5 Simple Steps to Start Your Nature-Based Playgroup

by Shara Drew   |   June 6, 2018

Frog Outside

Are you a parent or caregiver who wants to get kids outside to play? Do you want to connect with other families in your area who value time in nature? As part of New Dream’s Community in Action “Play!” Challenge, we encourage you to start an outdoor playgroup! In addition to fostering human relationships, regular play opportunities in nature help to develop a greater sense of place, wonder, and connection to the planet we all call home. 

Follow these five simple steps to start your own nature-based playgroup:

1. Get your core group together. Meeting up to play outside with others requires two things: outside and others! Fortunately, the great outdoors is all ready for your future play adventures. To launch your nature-based playgroup, invite a few other families to join you in meeting outside to play regularly. You might consider first inviting families that you know are passionate about spending time outdoors, or that have children similar in age to yours.

2. Brainstorm the basics. How often do you want to meet? What ages of kids will be welcome to play? What day and time works best for a regular meeting? Do you want to meet in the same location each time, or switch it up? (There are advantages to both: becoming ultra familiar with one location and studying seasonal changes, growth, etc., and/or creating experiences in a diversity of ecosystems.) Will you meet year-round? Agreeing on these basics at the beginning—even if you decide to change them later on—will help set your group up for success.

3. Work out some details. Once you have the basics in place, it’s helpful to think through some details. Here are some things you might consider:

  • How will group members communicate? Some playgroups have found it helpful to create a Facebook group as a forum to share information (and cute pictures!) about playgroup activities. If your group will meet at different locations, this can be a great “hub” for information about where the group will meet on a given day. For others, an email group does the trick.
  • Who will “lead” your group? You may decide to have totally open-ended outdoor play sessions (see more on this below), but it's still important to give someone the role of leading your communication platform. For example, if there’s inclement weather on the day you plan to meet, this person or designated team would be responsible for communicating this to the group.
  • Will your group be open or closed? We encourage you to be inclusive and to welcome any members of your community to join you. What better way to get to know new friends? But in some cases, particularly if the group meets at a place where space is limited (for example, someone’s backyard), groups might need to remain small. Discuss if your group will be open to the public or by invitation.
  • How will you run your playgroup? Child-initiated free play is so valuable for children and families. We encourage you to put free play and connection with nature, parents, and friends at the heart of your playgroup. Some groups maintain this essential “wild” element of their outdoor playgroups while creating a theme for each meeting. For example, “Strawberries” might be a theme connected to a certain meeting location at a certain time of year. A guided exploration or book about strawberries might be incorporated into that meeting, as a way to keep the group feeling fresh.

4. Get ready to play. Once the basics are worked out and the details are in place, get out there and start playing! A great thing about a nature-based playgroup is that you don’t need much prep to get to the good stuff: having fun together outdoors. But do keep in mind that playing in certain environments—cold, hot, wet, buggy, etc.—will be more fun with the appropriate clothing or gear. This may be a barrier for some families (as might transportation to and from certain locations), so think about ways that your community can come together to enable all kids and families to join in the outdoor fun.

5. Go play! No matter how you organize your nature playgroup—whether it’s once a week or once a season, open to the public or an intimate group, in the same or varied locations, theme-based or free-range—the goal is to enjoy. Enjoy being outside, enjoy connecting with other children and parents in your community, and enjoy bonding with your children as you follow their lead, curiosity, and awe while exploring the natural world together. Be silly. Get dirty. And have fun. 

If you’ve done all this, then CONGRATULATIONS on launching your successful nature playgroup!

Thanks to Courtney Cronin, founder of Forest Playgroup, for inspiring and helping with this blog post. Check out the Forest Playgroup to learn how parents and children are connecting outside and building community in Maine.

Also be sure to visit the Children & Nature Network for resources, to find existing nature clubs in your area, or to add yours to the map!

Shara Drew is the director of New Dream's Kids & Commercialism campaign.