Since beginning the #150hoursoutside Project at the start of this year, I’ve received tons of questions asking me how to gather a group of families and get a nature group or Forest School group meetup started. This is something I’ve done in the past, and recently started back up again in my local community (we’re just getting ready to start our Summer session!). So I figured I’d share my tips and tricks for getting a local group off the ground in your area in the easiest way possible.
Why might you want to set up this meetup group in the first place?
I’m sure you’re aware of the incredible benefits of spending time outdoors with your children – every single domain of development grows substantially when your child is engaging in play, exploration, or learning outdoors.
Connecting with a group of people and learning and exploring together provides an added layer of benefits as well….
* Social connection is an obvious benefit. Your children are able to work closely with a variety of age groups, taking on leader and follower positions, learning how to share their ideas, learn from others, and play and connect with many different people. You also benefit from this social connection too through getting to connect with other parents on these adventures!
* Longer periods of time spent in nature is another great benefit of Forest School Meetups. For families who struggle with enjoying outside time for more than a few minutes at a time, this is a wonderful way to extend your joy and passion in an outdoor setting.
* Balancing structured and unstructured engagement in nature is a great way to encourage creative problem solving, communication of ideas, and unique ways of connecting with nature. By providing specific activity ideas and allowing children to participate in their own way, you’re giving them a unique opportunity to choose how they engage with activities while also encouraging unstructured play. Win win!
So, have I gotten you super excited about starting your own local meetup group? Yay! Let’s chat specifics….
There are three things every Forest School Meetup Group needs: a LEADER, a LOCATION, and proper PLANNING.
Easy enough, right? Let’s get detailed….
- THE LEADER. Maybe that’s you, maybe it’s a friend, maybe you and a friend decide to be co-leaders, or maybe you even decide to split up the duties so that a new parent takes over each week. Even if you decide to split duties, it’s still helpful to have one person be the designated go-to person who takes care of the specific details of coordination, communication, etc. Don’t be scared to be the leader if you’ve never led something before! The duties really aren’t that hard. A leader: plans the activities, gathers resources and materials, coordinates the group communication, checks weather for possible cancellations, and promotes the meetup to families and friends in the community. And don’t worry – I’ll share all about how to make all of those things easy in just a bit! But, in a nutshell, that’s the Leader’s job.
- THE LOCATION. Where you decide to have your Forest School Meetup Group is actually really important. You want to have a place that’s in nature, obviously, and this will depend completely on where you live. If you’re in a big city, you might only have access to a park and that will be more than enough! If you’re out in the country, you might have more options to choose from. Anyplace that gives the kids access to nature is good – parks, hiking trails, creeks, riverbeds, forest spots…. Consider all of your options before choosing. You also want to think about your various ages and ability levels in your group. I recommend gathering your community of people FIRST, then choosing a location. You might have a group of all younger kids who need a flatter ground, or you might have all older kids who can use the challenge of tree climbing and a rougher terrain. You may have parents or children in your group with limited mobility, so choosing a spot that’s close to a parking lot or can accommodate all of your members’ needs will be important. If you’re using a public space, you should be ok to just show up, but make sure you make time to get permission from the city or private landowners before your first session.
- THE PLANNING. This is the part that takes up the majority of your time, obviously, as you’ll be planning each week (or biweekly, or however often your meetups occur). The Leader will plan the activities, gather materials needed, and show up a little early to get everything set up for the group. Now I told you I was gonna make this part easy, right? And boy, have I. My Warm and Cool Weather Forest School Curriculums have your planning completely done for you! Themed 12-week programs guide children of all ages through a variety of STEAM-focused activities and engagements in nature. Each week’s guide gives you reading suggestions, descriptions of the activities, materials list (which is minimal!), discussion prompts, and a take-home slip for parents to continue the learning and discussion all week until your next session! Amazing, right? And the best part…. It’s a Pay-What-You-Can Program to suit ANY budget. Check out samples HERE and buy it on your terms HERE. Of course, you don’t NEED a curriculum to be successful – any activities that encourage the kids to engage in nature together will make your meetup a winner!
A few other tips:
- Promotion and getting people to join your group. This can be the most daunting part, honestly. But in today’s tech-savvy world, social media has made it so easy. Make a post in your local Moms group or homeschooling group or, if you’re going to go an after-school route, connect with parents in your child’s school community. Generally I’ve found that most parents want to be involved in this type of group, but are afraid of being in charge. So if you’re willing to step into that role (or at least share it), you’ll likely find that tons of people are excited about joining you!
- Keep your group to a manageable size. It’s exciting when dozens of families want to join your group, but having too many kids turns your meetups into unintentional chaos pretty quickly. Decide what is a good group size for you and be firm on keeping it to that size.
- Payment. Don’t feel obligated to run your group for free. Not only will you be spending your time planning and preparing, but materials will cost you as well. Charge a few dollars each week per person if you are the sole leader, or find a way to split up buying materials amongst the families (trust me – most families would rather pay you for your time than to have to worry about going out to get supplies themselves).
And that’s the long and short of it! Choose a leader. Choose a location. Plan for an awesome time.
Now, if planning things your own way just isn’t your jam, there are lots of amazing programs out there that help you with that. Personally, I like having the control of activities, schedules community, etc., but if you need the additional support, I recommend checking out Tinkergarten, Free Forest School, or Forest School for All. There might even already be some groups meeting in your area that you can join in with!
Have more questions about how I run my meetups?? Feel free to contact me and ask away!