Starting Outdoor Meetups: A Q&A with Two Parents — Free Forest School

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Q2: What motivated you to start hosting FFS meetups?

Kerri: We lived in San Francisco for one year and I started staying home with my then one-year-old. I was looking for free activities to get us out of the house routinely and found FFS through internet research. But there wasn’t a group in San Francisco proper. Turns out another mom who lived nearby was also interested in starting a group so we went together to one a bit south to see how they’re run. In summer 2021, having moved to Baltimore and experienced the lockdown of the pandemic, I wanted to find a way to get us some outdoor activities with other kids. There was a FFS Facebook group but no one was meeting up. Also FFS was migrating to Our Outdoors so I seized the opportunity to create a meetup group for Towson.

Katie: When I first heard of the FFS mission and ideals, I was instantly interested and ready to get involved. A meetup had just been organized in a nearby nature park, so I joined immediately. After attending, I could tell that the volunteer who had started the meetup was a bit overwhelmed. She also moved out of state shortly after I met her. My teacher background kicked in, and I started leading the meetups, with some help and encouragement from our area director at the time. After a bit of mentorship and an established love of the land at that park, I was ready to go! Beavers have disrupted the swim area at that site for this summer, but we’ve had an active group there for the 6 years since I started there. I’m very proud of that.

Q3: How was your experience organizing a meetup for the first time?

Kerri: My first FFS meetup was with a group I started in San Francisco. I had a co-lead, and after getting a feel for how FFS outings were structured at another meetup nearby, we followed their outline: Gather, sing a song, short hike, independent play, snack and story, disperse. This format worked well for our group from the start, so it’s what I’ve stuck with as I moved to a new state and started a new meetup.

It always makes me a little nervous to do something for the first time. And while people said they would attend, you never really know. Turns out I had no reason to worry! We had families attend and enjoy and keep coming back. I have experience planning events with my past jobs and pulled from that to make it as easy as possible for new joiners. In the event on Our Outdoors, I made sure to describe where to find us, if the trail is accessible or not, what to bring, and what to expect.

Katie: My first FFS meetup was a little disappointing. If I can remember correctly, one other person showed up! Thankfully, the area director, who was helping me get started, was also there. It was nice to have that moral support. We took a short hike to a creek, and the kids, who barely noticed the low turnout, had a great time. I believe strongly that community is the place where you keep showing up. Despite the disappointing start, I committed to keep showing up at that park. As the months went on, I met a core group of regulars who became amazing friends.

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