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September 2009 cover image hunting dog

Skill Builder: Get Outside and Bring the Neighbors

Nurturing your own family nature club.

By Bernadette Noll

One of our favorite family outings is to head out in search of new places to hike. My husband and I are not exactly hard-core outdoor types, but we have enough of a foundation in nature to provide us with a basic understanding and a love of outdoors to give us the impetus to get outside and explore. Because of this foundation, even if we’re uncertain about a particular destination, we know enough seriously hard-core nature explorers that are more than willing to either guide us themselves or just point the way.

For many parents, particularly ones who didn’t grow up with any hiking experience, the idea of heading outdoors may be enticing but doesn’t always feel doable for a variety of reasons. There may be lack of knowledge about where to go or how to go about getting there. There may be a fear of snakes or poison ivy or some other potential hazard. There might also be a fear that they don’t have the right gear or information.

And sometimes, too, even if there are no hidden fears of dangers lurking, there just might be a hesitation to venture out on their own where they haven’t ventured before.

In the past few years, in many cities, towns and neighborhoods, many families have been forming family nature clubs to explore the outdoors together. These informal clubs were the brainchild of a family inspired by the book The Last Child in the Woods by author Richard Louv. The Children and Nature Network, founded by Louv and others to encourage nature play for children, hopes others follow the family nature club lead.

“What if more and more parents, grandparents and kids around the country band together to create outdoor adventure clubs, family nature networks, family outdoor clubs or green gyms?” Louv says. “What if this approach becomes the norm in every community?”

In the past couple of months we have become part of a neighborhood-based family nature club, which sets destinations monthly in and around Austin. One dad set up a blog and invited others via the blog and the school newsletter. Forming your own club is easy and a good way to build community. There is no need to form committees or get funding or wait for a reason. Rather, the only reason necessary is that you want to get outside and you want to encourage other families to do the same.

By joining forces and forging a simple path to the outdoors, many families have discovered that getting out on a trail or park or other natural setting is the best way to connect — not only with nature but with friends and family as well!

And here are five simple steps from the Children and Nature Network for forming your own family nature club:
1. Create a plan of when, where and how long. Keeping it simple and close to home will encourage even the most nature-intimidated. Schedule for a variety of activities. (See “50 Ways to Get Kids Hooked on the Outdoors,” March 2008.)
2. Check out your location ahead of time. You don’t need to know the trail like the back of your hand, but having some expectations of what you will encounter is a good idea.
3. Send out your invitations. You can do this by word of mouth, Internet newsletters, school information folders or neighborhood bulletin boards.
4. Provide a checklist of what to wear and bring. Leave nothing up to chance so as to encourage the hesitant. Think sunscreen, hat, water, good shoes, snacks, hand wipes, etc. Include any special equipment they might need (binoculars, fishing gear).
5. Gather, hike and record. Gather at the spot and get hiking. On your hike record what you see, water levels, number of participants, etc. Having a record of what was happening when you started is a great idea.

You can download a free Family Nature Club Tool Kit at www.childrenandnature.org

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