With great anticipation, I’m counting down the days until Christmas, as well as my second favorite holiday, which is the first Sunday in November. On that glorious day, Nov. 6, we “fall back”. For one fleeting day, we gain an extra hour of sleep – only to have it stolen from under our feet four months later.

Of course, with that extra hour of sleep comes a little extra darkness. Many of us will be arriving home from work or school when the sun has already been put to bed. No more running up to the lake for romantic Friday night sunsets. No more Tuesday night bicycle rides. No more mowing the lawn on Wednesday evenings. There’s little left to do but become a couch potato, right?

As enticing as it may seem for weary parents to hit the sack at 6:30 p.m. on a Monday night, there is a lot of fun to be had this fall when darkness arrives early. While you may have to push yourself a little to get moving, because the early evening sunshine isn’t there to cast off energizing drops of Vitamin D, the smiles on your children’s faces will make the effort worthwhile.

Here are a few ideas that I’ve borrowed from my family:

My sister takes our parents’ grandchildren on “scary walks”. The scary walks are quite simply evening walks around the block where the girls carry flashlights. I’m not sure how this name came to be, perhaps because the first walk occurred on Halloween. When the moon is at just the right angle in the night sky, it casts off light that makes roof vents look like scary people and trees seem to reach out to grab you. Everything else seems to look different – a little more mysterious — at night, too, especially when you’re a little girl. The girls love this fun, yet frightening sensation. Even as the girls are getting older, they haven’t outgrown the scary walks, and it gives them time alone with their aunt. The conversations and activities that go on during the scary walks is a mystery to the rest of us; but, it is a ritual every time they are together in the evening. Early darkness means that the littlest one can still be awake for the scary walk.

The early darkness also means that the stars are visible earlier. When my husband and I dated, we spent countless hours at Washington Park beach watching the stars. It fascinated us to be able to watch planes on their flight path into Chicago’s airports and to make wishes on shooting stars. In the hectic schedules of life after marriage, we forgot to pause to just watch the sky. But, every time that we’re at my brother or sister’s house, all of us sit outside and, in fascination, watch the sky. Free smart phone apps can guide you to everything from the stars above you, to the International Space Station below you on the other side of the world, to constellations, to satellites to commercial air flights. Don’t worry, even if you don’t have a smart phone, your naked eye can lead you to satellites, stars and constellations. The cooler temperatures also mean that the mosquitos won’t bother you.

During the work or school week, it can be hard to carve out the time to be outside enjoying the night sky. By the time you have dinner, it’s almost time for bed. So, take dinner outside. If you are permitted to have a fire pit in your neighborhood, you can enjoy hot dogs over the open fire. The added bonus is that everybody will want to cook, and that’s a nice break for mom or dad.

When my siblings and I get together at our parents’ home, we play board games. All of the games we loved as kids – Yahtzee, Risk, Uno – are now fun to play with our children. We recently pulled out Twister. To call that a game is a misnomer. The grandchildren were at the helm with the spinner and the adults were on the dots. It was more like a comedy act than a display of physical skill. We made it through the night without any broken hips or concussions.

When my daughters were young, my in-laws would take them to the nursing home near their house to talk to residents. Especially as the holidays approach and some may be without family or friends nearby, they really appreciate having company. Call a facility near you and see if guests are permitted or if they have an “Adopt a Grandparent” program. Great friendships and stories of yesteryear await you.

For those rainy fall nights, a jigsaw puzzle is fun and relaxing. As my daughters have gotten older, they are not as free in talking about their day as they once were. A jigsaw puzzle, though, is almost like a magnet drawing them closer to me. They’ll say that they don’t want to help, but, within minutes, they’re beside me at the table and the conversation flows freely.

One of the things on my bucket list for this fall is to visit the Wolf Park near West Lafayette. It’s an opportunity to learn about these beautiful creatures. On weekend nights, you can actually howl alongside the wolves. Imagine a beautiful harvest moon with the silhouette of wolves and their howls echoing through the valley. Now, there’s your scary walk.

Pamela Henderson is the director of development and communications at Dunebrook. To learn more about parenting and support programs at Dunebrook, call (800) 897-0007. Email Pam with parenting questions and comments at pam@dunebrook.org

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