Chapter 2: Build Your Tribe
9:22 AM. Everything is soaking. Just absolutely soaking. Silas slops about on the muddy bank and then stands to watch his sister, Nyla, as she steps onto a slippery stump. It’s shoulder season in Colorado, and we’re not quite dressed for the unexpected temperatures. Nor did all of us come prepared with backup clothes for kids who dare, against the weather, to get soaked feet and legs. At first it’s just a few families. We assume others are taking a rain check on this outing, and we try to keep our spirits high as our bodies slowly get colder and colder.
A few steps later, one after another, the children step into the frigid current. Like hummingbirds, we swoop in and pull the children back onto land. Not every child’s feet are wet, but those with shorter boots are uncomfortable and try to fight back tears. We quickly start the process of taking off wet socks and putting on dry ones. For those less prepared parents, spare socks are borrowed from other families. Tears are replaced with smiles, and relief gives way to curiosity. As the play resumes, other families slowly arrive, and soon we have a gaggle of children mucking about the creek again, kids being kids.
Building your family nature club tribe—even when you are starting at the very beginning, without a tribe—is easy once you get started! It is also incredibly rewarding for you, your children, your family, and your community. Like any community building, you just need to start the recruiting process.
How to Solicit Members for Your Family Nature Club
How you go about finding and soliciting members for your family nature club depends on what kind of group you want to create.
You can start small and privately (with just a few close friends), or you can launch very publicly, soliciting families in your neighborhood, at your children’s school, at community organizations like scouts, or at other organized groups.
There’s a variety of easy ways to reach out to folks.
Email is an efficient communication tool because it allows you to directly contact individuals in bulk. Plus, people tend to open and read emails, especially if they are from someone they know. If you are organizing your club for an existing group (like a nonprofit, school, church, or other group), there may be an existing email list that you can request to make your job easier. There are many free emailing services that you can use to allow you to easily email many people at one time.
Phone (and email) will allow you to contact a variety of other groups, such as local recreation organizations and stores (that frequently have message boards), other youth groups, outdoor enthusiast groups, church groups, and more. Spreading the word this way may take time, but once you’ve built connections with the leaders of these groups, your message will be distributed to a wide and engaged audience.
In person communication is very effective by nature. For groups you are already a part of, you can make an effort to talk to people when you see them on a regular basis. It can either be one-on-one or you can schedule a time to make an announcement as part of a larger group gathering. You can also reach out to existing groups that you are not a part of and find out if they’d allow you to drop by to make an announcement. You can start by talking with your existing friends, families in the neighborhood, and co-workers who have children.
Newsletters, newspapers, or other publications are similar to email in that you can reach a broad audience with one announcement. Whether you choose a traditional media like newspapers or reach out to websites and blogs that focus on your local community really depends on your goals and the audience of the publication. This can be a very useful way to attract people who share your interests that you don’t know yet. You’ll need to first contact the editor of the publication to find out their submission requirements, and then provide a short description of your club and how to get involved.
Marketing materials like flyers and websites take a bit of extra work, but nowadays there are a variety of free or nearly free tools to assist your design efforts. You can post flyers at schools, libraries, community recreation centers, and other group facilities. You can set up public groups on social networks. By adding keywords and images that relate to your club, you may quickly attract local families.
For example, I initially set up my club using Meetup.com, and within just a couple of days had over 40 families join the group! If you create a standalone website and add relevant content (such as frequent blogging), search engines will index your website and people will find you through their searches. Flyers can be created, printed, and posted at different places throughout your community, such as your child’s school, local gyms, and aftercare message boards. You’ll just need to go to the front desk and explain what you are doing.
Word of mouth tends to happen on its own—if you build a good club!—and helps attract new members to your club.
Since I wasn’t sure the level of sustained commitment I could make and exactly how much effort organizing an ongoing club would take, I decided to start very simply. I wrote up an email introducing the name of my club and its purpose, and asked a few friends if they’d be interested in joining. The friends I sent the email to were all families of children in my daughter’s school. While I emailed less than a dozen folks, the response I received was overwhelmingly positive.
Here is my original email:
Subject: Interested in joining a family nature club?
I’ve been really interested in starting an outdoor adventure group with local families. Below are some details. If you’re interested, please let me know. There is also an important question at the end. I’d love your input. Thank you!
The tentative name of the group is Running Wild family nature club. It is modeled after the family nature club idea introduced in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods and promoted through the Children & Nature Network. You may have heard of Last Child in the Woods at our school. Much of the research and suggestions that Louv discusses in his book parallel the philosophy of Waldorf and the ideals of families raising children in this area. If you’re interested, this page has a VIDEO and more details about the Louv’s family nature club concept: http://www.childrenandnature.org/movement/naturalfamilies/
The basic idea behind Running Wild family nature club is to get a group of people interested in connecting children with nature together on a regular basis for “nature-centered experiences to instill wonder and engendered curiosity.” These could take the shape of unstructured nature play (go to a location and let the kids explore), and sometimes these could take the shape of adult-guided activities (a hike, mountain biking, etc.). My intention is to find places close to Boulder, such as open space, trails, greenbelts, and pockets of wilderness—and sometimes venture into the mountains.
This isn’t like a playgroup, play date, or day camp. We’ll be outside with an interest in re-creating the type of nature experiences and free play that occurred more naturally and frequently in our childhood, and our parents’ childhood. There will not be strict rules. For example, the group does not always have to stay together if a number of children wish to go off in a different direction. During unstructured nature play, the goal will be to step away and allow the children to interact without parent involvement, and without an agenda or set of goals besides “being there.” Of course, this will vary as our activities vary, and so a group hike or camping trip will be structured differently. In any case, children will not be dropped off and left. Parents will need to be with their children, and will be responsible for them. This is something that both parents could attend, or one parent, or you can alternate. There are not any age restrictions or fees.
I can see that a group like this could grow with our children, and as the teenage years arrive so too may our activities change. I grew up rafting, skiing, and snow caving in the winters, and hiking and camping all year ‘round. While Boy Scouts played a big role in my life back then, I’m curious about creating a group that both my daughter and son could be a part of together.
If you’re interested, I’d love to find out what type of meeting time would work best for you and your family. If you’re not interested, no worries.
I sent this out before planning any events or setting anything up for my club because I wanted to make sure I could get people to join the club. However, many clubs start in a different order, such as creating all of their marketing materials and planning the first few events, or a whole calendar year of events, and then starting to solicit members. It really depends on the purpose and plan of your club. Your ability to solicit new members for your club also varies on your location. Larger urban areas will be easier to get new members because of the size of the population and the pool of families that you can approach. If you’re unsure, like I was, whether or not you will be able to attract members, one easy way you can test this out is by creating a trial account on Meetup.com and seeing if, by announcing your club there without any marketing, you attract signups. You may find that within just a few days you’ll have dozens of families sign up!
What You’ve Learned
In this chapter, you’ve learned how to build your tribe for your family nature club, and how to find and solicit members for your club.