Friday, October 11, 2013

Indiana Children and Nature Network: Family Nature Clubs

I recently went to a training for Family Nature Clubs, sponsored by Indiana Children and Nature Network (ICAN). The mission of ICAN is to help connect children, families and communities to nature. One way of doing that is through promoting Family Nature Clubs. I've been researching this topic over the last 8 months or so off and on as I thought about starting a local club. This webinar was informative! We already do plenty of nature activities and enjoy when we have friends along, so it sounds like a perfect fit. 

We started with an ice breaker where we found "snapshots" outside that reminded us of our time in nature as children. I found these "loose parts"--sticks, acorns, nuts, husks, and the like. We lived in Florida on a military base for a few years and we would always gather, sort, and categorize these loose bits to "sell" in our outside store. Puffballs, little orange berries, burrs, shells, etc. became our wares. My partner commented on the ravine nearby, as she had access to a creek that often became a play area. 


We introduced ourselves to the group by sharing our partner's "snapshot" of nature memories. What a diverse group and experiences!

We actually had a good group from the greater Elkhart area at the training, with a couple from ETHOS Science Center at the training. One mentioned the campfire and going to a residence camp as a preteen. Another mentioned how downtown Elkhart was all concrete for him--nature was growing in the cracks. Another mentioned that nature was called "country" and it was the small space between shrubs and the fence. One man mentioned having a grasshopper on a leash as he walked to school. 


After recalling these moments we connected with nature in our past, we looked at why we should worry about getting children getting outdoors. The presenter mentioned how baby boomers were closer to nature as most had access to the country through visiting a family member's farm regularly, showing statistics of the huge decrease of family farms from 1900 to 2000. Children also have less discretionary time in our overscheduled lives. In the free time they have, television, videogames, advertising, and junk food have taken over. This was illustrated by showing several popular products without the names on the brand. We all easily knew what they were. Then they showed 5 common nature items for our area--we struggled to name them all, even with decent nature backgrounds. Wow! With the increase in organized sports, obesity has increased. Other issues include safety perceptions, passive entertainment, focus on academic fundamentals, and overzealous parents. He looked at the statistics of fun safety--there are fewer violent crimes like this today. I had just been to a firearms safety presentation that mentioned the same thing. While gun violence has been sensationalized, there are fewer deaths. 

I loved hearing one say that he "feels safer with kids out in the neighborhood than on the Internet." As a mother of boys looking into the future and seeing the harm pornography and other ills of Internet abuse, this made an impact. 

Benefits to getting outside include increased test scores, motor coordination and fitness, more diverse play and creativity, as well as awareness, reasoning, etc. Sickness and stress are decreased with more exposure to nature.

They shared a few tips on implementing the clubs:
1. Set the stage of what to expect. 
2. Experiences are more powerful than knowledge.
3. The thrill is in the hike, not the destination.
4. Keep it simple!
5 Start with friends. 

Inspirational materials and resources were shared, such as Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle by Richard Louv. 

Later we went outside and looked at what might be good to have on a nature hike for family nature clubs. Some called this their "magic" bag. We each picked an item and shared what we would do with it. The collective experience helped us think of additional ways to use the items.

This was a cool bandana that had knot tying activities, tracks, fire building, and more. I have a couple of these, like a scavenger hunt bandana. A piece of rope can be used in all sorts of ways. An idea I especially liked was recreating the hike with the string as the trail, putting natural elements on the path that was hiked. 

Good things to have in your pack: flashlight, whistle, phone, quick activities, measuring tape, snacks, paper and pencil, plastic bags, first aid kit, rope, a little toy, guide books, binoculars, socks, collecting/viewing jars, insect repellant, a knife, and more. What would you include? 

We also looked at regular components that might be used in all Family Nature Club activities. I like the emphasis on having just a few moments of quiet time, as well as a service project. We've been trying to do more service projects as part of our family outings, too. 

There are so many ways a Family Nature Club could be implemented. How might they fit in your circumstances? 

These were a few of the activities that might happen, though there are many possibilities. 

During the training, we also received a tool kit with nuts and bolts of how to carry out a Family Nature Club. The Resource List was extensive, touching on Indiana DNR, national groups, books, articles, sample forms, and nature nearby. There were also several good articles that were applicable on beginning to more advanced levels. ICAN shared a few websites, like Austin Families in Nature, Family Adventures in Nature from San Diego, and Kids in the Valley Adventuring

While I had researched this topic online previously, I really enjoyed the face-to-face experience where I could ask questions, get additional ideas from others, be inspired, and plan for action! Interested in starting a Family Nature Club in your area? ICAN can help! If you live in the Michiana area, let me know if you're interested in being part of the planning process for a club nearby. 

What do I see in the value of Family Nature Clubs? Our family already gets outside a fair amount. We'd love to join with other people as we get outside. My husband, a self-proclaimed "technology pusher", said that Family Nature Clubs are a way to get the boys outside and away from TV and video games. I'll take it as an endorsement!