Reader question: We need a November fun list

Longtime blog readers know that I like to create seasonal fun lists. These are activities that make memories, and take advantage of the unique aspects of each part of the year (you can see my fall 2020 list here). When I put these things on the schedule, I can anticipate them — and we all need stuff to look forward to.

Last week, I heard from a reader who really needs something to look forward to! After half her immediate family members tested positive for Covid, the family quarantined. Fortunately, everyone was asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms. Based on the various guidelines of how long people should isolate (after a positive test, or after close exposure to a positive) the family is looking at November for leaving the house.

This has been challenging of course — even if they’re thankful for mild cases, the kids  are dealing with the disappointment of missing out on October activities. The reader writes that “We’re trying to look ahead and plan things to look forward to, but November seems like a hard time to do that.” Fall will be over in her part of the world. The weather will be cold. Did I have ideas for a November fun list?

I have a few ideas, and I said I’d post the question here for other people to chime in too. My first thought is that if stores start putting up Christmas decorations on November 1st, there’s no reason this family can’t start the festivities early too! Get a Christmas tree as soon as you can and deck it (with some new homemade ornaments too — a good quarantine project). Start a new tradition of early, frequent Christmas gifts. It can be little dollar-store trinkets, but anything wrapped up is fun, and if the kids know that every Tuesday night they open presents, well, how can November not be exciting? Once it’s OK to leave the house, they can go visit area malls and outdoor shopping areas and see the decorations as soon as they’re up. Last year I learned that our local zoos and botanical gardens put their decorations up and started doing special ticketed nights in mid-November. These are excellent things to get on the calendar. No need to wait for December when they need the fun before then. She can use some of this quarantine time to research options.

There’s also no reason to have just one Thanksgiving dinner. The family could order in holiday ingredients and have a first Thanksgiving dinner now, and then do a few more through November. This can be a chance to experiment with new festive dishes. If there’s only one Thanksgiving, you never want to risk a bad new sweet potato dish when everyone likes your old one, but with three Thanksgivings…why not?

I’m also a fan of cold weather hikes. Based on this reader’s geography, I think the first two weeks of November might still be tolerable. They could research some options now, and then when they can go out again, they can bundle up and aim for 90 minute walks within 90 minutes of their house. This can make for a fun half-day weekend option, especially if you come home to soup or chili and football on TV. Any days north of 50 degrees (there might be some!) can be options for family bike rides. And when the weather does turn cold and snowy? It might be an option to try cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, or even a sleigh ride. I put that on my winter fun list some year (last year?) but we never got a deep enough predictable snow cover for that to work. This reader lives in a place where this might be more of an option.

It’s possible that they might be able to get the tail end of pumpkin patches and brightly colored leaves with a day trip 2 hours south or so. It might be worth investigating.

What would you recommend this family plan to look forward to in November?


24 thoughts on “Reader question: We need a November fun list

  1. I’m in a cold region (MN) and the colder weather has already arrived (highs in the mid-30s all week!) so I can relate. I’m starting to think of activities for December, but any of those could be moved up to November. There are probably fun cookie decorating ideas that are Turkey themed. I remember making turkeys out of gingersnaps w/ candy corn for the feathers. You could bump the gingerbread decorating to November to extend the holiday season? I usually do a cookie decorating party in late Nov/early Dec with my college friends and their kids but that won’t be happening this year but I’m thinking I’ll have our toddler decorate cookies a 2-4 times during the holiday season since he loves baking and I think he’ll enjoy decorating, especially when sprinkles are involved. I’m just basically planning on making the Christmas season reaaaaalllllyyy long.

    1. Most cookies freeze really well if you want to start early and wait for closer to December to enjoy/share! My grandma used to make dozens of cookie plates and as she slowed down, started baking as early as October so she could take her time.

  2. I second the idea of making outdoor plans even when it is cold! When my family lived in Boston, our favorite hikes were the ones we took when the temperature was in the 30s. It feels so great to be outdoors and moving around when you aren’t sweating and there are no bugs! Also, we loved going to the zoo when there was snow on the ground. We had the place nearly to ourselves and could spend as long as we liked at the indoor habitats. I remember spending nearly an hour at the gorilla habitat one memorable January. There was no one else there, and my kids loved getting to observe the animals for an extended length of time! We also love movie marathon days with hot chocolate and popcorn broken up by ventures outdoors to get our blood circulating. Maybe you could plan a Harry Potter day or a Christmas movie themed day.

