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Hi all! You may have seen my post a couple of weeks ago regarding the start of my new family nature club - Red Dirt Discoveries. We had our first outing a couple of weeks ago. We had fairly low turnout (2 other families and mine) but we had a great time. The other parents were amazed that we were the only ones out at the State Park on a gorgeous, cool (rare around here) October morning.

A few observations and maybe someone has a better idea than I . . .
1) Many of our areas around here are pretty restrictive on staying on the trails, etc. I love the idea of getting them off trail and out into the unmarked nature, but I also struggle with teaching them respect for sensitive natural areas. I go back and forth. Any thoughts?
2) Although I warned them, there was still a desire to keep the kids pretty clean and their feet out of the water. I actually veered down into the creek, knowing that the kids would follow but the parents were reluctant to really let them splash around. Guess that varies with each individual, eh?
3) Lastly, I am currently only advertising to a group of people I know or who have some reference of me. I would love to open it up and meet more interested parents, but I'm afraid that it won't live up to expectations and I don't know where to start posting information?! I know some of your groups have rather large mailing lists. How did you first advertise?

Thanks for reading and thanks for this forum. I'm excited about this and will hopefully be able to do more than one outing per month soon. I attached a couple of pictures from our first outing at the Indian Mounds State Park.

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Replies to This Discussion

RE: 1
Might you contact the area parks people, explain your need/concerns and ask that they designate a free-space where the children can explore more close. I think children need to learn/respect there are times when we can investigate nature hands-on and times when we must be careful not to disturb it "hands-on". The times we are not to disturb it are the times when we must engage other senses as a means for discovery like listening, feeling the sun warming the face or the breeze passing by and how that effects what they are looking at. A lot of nature can still be explored without touching.
RE: 2
The trick is to be prepared which means water proof footwear and clothing. Children will learn to respect there is a time and place and that appropriate footwear/clothing is necessary for those times to exist and as long as they are given opportunities to explore those times they will be more inclined to adhere to your expectations.
RE: 3
I think it wonderful that you started out small. It gives you an idea of what/how to provide these opportunities with the best of quality. When you open your experiences to discussion with both the parents and the children, individually and/or as a whole group, you will gain a better understanding of what you need to do to expand.

You groups sounds so exciting. Bravo! Hope my ideas spark some ideas.
Deb
Hi Meghan,

Red dirt discoveries--love the name! That should set some expectations for getting a little dirty, I would think.
Deb makes some great points and I agree. I've thought a lot about trying to strike a balance between connecting kids to nature and the damage that can result from that. I'm a conservation biologist, but I do think that most of the time park regs (or just cultural expectations) are too restrictive. We need to work with these folks to try to find a better balance. A few more footprints is a cost to nature, but not as big a cost as the disconnect if we don't let kids have fun in nature. A kid's definition of fun is not looking passively from the trail. Bottom line for us is that we don't ever violate posted regulations (stay on trail) but if not posted we enter nature respectfully and try to keep damage to the minimum. It's often easier to do this in nearby nature--vacant lots, patches of woods, neighborhood creeks, edges of playgrounds. In the protected parks we try to play by the roles.

We've had pretty good luck helping parents get over their mud fears--it varies from parent to parent however. But we have set an example and often others follow. Just don't push people past their comfort zone, lead them there! I think setting expectations is good--"wear old clothes, you might get muddy!" Also we sometimes remind people that most dirt comes out of clothes these days.

I too think it is not a bad thing to start small...as long as the others are enjoying it. Do they perceive it as a "failure" because so few show up or do they relish the small group atmosphere? We have anywhere from 2 families to 30 on a typical outing. Weekday outings rarely have more than 5 families. As you become more comfortable leading families into nature you can start marketing more--we just posted a few flyers around, made an announcement in a local community newsletter, and things just started growing by word of mouth etc. We carry business cards with us and when we meet someone who we think might be interested we tell them about our club and hand them a card so they can join our website and get our email. Janice has been giving presentations at schools and REI occasionally. So, if they join, they get weekly announcements and can visit the website anytime to see our event calendar.

Looks like you have a great place to connect to nature, so just enjoy!!!
Hi Meghan,

I co-facilitate a nature club in Minneapolis, and we've come across some of the same issues that you and others have mentioned.

One idea would be to partner with your local park system and get permission to access areas off trail. If you tell them what you are doing and why I would think they would be open to working with you.

