspire us to move most of our activities indoors. Make sure there’s a cozy room or corner for each family member to get alone time. Make dedicated baskets for art supplies, favorite books and toys your kids haven’t played with in a while.
43. Make sure you have plenty of cold weather gear for everyone and plenty of cold-weather ideas, like scavenger hunts, fort-building and (eventually) sledding.
44. Take advantage of cool, crisp fall evenings to play some of the games you used to play when you were a kid — flashlight tag, Red Light Green Light, ghost in the graveyard. If your kids are young, make sure there’s an adult with each kid when you split up so they (and you) don’t get scared! Invite some friends and family over to make the group even more fun.
45. Buy glow sticks, glow bracelets and necklaces from a dollar store, and run around outside on a cool evening. Again, invite some neighbors, friends or family.
46. Tell campfire stories. They can be scary ghost stories, silly fairy tales or even the family stories everyone has already heard before but still loves to laugh over. Tell them outside around a backyard bonfire, or inside snuggled up together on the couch.
47. Go on a tour of playgrounds and parks. Go to some of your favorites, and try some new ones.
48. Give everyone home manicures with fall colors. Then use temporary hair color to add fall hair to the party.
49. Visit the Apple Capital of Wisconsin.
50. Create an apple cider drink by letting your kids add whipped cream, sprinkles and caramel sauce to warm cider. Pair it with homemade apple cider doughnuts.