    1. @Sarah – yay to zoos in the winter! It’s like a walk, but with stuff to entertain the kids so they are marginally less whiny.

  3. Yup, I agree with the other commenters about going outside even in cold weather! My mantra is: there’s no bad weather, only poor clothing choices. (within reason, obviously. I basically just use this to mean that you can always bundle up against cold; obviously blowing wind and sleet is a different story!).

    I don’t know the ages of the reader’s children, but if they are old enough to be trustworthy around fire, what about finding a farm with fire pits? There are several in my mid-atlantic region – many of which will rent a firepit for a several-hour block of time, provide the wood, and then you bring whatever you want to eat/drink/entertain yourself. We tend to think of bonfires as night activities, but they work in cold daytime as well! Bringing hotdogs, smores stuff, etc. and hanging out for a few hours might be worth a day trip if you can find a place close enough to do something like this. There’s usually enough open space to also bring a soccer ball or frisbee or some sort of yard game.

    If the reader’s kids are younger (maybe 7 or below?), I also HIGHLY recommend checking out the Busy Toddler blog ( or instagram (@busytoddler) for more activities than you could ever dream of wanting. Some are more involved and might make it onto a fun list, but most others could just be used in the next few weeks of being stuck at home during quarantine. They typically require minimal setup and materials (all orderable from amazon) and I have never had anything but a total win with my kids when I’ve tried something of hers. Bonus: you can adapt most of them to have holiday themes (we did Halloween bubble foam this weekend and are looking forward to November’s ‘Thankful Turkey’ activity!).

    1. @KGC – thanks for the Busy Toddler recommendation – I’m always looking for indoor activities for my littler kids so this could be a big win for us too.

      1. She is seriously the best. Probably too young for your three bigs but I guarantee Alex and Henry would find a bunch of her stuff entertaining. She’s also the perfect balance (for me) of aspirational and “real” parenting. Hope you like her!

        1. I also love Busy Toddler. That instagram gives me life! She would be an awesome guest – she just decided to start grad school while also running Busy Toddler, promoting her new book this fall, and homeschooling three relatively little kids! Her book was so helpful, reasonable, and fun to read.

  4. I would also consider trying to plan somethings for the next two weeks to make the best of a bad situation. If they aren’t very symptomatic some cookie decorating and art projects could happen now. Meri Cherry (yes, her real name) has a ton of unique art projects that can be done with just a few supplies. A group puzzle or lego build might also help everyone stay sane right now.

    As for getting outside in cold weather, we just bought a fire pit from Home Depot for less than $100 and made s’mores to celebrate my daughter’s birthday outside. Everyone had a great time!

    1. @Gillian – I think the one concern is they may be trying to keep the positive and negative family members separate. Because if any of the negative family members contract it and test positive, then the timeline gets extended. At least that was my reading of why right now was particularly unfun.

      1. @Laura – so as I am reading my post, any of my ‘start in October’ stuff might need to be rethought…

      2. @Laura That makes sense. It is hard in larger families to deal with this. I’m not totally how sure how worth it is in the end…but I digress.

  5. If Thanksgiving dinner 3 times feels weird, how about Thanksgiving sides competition dinner (with voting!), 1 week dessert bakeoff competition, then the actual Thanksgiving can be just the winners of the competition? If you’re not feeling up for a lot of labor, you can do things like pickle tastings or tea tastings.

    Something like tea tasting could even happen while in quarantine within the family home – everyone gets a clean mug and a baggie of teas (or hot chocolates) they can use in any order, and a voting form. You can send the same teas to be delivered to some relatives, etc. Might not work for the littlest kids, but should for for most.

  6. We are doing a “Giving November” at our house. Each day we are choosing a different nonprofit to donate to. We will all rotate so the kids will be able to choose organizations too. Will provide for a lot of good discussion about how we can help others and also about gratitude.