It seems that no matter what you say or how many times you say it, some parents do not dress their children for "getting dirty" and are reluctant to let them do so. I think Ron had it right, lead by example. Once they see you and your kids getting wet and dirty...and see how much fun you are having...there is a better chance they will come better prepared next time!

Our major issue right now is attendance. Many times only one or two families show up and they (and I) are shocked that more people are not there. I also hear from many parents that they will show up, but then they rarely do. We have a good sized mailing list, but our numbers seem to be dropping off. Since we try to be a pure nature play club with no planned activities or themes, we wonder if the unstructured concept does not sell as well to people and motivate them to get their families up and out of the house, no matter how nice it is outside. Of course, once people are there they have a blast and the free play concept works great, but it may not be as appealing on paper. We are going to be assessing this over the winter by surveying the families to see why they choose to attend or not to attend on a given day.

I would love to hear from other nature club leaders about the style of your club - do you focus on pure free play in nature or do you plan activities or themed days? Thanks!

Good luck to everyone who is doing this! I think is it a great idea and I know we can all find a way to make it work in our neighborhoods!

Bekah
Thank you all for the thoughtful suggestions! I am trying the second outing at a less restrictive area so we'll see how that goes. Also will continue to get dirty first (usually not a problem for my boys to set that example!)

I do also like the smaller size. That is the size group I gravitate towards anyhow, I just want to make a big difference and I know that staying in my comfort zone may not always be the best way to do that.

Will keep you all updated. I love hearing about all these other groups. Maybe we'll have to have a leaders convention somewhere and meet in person.

Best,
Meghan
Just wanted to say that I've been following this question & the extremely helpful responses. I've recently started a family nature club in Los Angeles & am facing similar issues with attendance. It's comforting to know I'm on the right track & that there are others of us out there doing the same thing! :) I'm with Meghan - would love to have a meeting IRL somewhere! I think there are many amazing lessons to be shared with us newbies!

Hi, Bekah & Meghan,

In our Nature Club we try to emphsize exploring the natural habitat each time we go out, with an eye toward finding new critters or plants that we can then identify and learn more about from our Nature Club library. Of course, there is always some unstructured play time that just happens naturally whenever kids get together. But having a 'purpose' sometimes appeals more to the parents, and gets them motivated and involved.

The theme idea can also work, but in my experience you have to remain open to whatever you may find, whether or not it fits the theme (perhaps really broad 'themes' would be best suited to what we do).

I also like the smaller groups for several reasons. You tend to see more wildlife if you don't have an army of people tramping down the trail. You also tend to make less of an impact on the habitat you're traveling through with less feet. And a large group makes it harder to spend time with each other individually.

Hope this helps.

Mike

Bekah Dalen said:

Hi Meghan,

I co-facilitate a nature club in Minneapolis, and we've come across some of the same issues that you and others have mentioned.

One idea would be to partner with your local park system and get permission to access areas off trail. If you tell them what you are doing and why I would think they would be open to working with you.

It seems that no matter what you say or how many times you say it, some parents do not dress their children for "getting dirty" and are reluctant to let them do so. I think Ron had it right, lead by example. Once they see you and your kids getting wet and dirty...and see how much fun you are having...there is a better chance they will come better prepared next time!

Our major issue right now is attendance. Many times only one or two families show up and they (and I) are shocked that more people are not there. I also hear from many parents that they will show up, but then they rarely do. We have a good sized mailing list, but our numbers seem to be dropping off. Since we try to be a pure nature play club with no planned activities or themes, we wonder if the unstructured concept does not sell as well to people and motivate them to get their families up and out of the house, no matter how nice it is outside. Of course, once people are there they have a blast and the free play concept works great, but it may not be as appealing on paper. We are going to be assessing this over the winter by surveying the families to see why they choose to attend or not to attend on a given day.

I would love to hear from other nature club leaders about the style of your club - do you focus on pure free play in nature or do you plan activities or themed days? Thanks!

Good luck to everyone who is doing this! I think is it a great idea and I know we can all find a way to make it work in our neighborhoods!

Bekah
Check out meetup.com. The outdoor group I co-founded (Calgary Outdoor Recreation Association)  in January 2010 currently has over 1100 members, of whom about 500 are active on a regular basis. Last spring I started organizing kids' hikes, and found that we had about 10 families that would come out, usually with 3 or 4 families on each trip. I found that the larger the group, the more subdued the kids were. Two other families was the ideal size for the kids to feel comfortable and make fast friends.

