Sitting on my bookshelf are dozens of amazing books filled with dozens of nature-inspired ideas and activities that I can do with my kids.
My head and my email inbox are filled with ideas too. There are so many great ideas that sometimes I don’t know where to start. And, as much as I may want to, I’m not sure how to find the time in our busy, over-scheduled family lives to get outside and try some of these ideas.
I know how vital connecting with nature is for our kids, our families and for nature itself. I’ve read the research. I’ve been in the muddy trenches of nature play. I’ve seen for myself how powerful a nature connection is for kids and families. I have the muddy hands and grass stains to prove it. I even teach families how to do it. But even families of passionate nature connection advocates like mine are susceptible to nature-deficit disorder. There are far too many days when my family’s green time is a big fat zero. But when we do get out in nature, we feel better and function better as a family unit.
I started to think about how I could help my family — and other families — choose nature more often. I needed a simple, low-cost, fun tool to help my family get their regular, healthy dose of Vitamin N (that’s N for Nature, of course.).
I needed something that could easily fit into our busy schedules. Of course, there’s simply going outside for a bit of unstructured, free daily nature play. I’m a huge advocate of unstructured nature play (we know from a growing body of research that it’s vital for kids to get outdoors to play and explore in nature without adult intervention –or interruption!). But sometimes kids and families just need a few ideas to get them started on their journey out the door. So I set off on my mission to design the perfect nature-connection tool. I started by brainstorming a wish list of qualities the tool would need. It should be:
SIMPLE AND ENGAGING: A few years ago when I first started running what I call Family Nature Connection Retreats (in other words family camp in nature), I wanted to create a simple and fun tool to help inspire and empower families to continue their journey outdoors together once they returned to the realities of school, home, work and over-work. I didn’t want families to just come up with another “to do” list of activities. I wanted them to really get clear on why they wanted to get outdoors together. I have found that when you have your eye on the why, you become much more engaged and motivated to do the what.
COMMUNITY-BUILDING: I needed to give them a way to continue to nurture the connections they’d made with the other nature-loving families they had come to know over the retreat weekend. Designing a tool that would weave both community and capacity-building was key, as these are two vital components to helping encourage and empower families to reconnect with nature and for nurturing strong, healthy family and community relationships.
PHYSICAL AND VISIBLE: Families needed to be able to hold it in their hands and have it in their homes — not just on their smartphones. That physicality would allow all of their activity ideas to be in one place, containerizing and organizing them. The tool needed to be something that families could keep upfront and center in their hearts, minds and sights every day. It had to remind them how fun and important spending family time together outdoors is.
PERSONAL BUT ADAPTABLE: This tool had to be something that each family could put their own stamp on. It could be customized to suit anyone’s needs, wants and interests. The families on the retreat (as in life) had kids of different ages, from babies to 13 years of age so I wanted the tool to be easily enjoyed and adapted to suit families with kids of all ages — from 0 to 99!
INTERACTIVE AND EVER-EVOLVING: The tool had to be something that prompted families to interact with it and with each other. It would be a conversation starter and a memory maker — and those memories were those that they’d talk about for years to come. I wanted families to be able to reinvent this tool over and over again, allowing for new experiences. This would give them a chance to try new activities that they may not have felt ready for before — or didn’t yet know the possibilities existed — but with new, built up confidence in their outdoor knowledge and skills, they would feel ready to extend themselves.
LOW COST (OR NO COST) AND VERSATILE: The tool would come at little or no cost — preferably made with household materials that were readily available and, ideally, recycled. I wanted to create something that I could share not only with families but with others who cared deeply about connecting kids and families with the natural world such as daycares, kindergartens, schools, outdoor activity providers and a wide variety of nature-based services and businesses.
Out of this wish list grew a simple and fun tool. Drumroll please…
THE FAMILY NATURE BUCKET LIST!
