Are you planning a soiree for the little people in your life this fall? Whether your upcoming event is a "back-to-school" party, birthday celebration, harvest festival or Halloween party, let nature be your guide. During these autumn months, Chicago is literally bursting with beautiful fall foliage and foods that make it easy to make nature's bounty the focus of your party.
Begin your event with a "nature walk," where little guests can gather interesting fall finds like pinecones, leaves or branches.
If a "nature walk" isn't practical, gather up some of these items ahead of time. Using a cornucopia or basket, let your little guests assemble a centerpiece for the table using various natural elements. This project also works well with farmer's market finds such as gourds, mini-pumpkins and unusually shaped squashes (such as a Hubbard squash).
Using some sturdy string and a hole punch, string different types of leaves together to make a fall garland for decoration.
Choose activities that will keep squirmy bodies busy and also give them something to take home when the party is over (and skip the traditional gift bag).
Your party guests will love to make their own placemats to use at the party and then take home with them. Give each child a self-laminating sleeve or two pieces of contact paper. Use a variety of leaves and small twigs to decorate the bottom half of the placemat and then carefully press the top sheet down until it adheres to the bottom half.
If you are looking for a fun group activity, fill a galvanized tub with water and apples and let the kids bob away. Set up a dip-your-own caramel apple station (be sure that an adult monitors children around hot and messy caramel).
Lay out pumpkins, paint and paint brushes so that each child can decorate their very own pumpkin. Let your partygoers help separate out pumpkin seeds for roasting. Give each guest a little bag of salted and roasted seeds to take home as a snack.
When planning your menu, think of the delicious foods that typically remind us of fall: apples, squashes and pumpkins (among others).
Use apples to make applesauce, cinnamon baked apples or an apple strudel.
Turn hard squashes into delicious dishes like butternut squash soup, acorn squash baked with maple syrup or roasted spaghetti squash with brown butter and sage.
Pumpkins are good for more than creating beautiful jack-o-lanterns. Use canned pumpkin puree or baked pumpkin pulp from a sugar pie pumpkin to make chocolate chip pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread with raisins or pumpkin squares with cream cheese frosting.
Caitlin Murray Giles is a full-time mother of three and part-time freelance writer living in Wicker Park.
See more of Caitlin's stories here.