Creating connection in our very spread out and busy communities can be a challenge. Nature is playing a huge role in the resurgence of community, as we are looking to small groups of like minded families to connect with, gain ideas from, and create sustainable communities around. Angela Nelson of the Northern Colorado Nature Tribe shares her story of a growing group of families who have come together in social connection through a love of the outdoors, and a shared sense of need to see their children grow up within it.
How did your tribe first come together?
Well sometime back probably late last year I came across a website called naturerocks. I was looking up nature activities for a mini outdoor preschool my good friend Jenae and I wanted to do with our children. The idea was to meet once a week no matter what the weather and plan something. We would leave a lot of time for exploration for the kids but also have an organized activity. Our children ages ranged from 1-4 so we kept it pretty simple. Nature Rocks opened my eyes to so much out in the world. But, it wasn’t in me to organize, create groups and put them to life.
In January I did this amazing self-exploration course called Inside Out, created by Shannon Kinney. The beauty of it was that I thought I had an idea of what i wanted out of the course but through creative art, journaling and mind mapping I planted seeds in me to later create this nature club. When I came across Nature Rocks later on, when it hit me that I NEED to start a nature club, I was nervous it was outside of my comfort zone. I thought about it for awhile then talked with my friend and hubby and now we have the NoCo Nature Tribe. NoCo stands for Northern Colorado. We have about 35 families on the mailing list and we are always open to whom ever wants to join us! So I set it all up and our first meet up was April 14, 2010. I love being outside in nature with my friends and family so that was the easy part. My mom was such a nature person all year round. I am planning our meet ups and hoping no matter what the weather we are going to be outside enjoying it!
What keeps you together as a tribe?
Bringing families together for a common love for something. The memories with each other and nature we are creating are so special. I would love to see every community to have some sort of nature club. We are so blessed in our area to be surrounded by so many natural areas and parks; we need to get out and explore them all. Prairies, open planes, woodland areas dry and rivers and streams. The wildlife and flora is just as abundant. Watching our children creating relationships with nature and each other is priceless.
What types of activities do you do together as a tribe, and how often do you meet?
I wanted to make sure that I didn’t burn myself out with the tribe. Being a stay at home mom with two kiddos and involved in other community activities, I definitely wanted to keep this fun and easy. So I planned for twice a month. We meet the second and fourth Wednesday of every month. Our first meet-up is our park day. With the park day I wanted to plan some fun nature activity that we would do together with our children and/or as a group. Just for the first hour or so, then leave enough time for free exploration and play for the kiddos. For example, our very first park day we played a getting to know you game called Instant Replay. It doesn’t take much to get kids happy outside. We have also done nature scavenger hunts and a silly race day with 3-legged and sack races.
Our second meet-up is our nature hike day. They are really laid back — when the kids are ready to be done we park it somewhere and eat our lunch and head back. We really let the children decide when we reach our destination because keeping them happy and engaged makes the hikes go best. Also, with the variety of age groups the younger ones who want to walk with the bigger kids get tired quicker. We allow a lot of time for some off-trail exploration, river crossings and playing (which might include some fishing with nearby sticks as fishing poles,) bug identification and a favorite– fallen down tree climbing.
Our mornings are filled watching our children connect with nature and creating important relationships with each other and the nature around them. What a treasure!
We also schedule special event days. We celebrated the summer solstice, guided wildflower hikes and extra hike days. It has been great to add extra hikes when we wanted to.
What do you believe are the biggest benefits to creating a community based exclusively on outdoor play?
Imagination, the willingness to push boundaries and learn the excitement in learning. When you are outdoors you are unlimited to the ability to find yourself, and creating unconditional relationships.
What advice do you have for families to get out of doors, and to begin to create relationships based on a child’s inherent love of nature?
