Half term school breaks are now well and truly over, wherever you are in the UK. I’ve just come to the end of a two week holiday from work, looking after our daughter as my wife worked on her dissertation. We didn’t go away anywhere and have been filling the time with activities and day trips close to home. 

Here are my 3 autumn observations after two weeks off work. 

1. There are a lot of fun low-tech children’s activities.

It’s been a while since I’ve gone on woodland trails, collected golden brown leaves to make into green men, or gone on bat walks. You tend to do them when you’re young then forget about it until you have kids. I’ve enjoyed rediscovering nature, as corny as it sounds. We surround ourselves with technology and tend to rush around always on the way to somewhere. Sometimes it’s good to take stock and have fun with simple things like crafts and traditional games. 

2. Halloween is bigger than it was in my day.  

I remember dressing up for Halloween parties when I was younger but I don’t think it was everywhere like it is today. Supermarkets and pop-up shops have been full of gory make-up, masks, and witches’ brooms. Thankfully, we’ve managed to avoid bumping into any of those scary clowns doing the rounds. Halloween is getting big in the UK, perhaps not as big as in the US, but it’s a huge part of childhood now. And that means I’ve had to swallow my grouchy tendencies and take part, dressing up, wearing and putting on face paint. I can now do a mean cat face. My pumpkin carving still leaves a lot to be desired. 

3. It’s going to be non-stop ‘fun’ til January. 

Again, not trying to be a grouch, but I’ve realised there’s a long run-up to Christmas. As soon as the Halloween costumes are swept away the Christmas decorations have arrived. November and December are busy months for anyone, and when children are thrown into the mix it’s one long stretch of excitement, anticipation, and desire. By that, I mean they are exposed to all the things a parent tries to ration: too many sweets, toys, parties, etc. It’s easier to manage when they’re young and don’t know any better. The challenge is to let them have fun without everyone burning out. 

So my 1 big reflection after two fantastic weeks off work with my daughter is to focus on finding fun in the meaningful things like walks, painting, crafts, reading, and not to get too caught up in the excitement of the holiday season. By all means we’re going to take part in things, but we’re going to do them at our own pace and in our own way. 

It’s been half term round this parts and I’ve taken some time off to spend with A. One of the best investments we’ve ever made is joining the National Trust. There are so many great places to visit from historic houses, to country parks to beaches, that we’re kept entertained all year. I think it’s important to get outside and do things as a child, not be stuck inside watching TV (although TV does have its uses sometimes!)

The other day I visited Charlecote Park, one of the staples on our National Trust portfolio. 

As usual we didn’t go into the house or the tea rooms. We walked around the park and took a picnic. It was a perfect autumn day. Of course, being this time of year there was a Halloween trail to complete and we duly signed up. 

The aim of the Halloween trail was to find about ten pumpkins placed around the park. 

Firstly, this was a great idea because I often have trouble convincing A to do the longer walks which helps to tire her out. Sometimes I resort to making up stories as we walk around, or “telling a story out of your mouth” as she likes to put it. At each pumpkin there was a question to answer, such as “What do witches like to fly on? A. Mars bar, B. Broom, C. Aeroplane. Each right answer gave us a letter to write down and then work out an anagram at the end of it. 

This was the National Trust at its educational best, whether it realised it or not. 

I was able to help A learn her letters as we went around, thereby ticking off several positive points such as fresh air, exercise, and spellings; surely a millennial dad win! Once we collected all the letters I suggested a picnic lunch by the river, to give me enough time to work out the anagram. 

I’ve always been nervous about anagrams, even if they’re simple.

There’s something about the pressure of having to solve them as quickly as possible that puts me in a spin. Luckily I was able to solve this one with a bit of intuition given the Halloween theme (it was B-R-O-O-M-S-T-I-C-K: apologies to anyone who has yet to do the trail and wanted to work it out by themselves). Our prize was a pumpkin chosen from a shed full of boxes of pumpkins, surely grown organically on some National Trust farm and not bought down the local supermarket?! It wasn’t quite the sweets that A was promised at the entrance, but by the time we got it home we managed to turn it into a pretty mean-looking cat lantern. 

I’ve never really been bothered about Halloween activities but now A is getting old enough to take part I have to admit to finding them a lot of fun. 

Next up, a Halloween party where I’m obliged to dress up and wear face paint. I could never really be bothered to dress up when I was younger but now I’m a dad I may as well get into the spirit of things. Won’t a sheet with some eye holes do?