After less than 1/4 of a mile, our snowshoe parade came to a halt here in the quiet woods. Giant flakes of snow trickled out of the sky to nestle on evergreen boughs. One child had overheated and was feeling ill. Another child’s eyes were bothering her. My son, Silas, had relegated himself to the sled and was growing cold. Everyone was ready for a snack. In my pocket a winter season map showing the 2 mile snowshoe trail to the lake burned a reminder of my aspirations.

Some nourishment and then – we broke into two groups, one that began the slow return to the trailhead and another that pushed on, but only for a short while before doing the same. “I will remember the success trajectory is a squiggle… not a straight line,” Madeline Levine – from Ten Resolutions for Becoming a More Grateful Parent. I’m so grateful for this gang of adventurers, even when my summits become coves in a snowshoe trail.

Do you want to get your children out into nature on a regular basis but don’t know where to start? If so, this post is for you!

Over the last two years I have organized dozens of outdoor events for a group of families interested in getting their children outdoors. While some of our events are quite adventurous like snowshoeing near the Continental Divide, for the most part we tend to go to a place in nature and explore there for some hours.

It’s a lot like a playgroup, with two important differences:

  1. We go into nature as the rule.
  2. I schedule events formally and send out reminders.

3 Simple Steps To Get Started

Step 1: Pick the first couple of events

If you’re stuck on ideas, research the activities of other similar groups nearby or call your local forest service office and explain what you’re trying to do, they’ll have a wealth of information and ideas! Write up a description for your event, including where and when to meet, what to wear, and a summary of what you’ll be doing. You don’t need to be too detailed, but you should provide enough information to make other parents comfortable, especially if this will be their first time out in nature.

Step 2: Set up a group is a terrific tool for organizing groups like this. You simply upload your event description, pick the day, and then Meetup handles notices, reminders, and RSVPs automatically. You can share photos and have discussions on the site as well. If you don’t like Meetup, there’s a number of other options that automate the process, including Facebook Groups.

Step 3: Tell your friends

Once you have your events set up, you can invite your friends to the new group. If you are new to your area and don’t know anyone or want to connect with other like minded new friends, it’s likely that people will find and ask to join your group (if you’re on If you want to run your group privately, most tools allow you to do that as well.

With your events scheduled, all you have to do is show up and keep showing up! Stay consistent, follow your heart, and ask others for help when you need ideas or guidance.

"3 Simple Steps To Start A Nature-Based Playgroup And Make Lifetime Memories" by Jason Runkel Sperling

When we reached a fork in the trail it was time to begin our return trip. A quick look at the map and we saw that our snowshoe trail brought us right next to a small lake, apparently hidden behind the trees. I showed the discovery to the parents and without hesitation everyone was eager to take a few last minutes to go explore the lake.

And so we gave the children an awesome proclamation, “beyond those trees is a lake, see if you can find it!” We followed the pack of children as they stampeded through the woods in their snowshoes, down a descent peppered with boulders and tree roots, to where the frozen waters rest. Without the break of the trees, the wind was unbridled and howled like something out of the arctic. Snow pelted our faces and kicked up from everywhere. While the temperature in the forest was delightful – right around freezing – on this icy wide-open surface the wind chill made a slightly repulsive climate. Still the children were eager to take off their snowshoes, and jump into the sled to “sail” across the snow-covered lake.

And then – for a brief moment – the wind stopped, and the snowflakes seemed to hang suspended in the air. Foreign. Otherworldly. Electric.

This was one of my favorite moments in the years of organizing our group – the kids, deep in it, broad smiles across their faces. The harsh conditions giving them an immediate and strong boundary to feel their bodies and selves push up against. Their senses heightened. The wind an actor in their story. The ice, snow, and rocks the stage. This is how they connect to nature and learn their own place in the world. And the feeling.. it’s joy. Bleeding edge joy.

You’ll never regret getting out into the wilds and wilderness. Getting started is really simple.

For more detailed information on starting a nature-based playgroup:

"Unplugged" by Jason Runkel Sperling


How To Build A Family Nature Club – 15 Steps To Disconnect From Technology And Reconnect With Nature, Yourself, Friends, And Family

Read Unplugged for free on Jason’s website.

About Jason Runkel Sperling

Jason Runkel Sperling
Jason is raising two whippersnappers in Boulder, Colorado. In 2015, he founded Running Wild, a human-powered adventure club for families. He is a skilled and experienced outdoorsman who earned the rank of Eagle Scout as a youth – and went on to travel and live around the globe for 20 years, scuba diving, surfing, backpacking, skiing, rafting, and adventuring. He is the author of several books that help parents get their children outdoors and reconnected.

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