Hmmm, advice… I would love to say that it is imperative to ourselves and children to get as much outdoor play as it is vital to our overall physical, mental and spiritual health. We need to pass these traditions of being connected to nature to our children and children’s children. There were times when you did so much outside exploring, farming, walking and we are losing that. We need to bring back how important nature is to our health.
What are some of your favorite nature based activities and crafts that you have done as a tribe?
I would definitely say the nature scavenger hunt! First my son and I and sometimes my daughter made up little nature bags. I had some unbleached cotton muslin and sewed up bags approximately 7×7 with a handle around 14″ long. My son then stamped the word Nature on all the bags. It was such a fun activity to do with my son– it just made the scavenger hunt that more beautiful. The parents and children headed off with bags in one hand, paper in the other and started searching together. It was so much fun to come back and view all the treasures. Showing off their sizes of rocks, and determining if they picked the right amount of sticks. We do have to keep an activity like this to parks because most of the natural areas are preserved areas and collecting flowers and other items are prohibited –we want to respect that.
I wanted to keep the scavenger hunt simple so it was friendly for all ages. I drew the pictures for each item:
#1- picture of a pine cone
#2- picture of 2 leaves (to collect 2 leaves) with the thought to encourage the child to find 2 different kinds of leaves
#3- picture of 3 flowers
#4 -picture of 4 rocks– I drew different sized rocks again to encourage to find 4 various sizes
#5- picture of 5 different sized sticks.
Breeze in the trees
Birds nest (or anything else appropriate to the time of year)
Shut your eyes and breathe in the fresh air
Grass (good excuse to lay on the earth and smell)
I just had so much fun putting this activity together. I am looking forward to the autumn nature scavenger hunt at the same park. I think it would be good to bring awareness to the changing of the seasons.
Tell us how you have celebrated the changing of the seasons as a community.
I love the changing of the seasons. Being connected with nature during this time helps transitioning into the new season with more awareness of the changes going on within our own spirits and body. Summer brings energy with the hot sun and everything is so alive. We are out out out: family gatherings, community events, camping, travelling… by the end of the summer I am definitely starting to feel that energy slowing down as it gets darker earlier, cooler-breezed and that calmness sneaking in. Celebrating these seasons especially with children can naturally give them awareness to the changes within themselves and the connection with nature.
We are going to be celebrating autumn out at Harvest Farms, a local farm. We will be celebrating autumn with corn mazes, pumpkins, barrel rides and so much more. And of course, great friends. It is my favorite time of year.
What advice would you give to someone who would like to create a community similar to yours?
Just get out and do it. Start small and keep it simple; you can always allow room to grow. Create a plan and a schedule a few months out. Research what other nature clubs are doing. Two wonderful resources are Children and Nature and Nature Rocks. They have detailed kits you can print out to start off with and guide you on your way. Having the confidence or a plan or kit makes it easier for you and others will be happy to have a plan to follow along with you. Make it fun! GET OUTSIDE! The fresh air creates such a positive attitude. Start with a friend: collaborate ideas, talk about upcoming events and to have as backup if you are unable to make it. ALWAYS allow room for the day to take its own course.
What do you see for the future of your tribe?
A community garden. I am so excited! Another tribe mama is working on getting space and all the fundamentals together for a tribe community garden. I have such an abundant vision of tons of wonderful produce, an amazing children’s space where they can grow, dig and play. Picking yummy beans and tomatoes off the vines. Such Joy!
Growth…I would really love to reach out more to the community, to families that might need that little extra push to get outside. Groups keep this exploration more safe. I know that families are more concerned these days with safety. Going out in groups can definitely ease those concerns.
I have recently been contacted by a local nature organization kidsnatureconnection to come talk about the nature tribe and what we do. So many possibilities.
Angela lives in Northern Colorado with her hubby and two children. They spend their days being out in nature, creating really cool things and enjoying weekly awesome adventures with their tribe. Her children Aidan (4) and Lilly (2) inspire her to enjoy the simple pleasure of life! NoCo Nature Tribe