“What if parents, grandparents, and kids around the country were to band together to create nature clubs for families? What if this new form of social/nature networking were to spread as quickly as book clubs and Neighborhood Watches did in recent decades? We would be well on our way to true cultural change.”Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”
Family nature clubs can be a simple and wonderful tool to help you and other families in your community commit to spending more time outside with your children in nature. There are so many diverse models for family nature clubs: you can start one with just your own family; a group of families can form one; you can host outings open to the families in your community; nature centers, national parks, and landtrusts can create family nature groups — the list goes on and on. The fact of the matter is, whatever type of family nature club you are interested in starting all most likely have the same simple goal at heart…to bring families together to spend time outside in nature.
Nature Families is excited to explore the topic of family nature clubs in as much detail as possible. We will share with you tips for starting your own family nature club. We will also share stories of family nature clubs in all their diverse forms. We hope you can find inspiration and assistance here! Our biggest take home message is — don’t be intimidated with starting your own family nature club; it is easier than you might think and it can add SO much to your family life! If you are thinking about trying it — GO FOR IT! If there is any way we can help contact us!
Tips For Starting a Family Nature Club with a Group of Families:
The following section describes tips for starting your own family nature club with a group of like-minded or interested families. We have created these tips based upon a very successful family nature club we started, “Nature Nuts,” in Maine in 2013. Six families form the club, with 11 children ages 1-8 years old. Here are the areas we focus on when planning our nature club meetings:
The Main Pillars of Our Family Nature Club:
1. Community Building (Place-based)
2. Natural History Knowledge
3. Service Learning
4. Exploring Our Food and Food Systems
5. Fostering Adventure and Developing Outdoor Skills
6. Building a Personal Connection with Nature through Exploration and Play
10 Basic Tips for Starting Your Own Family Nature Club:
- Designate one leader for group organization/communications
- Meet without children to set up a plan for when you will meet, the topics you want to cover, and to determine what is important to your group. (Continue these kid-free meetings periodically to check in and to adjust as things progress.)
- Collaboratively design a basic structure each week so all parents feel comfortable teaching-the younger children also flourish under routine — this structure can always be changed but it is nice to develop a consistent structure early in the club’s life to ease the pressure of lesson planning for parents
- Create nature journals for reflection
- Create simple supply bins that can rotate each week through teaching families
- Use a place-based model with rotating meeting locations – keeps it fun and not too much work for anyone to always host at their own house each week (however in cold weather we often host at our houses with the lesson being part indoors part outdoors)
- 1-1.5 hour meetings (at least to start with)
- Parent teacher chooses the topic of study (these topics fall under our Pillars)
- Collaborate with local partners for really fun field experiences when possible
- Stay flexible, low pressure and focus on having fun together!
Example Lesson Structure For a Family Parent Taught Nature Club:
1. Sensory Activities-as people arrive—things like play dough a sand/water bin or items from nature to explore
2. Opening Circle (around a common blanket)
3. Welcome Song (“Hello to ___(insert child’s name), so glad to see you” Repeat twice for each child’s name”)
4. Story and/or Activating Activity–(puppet show, story book, song, cheer, mystery bags, smelly jars etc)
5. Nature-based Exploration Activity (the bulk of the activity)–hikes, tracking, ponding, games, free play nature exploration time
6. Art Based Reflection Activity–often in our nature journals but not always
7. Closing Activity: Nature Nut Cheer (“Nature, Nature, Nuts, Nuts, Nuts”)
In winter we often shift this around and do the opening circle and art activities inside and then put on all the warm clothes and finish outside. Some weeks we just do a hike or hit the beach…it is very variable and because we are planning the activities ourselves we can do whatever we want from week to week which is really fun!
Example Lesson Ideas:
A large part of the Nature Families website is dedicated to sharing with you example lessons and ideas that are prefect for family nature clubs! Here are a few ideas that show you what you might do to fit a structure like the one described above. Check out our home page for all the categories with amazing ideas shared!
Literature Connection: Tracks in the Snow by Wong Herbert Yee and Whose Tracks are These? A Clue Book of Familiar Forest Animals, by James Nail
Exploration Activities: Track Scavenger Hunt (before lesson adult hides tracks around the woods) The kids try to match the tracks to pictures of the animals they go with.
Also go tracking in the snow or mud
Art component: Use white playdough and small plastic animals that make real tracks—helps kids explore what the animal tracks might look like.
Crayon Rubbings with plastic track stencils/or you can make your own and stamp them.
Over and Under the Snow Exploration:
Literature Connection: Over the Under the Snow, by Kate Messner
Exploration Activities: Outside:Winter Snow Hike..look for plunge holes and tunnels and tracks
Inside: Snow Tunnel Obstacle Course: Set up kid play tunnels and turn kids into mice using magic—spread around Dominos or blocks and pretend they are food. The kids crawl through the “snow tunnels” and collect food and crawl back. This is like an obstacle course race.
Art component: Use nature journals to draw pictures of winter scenes over and under the snow like in the book.
Other Suggested Family Nature Club Activities:
- Making Applesauce
- Apple picking
- Going to a local farm in the spring and looking at their Greenhouses
- Going to a local college and touring their biology labs looking at their animals
- Going to a marine science facility and touring their aquariums
- Many of the families have Chickens-watching that process from Chick to adult
- Garden Harvesting/Planting
- Beekeeping/Bee Lessons (one family has bees)
- Camping Together-Camp Skills
- Trail Maintenance-Adopt a Trail(Service Learning)
Also, in addition to a weekly get together we sometimes meet as families on the weekend for potlucks, hikes, and we always run an end of the year culminating camp experience. This can be a more intensive time-like a week or weekend where all the families camp together, participate in multiple activities and end with an awards ceremony. Every year the kids win the award for the year (we just made tree cookie necklaces) and then will move on to the next year. The goal is that we will keep this family nature club going through high school—the camps can get more and more adventurous and child-driven by the end! See our Camp Page for more details on starting your own parent taught nature summer camp!
If you would like more information or help starting your own family nature club please feel free to contact us for more information! Also the Children and Nature Network has created an amazing toolkit for helping you start your own family nature club…check it out for more info! Family Nature Club toolkit