Category: Family Adventures

8 Simple Fall Family Traditions + Gratitude Journal

8 Simple Fall Family Traditions + Gratitude Journal

Growing up in Texas, cooler weather and changing leaves usually arrived at the same time as Christmas. Now that we have moved to the Midwest, our girls get to experience a TRUE fall: harvest, apple-picking, pumpkin patches, and jumping in HUGE piles of leaves in the yard. We also have been able to start new fall family traditions! 

Image of fall foliage with text: 8 Simple Fall Family Traditions

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

8 Simple Fall Family Traditions:

  • Visit a pumpkin patch or apple orchard.
  • Rake up leaves from the yard and jump in them. (Bonus points for raking a neighbor’s yard, too!)
  • Go on a nature hike and gather items for a homemade wreath craft.
  • Complete a family puzzle or LEGO set over a few weeks’ time.
  • Listen to an audiobook on the couch while doing a project.
  • Invite a family over for a meal.
    This can be for Thanksgiving (think of someone who doesn’t have extended family nearby) or another meal during the month of November. Have your children help plan the menu, go shopping, set the table, and prepare the meal together. Teach your children about serving others and being hospitable.
  • Do a family service project.
    Gather items for the local food pantry or women’s shelter. Snuggle dogs or cats at the animal shelter. Write letters for veterans. Create small care packages for the homeless (warm socks, toiletry items, snacks). Participate in Operation Christmas Child or Angel Tree.   
  • Bake (or buy) cookies and talk about what each family member is grateful for. You can make a gratitude jar, banner, or start a gratitude journal to add to each year.

Make a Gratitude Journal:

When your children are old enough to understand what “thankful” means, go out and buy a family journal. I would recommend one with unlined pages and a spiral binding.


Decorate the cover together with fabric or scrapbook paper. Trace each child’s hand on a page in the journal and allow them to fill it in with markers, stickers, colored paper, magazine scraps, etc. Write down what they are thankful for (or let them write in the journal) and date the entries. Each year, bring the journal out and reminisce about previous years.

Start a new family tradition: create a gratitude journal!

What are your family’s favorite fall traditions? Leave a comment below or join the discussion in our Facebook group!

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Fall Family Traditions | family activity ideas, teaching kids to be grateful, helping others, gratitude journal for families, making a difference



Join our Fall Reading Challenge:

Reading aloud with your children for 15 minutes a day can have significant impact on your:

  • family bond
  • child’s love for learning
  • child’s emotional and academic success
  • and MORE!

You can grab our FREE printable reading log and get details about our November book giveaway below.

Grab our free printable reading log at!

Apple-Picking | Fall Family Field Trip

Apple-Picking | Fall Family Field Trip

When the calendar switches to September, I immediately begin planning our fall family outings: apple-picking, visiting the pumpkin patch, hiking local nature trails, driving to see the changing leaves, and more!

One of my intentions here at Rolling Prairie Readers is making learning fun for all families. The easiest way to do that is to include more family field trips in your calendar. While it can be tricky to fit one more thing on your to-do list, my suggestion is one family adventure each quarter. If that goes well, you can always add more trips as your schedule allows.

Now that we have moved to the Midwest, we are able to experience more “seasonal” activities.  When I mentioned I’d like to go apple-picking, a quick Internet search brought up several orchards within an hour of our house.

(If you don’t have an apple orchard near your town, keep reading to the end! I have lots of fun family ideas, including re-creating an apple-picking experience at home.)

Apple Learning Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers

Looking for even more apple-themed learning ideas for your toddler or preschooler?

Click here for 5 FREE apple-themed activities!

Apple-Picking | Fall Family Field Trip Ideas | fun family activities, things to do, learning ideas, apple orchard, family adventures, Center Grove Orchard

Last year, we visited Center Grove Orchard, close to Ankeny, Iowa.

The orchard offers a large variety of fun, fall, farm activities. On this trip, we decided to focus on picking apples. We took a tractor-pulled hayride out to the orchard, where we purchased our bag and got a list of the varieties available for picking.

We enjoyed seeing all the different types of apple trees in various stages of growth. Some of the trees were quite mature, while others were really young. We picked 15 apples from five trees: McIntosh, Gala, Blondee, Crimson Crisp, and Jonathan.

Before we left Center Grove Orchard, we made a stop at the restaurant to get a small treat (pie for me, turnover for my husband, and apple cider donuts for the girls) and purchase some apple butter for the fall!

Apple-Picking | Fall Family Field Trip Ideas | fun family activities, things to do, learning ideas, apple orchard, family adventures, Center Grove Orchard

15 fantastic apple-picking learning activities for families

If you are you are planning on taking your family apple-picking this fall, here are some tips and learning activity ideas.

Before Apple-Picking:

  • Check out apple-themed books from your library. (Here’s our book list, Best Apple Books for Kids.)
  • Visit for a list of apple orchards nearby.
  • Look at a map with your child and choose a route to get there.
  • Discuss the measurement terms “bushel” and “peck.”

During Apple-Picking:

  • Discuss different parts of an apple and its tree.
  • Compare and contrast types of apples available.
  • Count apples as you pick them.
  • Talk about what an apple tree needs to produce fruit.
  • Meet orchard employees and learn more about the work they do.
  • Make a list of products that come from apples.
  • Watch an apple cider demonstration (or watch this video when you get home).

