Chapter 10: Love
9:25 AM. My daughter and son kick at water and mull about, staring at small pebbles that spin and twirl down a mountain stream. The skies are grey—unusual for sunny Boulder, Colorado. We have all our standard gear: extra shoes and clothes, a barrage of snacks, a pair of binoculars, and pocketknives. The place we’re at was once a parking lot nestled deep in a canyon, but since the floods last summer the road and trailhead have been greatly transformed. Today it is wild, teeming with nooks to explore and un-manicured trails. But something isn’t right. The children were anticipating friends to show up, and they are disappointed. I’m disappointed, too. It takes a good amount of work to set up these events, and it’s a bummer when no one shows up.
I decide to start to play and see if I can lift their spirits. First I pick up small pebbles and throw them into a pool. They make a tiny sipping sound. I scour the small beach between fingers of the stream for larger rocks. I pick up and toss a few. They make a big gulping sound as they careen into the waters. It distracts my children from their disappointment, and slowly they join me. I announce that I’m fishing—yes, fishing—with rocks. I’m trying to catch a mountain fish, the kind that likes to eat really big rocks. The bigger the rocks, the bigger the mountain fish I’ll catch, I say. My children’s spirits rise a bit. We’ve discovered a little game and some imaginary play, and it holds their attention. Shortly, one dad and his daughters show up. My children are thrilled for the company. They introduce the stone throwing game to the newcomers, and soon we’re exploring up the creek, moving from one pool to another, up the fingers of the stream, along the muddy banks, balancing on teetering rocks and logs, discovering the magic of this wild place.
Crafting something from scratch takes commitment and perseverance. It takes your love. Getting your events on other families’ calendars doesn’t happen instantly, especially when the events require extra work for the parents that they could easily avoid by staying at home, going to a manufactured play experience, or putting their kids into an organized drop-off program. Family nature clubs inherently demand more from the parents, since they are responsible for their children and can’t just drop them off with a third-party caretaker. By staying heart-centered and focusing on what you’re trying to accomplish—making a lifestyle for your children—you can easily get through events with lackluster attendance. But it is worth having a plan.
How to Handle Low-Attendance Events
It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll have events where no one or very few people will make it out. Your role as the leader is to ensure that you still have an amazing time. You’re doing this is for the children, and what the children need is the time and space and interaction with nature. Whether it’s just with your child or children, or only a few others, there are three things that you can focus on in these situations:
Stay positive, even if your group’s attitude starts to get negative. Remember, your intentions were to plan and attend the event—and you’ve accomplished that! As the leader, it’s good to remind your group of these intentions too, making sure that they understand that families are busy, that unexpected things happen with parents and children, and that just because others didn’t show up doesn’t mean they didn’t want to or won’t in the future. You are exactly where you are supposed to be, and the people who show up are the right people to have shown up. Maintaining a lack of attachment to attendance is good for your emotional well-being as a leader—don’t let it slow you down!
Play, explore, and get engaged! Sometimes when less people show up the group can spiral into non-action, especially if some of the more active and extroverted families haven’t showed up. You should more immediately start modeling behavior to kick-start the children’s own play. If this isn’t something you are naturally inclined towards, one easy way to begin is to simply crouch or sit down where you are and find something of interest that is within your reach. Focus on the small—leaves, twigs, rocks, bugs—and start to touch, see, and smell what is in front of you. Start some imaginary play, pick a character, and announce what you are and what you are doing. This is what I was doing by throwing rocks into the stream, pretending I was fishing.
Create marketing materials for future events at this location. It may be that this time few people showed up, but perhaps if they saw how much fun the children have at this place, they would be more likely to come next time. Take notice of your surroundings and the activities the children participate in. Take mental or physical notes and take pictures. Photographs are by far one of the most effective marketing tools for your family nature club, and while you may have taken some when you were scouting, it’s hard to capture the real experience of children during your scouting trips. Photographs are also a great way to jog your memory later of an amazing experience. If there are less people at this event, just imagine what drew you to this place that might draw others, and try to document it. You can share these as part of your future event descriptions and it will inspire more to come in the future.
Because my family nature club is private and I only invite families that attend my children’s school, I’ve had several events that had pretty low attendance. When I had an event with just one other family, it was pretty disheartening. But I remembered my intentions and focused on loving what we were doing and what we were about. I worked hard to keep my small group’s spirits high, doing all three of the things mentioned above. We ended up having an amazing time, and afterward were very glad that we had not given up before others arrived. Now that we’ve been doing our club for almost a year, I am more confident that people will show up. But there are always a few minutes when I first arrive and others haven’t, and I wonder if anyone will actually come. My children also have this experience, and so I am always focused on these three activities to ensure that, even if no one shows up, we still have a remarkable time out in nature.
What You’ve Learned
In this chapter, you’ve learned what to do for low-attendance family nature club events.