I organize "Kids Hikes" through my outdoor group. Each trip I plan out a hike that will take a maximum of an hour to walk to and allow for an hour or two of play time at the destination, which must have something fun (rocks to climb on, a lake or whatever). I also stress that we'll be traveling at "kid speed" and taking time along the way to explore.One trip, I planned to walk up Wasootch Creek for an hour and stop when we found an interesting place, but we weren't even out of sight of the parking lot when the kids stopped and started building rock dams. The two other dads seemed a little put out that we hadn't reached the objective, but it wasn't long before they were helping build dams and scrambling up a nearby gulley with the kids.

 

With my outdoor group at least, having an objective helps get parents who are hikers and climbers out.

Mike Barnett said:

Hi, Bekah & Meghan,

In our Nature Club we try to emphsize exploring the natural habitat each time we go out, with an eye toward finding new critters or plants that we can then identify and learn more about from our Nature Club library. Of course, there is always some unstructured play time that just happens naturally whenever kids get together. But having a 'purpose' sometimes appeals more to the parents, and gets them motivated and involved.

The theme idea can also work, but in my experience you have to remain open to whatever you may find, whether or not it fits the theme (perhaps really broad 'themes' would be best suited to what we do).

I also like the smaller groups for several reasons. You tend to see more wildlife if you don't have an army of people tramping down the trail. You also tend to make less of an impact on the habitat you're traveling through with less feet. And a large group makes it harder to spend time with each other individually.

Hope this helps.

Mike

Bekah Dalen said:

Hi Meghan,

I co-facilitate a nature club in Minneapolis, and we've come across some of the same issues that you and others have mentioned.

One idea would be to partner with your local park system and get permission to access areas off trail. If you tell them what you are doing and why I would think they would be open to working with you.

It seems that no matter what you say or how many times you say it, some parents do not dress their children for "getting dirty" and are reluctant to let them do so. I think Ron had it right, lead by example. Once they see you and your kids getting wet and dirty...and see how much fun you are having...there is a better chance they will come better prepared next time!

Our major issue right now is attendance. Many times only one or two families show up and they (and I) are shocked that more people are not there. I also hear from many parents that they will show up, but then they rarely do. We have a good sized mailing list, but our numbers seem to be dropping off. Since we try to be a pure nature play club with no planned activities or themes, we wonder if the unstructured concept does not sell as well to people and motivate them to get their families up and out of the house, no matter how nice it is outside. Of course, once people are there they have a blast and the free play concept works great, but it may not be as appealing on paper. We are going to be assessing this over the winter by surveying the families to see why they choose to attend or not to attend on a given day.

I would love to hear from other nature club leaders about the style of your club - do you focus on pure free play in nature or do you plan activities or themed days? Thanks!

Good luck to everyone who is doing this! I think is it a great idea and I know we can all find a way to make it work in our neighborhoods!

Bekah
Loved your pictures. The smiles alone call your trip a success.  I think their is a trade off when you have a large group and it changes the nature of the outing.  Thanks for sharing.

Hello to all you nature club leaders!

I just reread all of these entries/replies and I love this string of conversation! C&NN is working on organizing a webinar or two and it would be great if we could all participate and learn together! Family Nature Clubs have the power to really "move the movement", one family at a time (times all of the clubs = a big movement!).

Are you all registered with the Family Nature Clubs directory? If not, be sure to register here (and let others who have clubs know as well); ultimately we'd love to have ALL clubs registered as this will facilitate our communication and outreach.

You can register here: http://www.childrenandnature.org/directory/clubs/

Good luck and talk to you soon!

Janice

Family Adventures in Nature (San Diego)

Hi all,

I would love to be a part of a webinar! I'm still doing monthly outings with varied success. I sent my mailing list a survey a few months back asking about the "program" aspect of the club. Most everyone really likes the loose, informal setup. Now I just struggle with picking locations (I try to vary it as much as I can) and time. The club has been featured in a couple of local publications and so I have a decent mailing list but I'd love to be able to justify spending more time to program a few fun "events" every year or reach out to the schools. If only I were independently wealthy!

Hope to connect with everyone soon,

Meghan

Red Dirt Discoveries

I'm in the process of setting up a youth/kid/family group (Mountain Youth Experience) for the kid's hikes and snowshoes I've been leading through an "adult" hiking group. Currently I'm wading through the legalese and figuring out what legal incorporation would be best. Even though Canada isn't a litigious society, founding and serving as president of the adult group opened my eyes to the liability risks taken on by board members and trip leaders when they venture out into the wilderness. (Bears and avalanches and kids falling off cliffs! Oh, my!)  Webinars would be great to connect with others.

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