After Apple-Picking:

  • Set up a taste test of the different apple varieties.
  • Make a chart of attributes about each of the apples tried.
  • Cook a tasty treat together.
  • Plant apple seeds and watch them grow.

If you don’t live near an apple orchard, you can still do many of these activities! Go to the grocery store, choose several different varieties of apples, and set up a “tasting” on a picnic blanket in your yard or at the park.

Apple-Picking | Fall Family Field Trip Ideas | fun family activities, things to do, learning ideas, apple orchard, family adventures, Center Grove Orchard

Visiting De Smet, South Dakota – Ingalls Homestead and Tour

Visiting De Smet, South Dakota – Ingalls Homestead and Tour

Growing up, the Little House on the Prairie books (and T.V. show, let’s be real) were a major part of my childhood. Getting to visit De Smet, South Dakota–one of Laura’s hometowns–easily ranks as one of the top 10 destinations of my life! If you follow me on Instagram, you got to see some of the highlights of our time at the Ingalls Homestead. I hope you enjoy this deeper look at our time in De Smet.

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you. You can see our full disclosure policy here. Note: This adventure was not sponsored, and all opinions shared here are my own.) 

Laura Ingalls Wilder Tour
De Smet, South Dakota

We arrived in De Smet around lunch time, so we had time to plan our adventures. The girls didn’t know our destination until we were close to town, but we had been listening to the audio book of By the Shores of Silver Lake on our way to South Dakota. It was my husband’s excellent idea, and we all showed up at the tour with a fresh reminder of Laura’s story.

The guided tour starts in town, where two of the original properties (and one replica) have been moved to a central location. We were able to see the surveyor’s house where the Ingalls family lived during their first winter in South Dakota, as well as the De Smet School which Laura and Carrie attended together. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society has done a wonderful job, and our tour guide was very knowledgeable and kind to our girls (which I always appreciate). We were the last tour of the day, so we got some very personalized attention.  

The tour does not allow photographs to be taken inside any of the buildings, but it was well worth our time and money!

Ingalls Homestead

We arrived at the Ingalls Homestead mid-afternoon with the intention of camping on the property overnight. The facility is open until 7:00 p.m., so we had a few hours to explore and chat with the staff. In the picture above, you can see about a fourth of the homestead, which includes a dugout, two shanties, two schools, a barn, a “garage,” a church, and lots and lots of prairie.

The girls loved climbing the tower to get a great view of the entire property!

Every activity on the Ingalls Homestead is hands-on. Our girls got to touch the inside of the dugout, wash laundry by hand, play a pump organ, and even drive a team of horses pulling a covered wagon!

The covered wagon took us down to the one-room schoolhouse, where we all got an education from the “school master.” He finished off our time together by letting each child ring the big school bell.

Both girls got to ride a horse and play with kittens, which was definitely a highlight!  

As I mentioned, we chose to camp on the grounds for just $10 more. They also have a bunkhouse and some “covered wagons” that you can rent for the night, but since we planned our trip spur-of-the-moment, they were already booked. (The staff was incredibly nice when we called, by they way!) 

It got pretty cold at night, but we had a campfire and lots of layers to keep us warm! It definitely made me appreciate everything the Ingalls family went through (and admire “Pa’s” taste in land!). Goodness gracious, it was beautiful. 

Both girls woke up with the sun, so we were very thankful for the new books we bought at The Loftus Store in town the day before. Kate enjoyed reading one of the My First Little House books, and Addie devoured By the Shores of Silver Lake while we took the tent down and loaded up the car. Once the rest of the campground started waking up, we headed off on a few more adventures!  A child and her dad with two horses | Ingalls Homestead

We took a long walk out to the small church on the property, since it was Sunday morning and we didn’t make it out there the previous night. West Bethany Lutheran was built in 1905 and was moved to the Homestead in 2009. On our way back toward the car, we stopped to feed the horses, donkeys, and mules that were watching us walk by. (We also said good-bye to the adorable litter of kittens that were snoozing in one of the barn stalls.)

A mom and two kids in front of a log cabin | Ingalls Homestead

One last picture in front of “Ma’s Little House,” which was reconstructed on the location and to the dimensions of the Ingalls claim shanty! (And truth be told, there was plenty of room inside–especially with the amazing “yard” right out front.)

Silver Lake, South Dakota

After leaving the Ingalls Homestead, we drove out to the local cemetery, where Charles, Caroline, Mary, Carrie, Grace (and her husband) are all buried. Laura and Almanzo had an infant son who died, and he is also buried with the Ingalls family in De Smet. (Laura, husband Almanzo, and daughter Rose are all buried in Mansfield, Missouri. You can click here to read about our trip to Mansfield.)

We also found what remains of Silver Lake. It was once the site for the city dump (likely before Laura wrote her book series and made the lake famous), so don’t look too closely. But thanks to the sunny morning, blue skies, and green grass all around, we all thought it looked lovely.

The whole reason the Ingalls family ended up in De Smet, South Dakota (according to the book) was a job with the railroad. I have no idea if this is the railroad line that was built while the family lived there, but I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of the tracks right next to the lake.

Whether you are able to visit “The Little Town on the Prairie” yourself or listen to the audio versions of Laura’s books, I hope you are able to fall in love with De Smet, South Dakota–just like I did!

P.S. If you enjoyed this post, you’re likely someone I would enjoy getting to know! (Traveler, adventurer, reader?) Consider joining our little Facebook group, The Parent Resource Room!

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