In 2006, the Children & Nature Network was created by Richard Louv, Cheryl Charles, Martha Farrell Erickson, Martin LeBlanc, Michael Pertschuk and Amy Pertschuk. Their vision: “A world in which all children play, learn and grow with nature in their everyday lives.”
The Children & Nature Network is a great resource for information about connecting children with nature. One of the most interesting projects they are working on is the promotion of Family Nature Clubs. Family Nature Clubs are initiated by individual families to connect with other local families in order to spend time in nature on a regular basis. There is a wonderful toolkit you can download that explains some of the ways to get started.
One of the problems with getting families into nature is a perceived fear that the woods and wild spaces are “dangerous”. One major benefit of Family Nature Clubs is that you are providing a “safety in numbers” approach, where many parents can watch and assist the many children. Also, by meeting on a regular basis, more families are likely to get out in nature, as it is part of their “scheduled” routine.
The cool thing is you don’t have to be an expert naturalist. Anyone with an interest in spending time outdoors can get started on creating and growing a community of outdoor families. Not only that, but you can start right now with little to no cost involved. The hike or play time in the woods needn’t be sanctioned by an environmental group or funded nature club. There might even be a local club already in your area.
If there isn’t a club nearby, the toolkit from the Children & Nature Network explains in great detail how to create one [PDF].
Beyond the resources for Family Nature Clubs, there are many more reports available explaining the declines in nature play, the benefits of playing outdoors, and what can be done about changing what has been dubbed “nature deficit disorder”. All of these are available to download.
The good news is, according to Children & Nature Network, there are already 223 family nature clubs along with 110 grassroots campaigns that in total have 3.85 million youth and children involved. This is great and can only continue to grow.
I am in the beginning stages of starting a Family Nature Club in my own rural neighborhood, hoping to reach out to area farmers with children. Granted, many rural kids already are involved in nature, mine included, but there are still many who are not. And while my two boys are under 3 as are their nearby cousins, it will still be a great way to get out into local nature preserves and hopefully encourage other families to do so as well.
Time to get started!