A Closer Look at Autumn Leaves

Taking the Kids appears weekly

The leaves may be gorgeous, all reds, yellows and golds, but meandering along winding country lanes admiring the colors won't cut it. Not with the kids.

They're bored and fighting. They refuse to poke around any of the quaint shops once they've selected their souvenir. Or linger over a fancy dinner, no matter how wonderful the food at that country inn. The fall weekend in the country that the adults in the crowd thought would be relaxing, the kids are finding excruciatingly dull.

This is not to say such getaways can't work. They can, as long as parents are willing to shift expectations for leaf-peeping.

Families are heading to apple orchards, pumpkin patches, farms and parks across the country.

Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, for one, reports October is its busiest month, largely as a result of all the families who make the 100-mile drive from Washington, D.C. (Call 540-999-3500 for family programs.) "But more families need to get out of their cars," said Tim Taglauer, Shenandoah's educational programming supervisor. "Let the kids get out and explore the forest," he said.

Elementary school teacher and naturalist Paul Kelly couldn't agree more. Kelly spent his summer creating and overseeing nature programs for children vacationing at Vermont's Smuggler's Notch resort. "Get a simple field guide and make it a goal to learn five trees before you head out," Kelly said.

During a walk, let preschoolers collect colored leaves to use for a collage. (Remember to take along glue.) Older siblings might like to take markers, paints and paper out into a field.

Try making up a story about some of the animals you encounter: a family of ducks, a doe and a fawn, a squirrel. It may sound corny, but the characters you invent might keep everyone entertained.

On a recent trip to Vermont, we signed on with Green River Canoe Guides for a dusk beaver-watching trip down the Lamoille River (802-644-8336).

Along with several other families, we paddled "just like Pocahontas," according to my 4-year-old daughter, Melanie, under a covered bridge and past several beaver dams of various sizes and shapes, watching the sun set and listening to the night sounds.

Never mind the leaves. Nearly a month later, Melanie is still talking about all the beavers she didn't see.

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