Last fall when I read about family nature clubs in Richard Louv’s book, The Nature Principle, I knew that this was what I wanted for my family. I immediately put the book down and spent a few hours on the Children and Nature Network website. Unfortunately, I did not find any clubs in Maine. A few months later I shared the idea for a family nature club with my close friends. Their response was immediate and positive. I hosted a planning night and several close friends, as well as new friends, came over and we mapped out what our family nature club would be. We decided that Growing up ME would meet monthly for seasonal explorations at local places. We started a Facebook group page for communicating events, posting photos, and sharing resources. Through word of mouth, our group has grown to 30 families in 6 months!

 

But I didn’t just want a schedule of outdoor play dates. I wanted a community; a community of families to spend time with, a community of children in which friendships would grow, and a community of moms that would support each other and laugh together. I wanted to deepen existing friendships and make new ones. Living in a small rural town, I felt that a family nature club would not just support the development of a sense of place, but that it would strengthen our sense of community. Cheryl Charles, co-founder of the Children and Nature Network wrote:

 

In many ways, the single most important of the natural guides to building a movement to reconnect children and nature is the concept of community. Key to any successful movement is creating and sustaining a powerful sense of community. People feel a part of something that matters, and are inspired, nourished and supported in the process.

 

That is why I’m exploring and documenting the ideas, processes, and experiences of building a community within our family nature club, Growing up ME. I am really excited to share my research and the experiences of Growing up ME with the C&NN Natural Families Network. And I would also be really excited to hear from you. What does your family nature club do to strengthen relationships within its community? Or is this a challenge for your club? How do you think a sense of community benefits (or would benefit) your family nature club? If you would like to share your story please e-mail me (gayle@gmri.org) or comment on this conversation.

 

Thank you for joining me in this wonderful adventure!

 

Gayle Bodge

Graduate Student, Educator, Mom, and Nature Lover

Lesley University, MS Ecological Teaching and Learning

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Replies to This Discussion

Great questions, Gayle!

I have found with RI Families in Nature that a quick and easy way to build community is to post my events to different online calendars around the state. In addition, I try to combine my hikes with other, existing programs. For example, my September hike was part of "Playful Providence Weekend" and I've collaborated with the Roger Williams Park Zoo, the URI Tick Encounter Resource Center, Children's Friend & Service or RI, and many other organizations.

Granted, these aren't much more than outdoor playdates. But it does help reach a greater audience.
Jeanine

Hi Jeanine!

Thanks for sharing the variety of ways you build membership and increase participation with RI Families in Nature. I like how you collaborate/combine events with other programs and local resources. That's a great idea! And don't get me wrong, I'm all for outdoor playdates!

What I'm curious about is if anyone is working on building and strengthening relationships amongst existing nature club members. I'm wondering if a stronger sense of community within a group will lead to greater participation in group events. I'm curious about this as an approach to increasing participation as well as reaching out to new families. For example, I'm hosting a "Mom's Night Out" for nature club moms in a few weeks! I'll share how it goes!

Is anyone else doing any activities that might be strengthening a sense of community within their family nature club?

Thanks!

Gayle

Hi Gayle.

This is an interesting concept, to overtly reach out and build community beyond the regular meetings of an FNC. I LOVE the idea of a MNO for nature club moms! And a Dad's Night Out would be good too! I'll explore those ideas with our leadership team.

I guess the only thing we've really done that has fostered a sense of community is talk about fostering a sense of community with our "members" as we're all out together. We get together on a very regular basis, which has both pros and cons for building community -- it gives folks more opportunities to get out, but we don't necessarily have all the same families for each outing. We generally offer 2-3 weekend outings per month. We also have quite a few groups that meet weekly or biweekly in their nearby nature. While those are very much outdoor playdates, they tend to foster more community because they also become sort of a support group for moms (mostly moms with preschoolers or younger kids meet for those groups) and they tend to have very regular attendees.

Again, I like this concept for FNCs and will talk with our leadership team. I'll let you know what we come up with, and please keep sharing your ideas (like the MNO) as well!

Thanks!
Janice

Interesting question. The group I started is in its infancy. But -- at the time I started it (with posts on our neighborhood facebook page), it helped lead to a discussion of the overall lack of community events in our neighborhood. A team of 5 ran with that idea, met a few evenings, and outlined some ideas for community events. The first one was held a few week-ends ago: a Community Social. Any resident could host a "table" - I had a  table about the Neighborhood Family Nature programs, and held a nature scavenger hunt for the kids.

The community team is now organizing a Fall Fest, with "trunk or treat" for the kids, and other Halloween activities. I'll be there too, with a nature exhibit and some kind of outdoor activity for the kids and their parents.

So, kicking off a nature program inspired others to organize other community events. And now the community events themselves are springboards for my nature programs.

-Neita

Hi Neita,

Thanks for sharing the experiences of your group...and your community! I think that it is so cool how opening up the conversation about getting families together sparked such great events in your community. How you've integrated nature programs into these events really shows that a family nature club can take many forms. I'm curious how these community events and your nature programs evolve!

I've been having a great time hosting "Mom's Nights Outs" and strengthening existing friendships, and making new ones. I think having these relationships amongst the "moms" has made them feel more comfortable in bringing their families out to nature club events, and inviting new families to join them too!

-Gayle

I've found this article about Communities of Practice to be really helpful when thinking about how the community of a Family Nature Club functions: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/2855.html

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