Who knew that the tool I was looking for could be as simple as an old garden pot-plant bucket and a few clothes pins? After putting all of the qualities on my “wishlist” together, out sprang the Family Nature Bucket List, or FNBL. The FNBL is exactly that; a bucket containing a list of your family’s desired nature activities. It only takes about 30 minutes to create the tool and a commitment (daily, weekly, monthly) to try out activities “pinned” to the FNBL. You can download the full set of instructions here but essentially, to create the FNBL, you follow these steps:
- Gather your materials. At a minimum, you will need a simple bucket, clothes pins and markers.
- Brainstorm your family’s WHYs for getting out into nature.
- Gather everyone’s WHATs, or ideas for nature-based activities.
- Write the ideas on the clothes pins. Color code the ideas with markers, i.e green for parks; yellow for sunny day activities; blue for rainy day activities.
- Go on your adventures! Make sure you stick to the schedule that you committed to as a family. And don’t forget to take photos and capture memories!
- Check with your a family to find out how your FNBL is going for everyone. Add new activities as needed.
The first time I introduced the Family Nature Bucket List to families was on my very first Family Nature Connection Retreat.
I had originally planned to do the activity on the final day of the retreat with the intention to send families off with literally a bucket load of new ideas to do outdoors together back at home. But during morning tea on the first day, I had an idea. It must have been “Nanna Terri’s” delicious lemonade scones — and I mean that literally and figuratively.
Well, we did the Family Nature Bucket List activity and I was right …campfires all around. Many of the families had never experienced the wonders of a campfire. Now they had. And you can bet they wanted to do it again when they got back home. The Family Nature Bucket List was off to a flying start and so were the families using it. Since then, the Family Nature Bucket List has popped up in families, schools, kindergartens, childcare centers and outdoor programs around the world. I know of someone from the oldest operating Federal Fish Hatchery in the US who is looking at using the Family Nature Bucket List tool and concept as a fun new way to help visitors learn and explore the facility.
Take the Vitamin N Challenge
with your Family Nature Bucket List
This past May, the Family Nature Bucket List made the trek with me from Australia to the Children and Nature Network Conference in St. Paul. It was a hit with all who learned about it and how to engage families with it. Richard Louv loves the ‘Bucket’ and his new book, Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life presents over 500 nature-oriented actions for families, organizations and communities. His book inspired a special Vitamin N Edition of the Family Nature Bucket List. For the Vitamin N edition of the FNBL, we’ve chosen 31 ideas from the book, hand-picked by five nature-loving kids as those ideas they’d love to do first (they wanted to do them all but 500 pegs wouldn’t fit on one bucket … “unless we got a giant bucket” as was suggested by 7-year-old Nash!) … and they’re asking you to join them in ticking the activities off this fun, family-friendly Vitamin N Edition of the Family Nature Bucket List. For your easy reference, the page number that the activity appears on in “Vitamin N” is listed beside the activity.
Want more ideas?
Here’s a C&NN list of 50 great books offering tips and suggestions. For more do-it-yourself information about how to create a Nature Bucket List, download a free copy of Nurture in Nature’s “7 Easy Steps to Making Your Family Nature Bucket List.” ind out how your family, school and community can get an even larger dose of nature.
Nurture in Nature Radio
SMALL STEPS, BIG FUTURE: the Profound Experience of Starting a Tiny Family Nature Club
10 Reasons Children, Adults & Communities Need Vitamin N
5 Ways to Get Kids into Nature — Outside Magazine
10 Vitamin N Strategies for Families, Organizations and Communities
Vitamin N Book Excerpt: San Diego Magazine
50 books with tips and suggestions for getting outdoors.
Nature Clubs for Families Took Kit provides worksheets, templates, examples, and more resources for getting your club up and running.
Nature Clubs Directory connects you with existing clubs and leaders around the world for support in starting your own club.
C&NN’s Family Nature Club Leaders Facebook group provides ongoing support and inspiration.
Photo credits: Nurture in Nature Australia
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