  7. This isn’t seasonal but it is an indoor activity that would work for people in quarantine! When we were quarantined we had a blind chocolate tasting contest. We bought about 10 different chocolate bars and had to identify them blindfolded. My kids got super competitive about it. It was fun and everyone got to eat chocolate.
    I see everyone suggesting early Christmas decor- I was going to suggest decorating for Thanksgiving to make November seem more special. Lots of fall colors, candles, etc.

  8. I agree about decorating for November — depending on the ages of the kids there are lots of ideas online. A simple one I’m going to try this year is posting a big piece of paper and ask everyone to add things they are thankful for in crayon/marker/etc throughout the month. It might end up being mostly my husband and I, but I figure it’s worth a try. Also, in terms of indoor fun (again, depending on kid ages) I like the occasional floor picnic, epic fort (clothespins or clips are very helful), turning a BIG box into a playhouse, Connect4 (or other game) tournament, etc. Re. Halloween fun… What about a candy scavenger hunt with flashlights? You could do it in the dark/dim and do a couple of shifts to separate ill and non-ill family members. I do also agree about trying to get outside — as another commenter said, it’s 30 degrees in MN (where I am), and we’re trying to stay in the habit of getting outside. Lots of empathy to this person!

  9. Family chili cook off – they could pick 3-4 different chili recipes (something like a traditional chili con carne, a vegetarian version, a 5-bean chili, etc – endless options), prep and cook them all (depending on the age of the kids, they could each take charge of one recipe and turn it into a competition). Then serve everybody a sample of each and vote on the favorite.

  10. You can consider borrowing some events from other countries/cultures:
    – Nov 1: All Saints & Nov 2: All souls – a time to visit graveyards of family members, leave them chrysanthemums, and afterwards bake waffles at home (Belgium)
    – Nov 2: Dia de los muertos: make guaguas de pan and drink colada morada (Ecuador)
    – Nov 3: Election activities?
    – Nov 7 is the day of a dictation competition for Belgium and the Netherlands. Maybe you can organize a similar competition, if your local library is open again?
    – Nov 11: Armistice day. You can visit a War museum, visit a military graveyard or monument nearby, read WW1 poetry, see photographs of the WW1 graveyards.
    – Nov 11: Sint Maarten (celebrated in parts of Europe): children dress up, carry carved sugarbeets with candles. Traditional food: sweet bread “mantepaard”
    – Nov 29: Start of the advent – you can use an advent calendar. We have one that is like a little cupboard so it takes some preparation in putting 28 things in there.

  11. I’m so sorry the reader is dealing with this — glad everyone is relatively OK. No idea how old the children are, but specific to July 4th, when we were bummed about the absence of fireworks, we watched a holiday-themed movie (for us it was Independence Day). Maybe that for Halloween, which could also include costumes (inside), photos, treats?

    I was digging around (for reasons unrelated to the OP’s query) on Outschool the other day and noticed some cooking classes, some with an international theme — might be fun with kids old enough to participate (one way or another) to take a short class together? Outschool looks fairly affordable and flexible, not a big commitment.

  12. How about a drive to one of the National Wildlife Refuges that have driving tours available? We were in rural Maryland and discovered the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. They have a driving tour at the refuge with maps that give you different places to pull over and look for animals and birds. We saw 2 huge bald eagles hanging out in a tree, blue herons, and several muskrat houses. The refuge was really pretty. I never knew that these locations existed, but apparently there are a fair number of them:
    Best of all, you don’t need to get out of the car if it is cold (although we went on a couple of nice, relatively short hikes..

  13. I recently picked up a few blank canvases from Michaels for very short money- I think it was a 5 pack for $20? I took requests from the kids (a haunted house and a vampire were the first two) and then googled “kids haunted house drawing.” Looking at the images on google I did my best to replicate it in pencil on the canvas (eraser helped!!) Once I was happy with the outline, I took a sharpie and traced it. I then gave the canvas to the kids to paint. They LOVED it! I was pretty proud of the outcome too. My kids are 3 and 5, we used washable paint and laid newspapers down, but even though they are super messy kids it wasn’t anything a few wet wipes couldn’t clean up. They loved waiting from them to dry and then hanging them on the walls. We then did a couple turkey paintings. This could be adopted to any time of year/theme!

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