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Advice FOR Natural Family Leaders BY Natural Family Leaders

In January of 2008, Ashley and I started Kids In the Valley, Adventuring!, a free nature club for families in Roanoke, Virginia (www.kidsadventuring.org). Since then, we have connected with wonderfully creative people around the United States and beyond who have started their own nature clubs. To increase our conversations and to document them to help other families, we created a facebook page for leaders as well as the NING site.

Ashley and I receive e-mails from families who are interested in starting their own club weekly, but they want some important questions answered first. We figured others might benefit from the answers that the nature club leaders have provided. We'd like to use this space to share through a Q & A session styled blog. If you have a question you would like to have answered, let us know. Currently there are 83 Nature Clubs listed on the Natural Families Network. These are inspired people who are excellent brainstormers!

Here's the first set:

Q: Why do you host your nature club, Kids In the Valley, Adventuring?

A: A desire to spend more time in nature as a family was the inspiration for the first KIVA event. We invited friends and family for a hike in the winter and were surprised when our five year old asked “next time, can we invite everybody?”. Putting a free announcement in the local paper made that idea a reality. As a family, we discovered that we enjoyed meeting new people and exploring so much that we had become adventure hungry. Consequently, we have continued as a family to offer events twice a month. On the facebook page for Natural Families Network, you can read more stories about other nature clubs for families and what inspires them to host their clubs (search for Natural Families on facebook).

Q: How do you let parents know about upcoming events or important information regarding an event?

A: Take a tip from the Into The Wild Family Nature Club leader, Dionne Lapointe who contacted the local newspaper and started circulating an email newsletter to spark interest in her group. Or consider how Heidi Schlentner Hurst has been spreading the word for her group, Northern Nevada Nature Club. Heidi uses facebook as a gathering place and bulletin board for members of her group. Interactive social networking sites, such as facebook and NING allow for immediate and honest feedback from members, as well as event idea brainstorming.

Q: I want to start a nature club, but I don’t know where to start. Any suggestions?

A: The easiest way to start a nature club is to plan one event. A simple hike open to the public is free, requires little planning and showcases a local park or hiking trail. We have found that writing a letter of introduction and intent to the local parks and recreation department is all that is required for permission for such an event. A sample of this letter may be found in the Nature Clubs for Families Toolkit available at http://www.childrenandnature.org. After that event, sit down with your family to decide if you are interested in hosting another event and what some ideas for the future events may be.

Q: Where do you get ideas for your events?

A: Read! Read! Read! Ideas may be found in books such as Jennifer Ward’s Let’s Go Outside, Todd Christopher’s The Green Hour, and the Field Guide found in the updated version of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. Another source for nature club event ideas is the Ning site for Natural Families sponsored by The Children and Nature Network. Lastly, never underestimate your own childhood as a source of event ideas. Simply teaching the younger generation to climb a tree, whistle grass or play kick the can proves to be immensely fun for all ages.

Q: Is there a secret to hosting a successful nature club event?

A: What we have found for our events is that prepared parents are happy parents. Take the time to scope out the area ahead of time. Try the event or park out with your family first and then let the people who are coming to your nature club event know what they need to prepare ahead of time. Whether you send out an e-mail, post it on your website or post it on a social networking site, consider the parents and give them information ahead of time. We post our events in the local newspapers, but include a note to check out our website for more details.

More questions to come next week. KIVAinfo@gmail.com if you have a question that you'd like to present to the Natural Families Network Leaders.

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Comment by Chip Donahue on August 11, 2010 at 5:15am
Thanks John! We are so sorry that we won't be there this year. We are excited about hearing the updates and the always valuable ideas that grow out of the Grassroots Gathering. Best to you!
Comment by John Thielbahr on August 9, 2010 at 8:16am
Hi Chip and Ashley. Wonderful idea with this Q&A. I would love the folks on the Natural Teachers Network Group site to adopt something like this as well. In fact, in your question and answer about "where do you get ideas for your events," I would offer that the ideas and suggestions from the 110 active participants on the Natural Teachers Network site is another great source of ideas, from pre-school teachers to school age educators, as well as home school teachers and informal educators who use the natural world as a classroom. I suggest that all who sign up for the Natural Families Network site should also be signed up for the Natural Teachers Network site, and probably other sites as well. We should not compartmentalize all these great thoughts, suggestions and ideas. I will be using your Q&A ideas in some presentations I will be making in Spokane next month. Hope to see you both in Princeton in a few days. Best wishes, John

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