While most children in the Midwest now live in cities and towns, the economy and heritage is farm-oriented, so many of the customs and traditions center around the region's agricultural roots. The four distinct seasons also influence customs and traditions, as Midwesterners build celebrations around each season's bounty and sometimes quirky weather patterns.
Attending the state fair is an annual tradition for many Midwestern families. The fairs tout the region's agriculture industry while also providing entertainment. Farm youth show the animals they have helped raise, and city youth explore rural life through displays and interactive exhibits. Children ride Ferris wheels, go-karts, and zip lines and watch or participate in a multitude of competitions, including everything from pie baking to singing to hog calling. Water activities are popular in the summer when high temperatures and humidity combine to make the weather sticky. Children traditionally spend long afternoons at the pool or lake, swimming and playing with friends. Many Midwesterners also enjoy boating and fishing.
When Halloween approaches, many Midwestern families head to the local pumpkin patch, where they ride in a hay wagon to pick their own pumpkins. Pumpkin patches often offer autumn treats, such as caramel apples and popcorn, and activities like petting zoos and hay mazes. At home, children help design the face the parents carve into the pumpkin to create a jack-o'-lantern for Halloween. Families who know their neighbors often feel safe taking their children trick-or-treating for candy. Instilling a work ethic in children is a strong Midwestern tradition, and children are often expected to help rake leaves in the fall, just as they are expected to help shovel snow in the winter.
Winter usually brings snow to the Midwest, and children enjoy making snowmen, snow angels, snow forts and snowballs. They slide down icy hills on sleds or toboggans and skate at local ponds or ice skating rinks. Christmas traditions abound; many families cut down or choose their own tree at a local tree farm. As in many locations, children in the Midwest make Christmas decorations, help bake cookies and candies, sing Christmas carols, and give and receive gifts.
Spring fever is a term with which Midwesterners are very familiar because winter is often too cold for children to spend much time outside. When the mercury in the thermometer begins to climb, everyone is eager to get out of the house. Many Midwestern children enjoy catching tadpoles and watching them develop into frogs. Children use a small net to scoop tadpoles out of lakes, ponds, or streams and bring them home, where they keep them in plastic pans with two or three inches of non-chlorinated water, feeding them greens or rabbit pellets. After the tadpoles mature into frogs, families release them near a river or other body of water. Other springtime traditions include helping in the garden, picking strawberries at local farms and eating strawberry shortcake.
Janet Clark has written professionally since 2001. She writes about education, careers, culture, parenting, gardening and social justice issues. Clark graduated from Buena Vista University with a degree in education. She has written two novels, "Blind Faith" and "Under the Influence." Clark has received several awards from the Iowa Press Women for her work.