Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Special Guest Post: Heather Starr Fiedler from PittsburghMom blog

Today we are so excited to have a special guest blogger, Heather Starr Fiedler from the ever so creative PittsburghMom blog! Here in Pittsburgh, students in Pittsburgh Public Schools will have a half-day on Thursday and students in K-8 will have off on Friday too. If you're looking for activities to help fill that free time, look no further. Heather has some great fall activities for you to enjoy this week and this weekend. Thanks Heather!  

One of our favorite things to do in the fall is get out and enjoy the changing leaves and cool crisp air. We love the change in seasons and there are so many added bonuses to a fall hike. In addition to the benefit of healthy exercise for the whole family, it’s a great time to bond and have some time, free of electronics or television, to just talk to each other. And best of all, hikes are free!

We try to pick a different park each time and head out for short hikes.  We pick parks that have relatively flat walking trails that allow us the ability to do a lot of poking around, skipping stones, finding big sticks (hopefully not to throw) and just enjoying the scenery at a leisurely pace. 

To keep the kids interested we bring along a few key items.

A Scavenger Hunt List
I've found over the years that kids love to be active and involved.  If we give them a list of things to find on a walk, they are inevitably more engaged and will retain their knowledge longer.  So we hit the web and look for cool ideas that we can use on our walks.  Here is one example of a scavenger hunt that we've used on a walk. We typically offer the kids some sort of prize or small treat if they find a certain number of items.

Leaf Rubbings
We also take along some paper and crayons with us on hikes and let the kids find interesting items (usually leaves, but other objects can work as well) and complete their own leaf rubbings.  Leaf rubbings are very simple and easy to do. They just require a crayon and some paper (and a relatively flat surface, we use the notebook the paper comes in). 
Step 1 - Find the perfect leaf

Step 2 - Put the leaf under the sheet of paper

Step 3 - Rub the paper with the side of a crayon

That's all there is to it!

If we have our cell phone with us (I know, I know, I said no technology, but sometimes it can be put to good use), we also like to try and find Geocaches near us in a park. Geocaching is a GPS enabled "game" where you use your cell phone (or another GPS device) to direct you to the location of a hidden "treasure".  There are several apps available for smart phones. We use one called Geocaching for the iPhone (free for a certain number of Geocaches, then you can pay to get the full app and unlimited caches).  I wrote a review of our first Geocaching experience earlier this year.  Sometimes the locations can be hard to find but once you find them it's such a rush. The treasures are usually just small trinkets or a paper to sign, but it's the thrill of the hunt that really is the fun. 

Finding a Park
The Pittsburgh region really has some really beautiful parks and trails to explore. How do you find the best ones?  First, I ask around. I love to explore our local area so I ask friends, neighbors, school buddies.  
A great resource for finding trails is the Allegheny Parks website.  They have a list of all of the Allegheny county parks including Boyce Park in Monroeville, Hartwood Acres, North and South Parks, Round Hill Park, etc. All of them have great hiking trails.

Another great resource for Pittsburgh parks is the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.  They have information about Frick, Highland, Riverview and Schenley Parks.

I'd also highly recommend a trip out to the Beechwood Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel.  Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve is the headquarters of the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. ASWP manages and operates the five miles of trails and 134 acres of sanctuary at Beechwood Farms. 
Each individual township in the region typically also has a website that will list recreation information including local parks that often have hiking trails. For example, we live near Fox Chapel and O'Hara township has a great listing of their parks on the website here. Just do a quick Google search for your township (just type the name of your township followed by "township" or "Pittsburgh" or "parks"  and see what you can find).

You should also check out both the Three Rivers Heritage Trail (West of the City) and the Butler-Freeport Trail (North-East of the City). Both are flat, somewhat paved (perfect for bike riding) trails with plenty to explore.
The weather has been absolutely perfect this fall to get out and really enjoy all the beauty that Western Pennsylvania has to offer. It's free, healthy, family friendly fun.  So get out there an enjoy the season!

Heather Starr Fiedler is the founder of, a parenting site she started in March 2008.  Heather is the mom to two young boys, Matthew (8) and Benjamin (6), a college professor and the General Manager of PittsburghMom.  She lives with her family in Indiana Township

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