I don’t know about you, but the fall might be my favourite season. The others have definite upsides, and I’m hard pressed to find a complaint about summer, but autumn exhilarates me in a way the other seasons don’t. It might be that the routine of a new school year every September until I turned 25 has become ingrained, giving me a sense of renewal and possibility that can’t be ignored. Or maybe its that the fall includes two of my favourite celebrations, Thanksgiving and Halloween (if I’m playing fast and loose I might even include Christmas on this list).
The point is that the unique experiences that autumn offers, especially here in Eastern Canada, are actually great opportunities to learn. So take advantage of the sunshine while it lasts and make this fall your most educational yet.
Foliage: Why do the leaves on trees change colour during autumn? Turns out it is caused by two things: the development of new red pigment and the absence of chlorophyll, which breaks down to reveal oranges and yellows. Armed with this information and some background about deciduous versus coniferous trees, you can make any outdoor adventure a learning opportunity!
Dropping Temperatures: Explaining why seasons change in climates like ours can be as simple or as technical as you like. Broadly speaking, temperatures drop because the Earth is moving away from the sun. It will be at it’s most distant around Christmas, so consider buying or printing off a calendar to count down the days. If you want to get more technical try keeping track of when the sun sets every night. Your child will start to see a pattern emerge as days become shorter, giving you an opportunity to explain how the Earth’s angle relative to the sun changes with the seasons.
Daylight Savings: Speaking of days becoming shorter, we have this funny thing in Canada called Daylight Savings Time. On the first Sunday in November we set our clocks back an hour to maximize daylight hours. Since Canada is in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight lasts much longer in the summer than the winter. But if you lived near the equator there would be very little difference.
While daylight savings officially starts at 2am on November 1st, you and your kids can have a ‘Sunlight Ceremony’ and set the clocks back before they go to bed on October 31st. They’re going to be too excited to sleep after an evening of trick-or-treating anyway, so get some learning in before they addle their brains with too much chocolate.
Harvest/Agriculture: This time of year is notable in Canada for more than just sweater weather. We celebrate Thanksgiving mid-October, a holiday that may date as far back as the 1500s. Traditionally, Thanksgiving’s purpose is to celebrate the (hopefully) bountiful harvest of crops that having been growing all summer.
Today, in urban centers like Halifax, it can be difficult to understand how our food system operates. But farmers are more important today than they’ve ever been. It isn’t easy to feed huge cities that house hundreds of thousands or even millions of people. That’s what makes autumn a great opportunity to teach your kids about where their food comes from.
For a more hands on approach, head to one of the farms in the Annapolis Valley and pick some apples. Or buy your Halloween pumpkins straight from the source. You and your kids can learn a lot when you get to know the people who produce our food.
Halloween: Stemming from pagan, Gaelic and early Christian influences, modern-day Halloween (also known as All Hallows’ Eve) has become a commercial event in Canada. Many of us buy or create costumes, and even more carve jack-o-lanterns out of pumpkins and gourds without realizing how symbolic these gestures are. Did you know that jack-o-lanterns are said to frighten away evil spirits? Another explanation for their origins can be found here.
For many kids, Halloween is just a chance to dress up and collect as much candy as possible. But it can also be another chance to learn. Knowledge is power, right?
Exploration and Adventure: A lot of people can’t handle exerting themselves during the dog days of summer. Luckily that isn’t a concern when the temperature starts to drop. Sure, camping trips to Cape Breton might be a little chilly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make regular day trips around the province. Take the comfortable weather as a sign that you should take advantage of Mother Nature’s dwindling hospitality. Here are some fun day trips that can also be educational.
- The Annapolis Valley: While the Annapolis Valley is renowned for its foliage and orchards, don’t forget that it pretty much borders the Bay of Fundy. If you haven’t made your way out to Blomidon Provincial Park yet, you’re missing out. They have something like 15 kilometers of hiking (mostly gentle inclines/declines) and if you time your visit right you can walk almost a mile out onto the sea floor. You’ll see shells and critters that are normally submerged and you might even find a crystal or two. It is also an opportunity to teach your kids about the highest tides in the world. And, in case you’re looking for a longer hike with a better view, Cape Split is just down the road from Blomidon.
- Peggy’s Cove: While Peggy’s Cove doesn’t have the same real estate for hiking as the Annapolis Valley, it is still another great place to learn. Not only can you teach your children about the importance of lighthouses for seafarers throughout history, the surging ocean offers some insight into the weather patterns in other parts of the world. If you’re heading to Peggy’s Cove (or any of the other lighthouses along Nova Scotia’s Lighthouse Route), research where that day’s weather is coming from and explain to your children how weather systems travel around the globe on the wind. This is also a great opportunity to explain why pollution we create in Nova Scotia can have dramatic effects on other parts of the world, contributing to global warming. Just remember to stay off of the black rocks!
- South Shore: If you’re looking for something a little more peaceful than the crashing waves at Peggy’s Cove, head down to Lunenburg for the day. Wandering around this iconic town is a great opportunity to learn some of Nova Scotia’s history, especially if the Bluenose II is in dock. If you have a Thursday off, you can also take advantage of Lunenburg’s year-round farmer’s market. Pick up some fresh, local produce and give your kids a chance to interact with the growers who feed our province.
These are just a sample of the different ways you can incorporate learning into your daily routine or as part of your weekend adventures. We sometimes get stuck in the mindset that learning only happens in school, but if we make learning an ongoing and interesting process for kids, they’ll begin to search out new opportunities themselves, becoming engaged, self-motivated learners. And we can’t think of anything more important than that.
Written by Max Gordon from Halifax Learning. With various locations in the city, Halifax Learning Centre offers many different programs to suit everybody’s needs – it’s more than just tutoring! For more information on programs like SpellRead, Momentum Math, French and more visit their website