Got the M&Ms? They're the one thing I always put in my backpack when heading outdoors with kids in the fall -- whether they're 4, 14 or 24. Those Ziploc bags of M&Ms have been known to inspire art creations, stop a meltdown and even spur healthy debate (Do the blue ones really taste better than the orange? Are they better mixed with dried fruit, granola or nuts?)
What's in your pack? I hope you've got one ready. Wherever you live, there's no better time than fall to get outside with the kids. It doesn't have to cost much either. There are free festivals coast to coast.
How about the Woolly Worm Festival (http://www.woollyworm.com/) in Banner Elk, N.C., or the pumpkin festival in Half Moon Bay, Calif., the world's pumpkin capital, (http://www.miramarevents.com/pumpkinfest/)? Both are in October.
Let's not forget the annual North American Wife Carrying Championship at Sunday River's annual Fall Festival in Maine (http://www.sundayriver.com/events/main/summer/fallfestival.html).
Go pick apples and pumpkins and come home and make a pie with your tweens. It's easy to find a u-pick farm near you. (Check out www.pickyourown.org.) In Vermont, you might even win an iPod during "Apples to iPods," a statewide scavenger hunt during which visitors who find specially marked wooden apples will win an Apple iPod or maybe an iPad. (Check www.applestoipods.com for details.)
When was the last time you raced your kids through a giant corn maze? There's one near my home in Connecticut at Lyman Orchards (http://www.lymanorchards.com/events/corn_maze.shtml), which offers a four-acre Yankees vs. Red Sox Maze. Lyman's, an 1,100-acre farm in central Connecticut, was established in 1741!
Take the kids to a farm for the weekend and let them run around the fields and see where their food comes from, as they help gather the eggs and milk the goats. As the first lady explained in my exclusive interview last summer, kids who understand where their food comes from become better and healthier eaters for life.
We saw that first hand last summer when we took a middle-schooler from the Bronx -- under the auspices of the Fresh Air Fund (www.freshair.org) -- to a New Hampshire farm (http://www.innatvalleyfarms.com/) for the weekend. He'd never seen garlic out of a jar or eggs not in a carton. By the end of the two days, he was gathering eggs like he'd grown up doing it, a big smile on his face, despite the pecking chickens.
We all know our kids are spending too much time inside. Sure, we're worried about their safety. But we should be more worried about how much time they are spending in front of the TV, computer or bent over a smartphone -- typically more than seven hours a day, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That's scary!
First lady Michelle Obama has tried to encourage kids to get outside and get more exercise with her Lets Move! Campaign (www.letsmove.gov) to combat childhood obesity. Children need 60 minutes of play with moderate to vigorous activity every day to grow up to a healthy weight, experts say. I spoke with the first lady earlier this summer about her push for healthier lifestyles for children, especially while traveling. Check it out at http://www.takingthekids.com/weekly-column/the-first-lady(PERCENTSIGN)e2(PERCENTSIGN)80(PERCENTSIGN)99s-tips-on-eating-healthier-on-summer-vacation/.)
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