While we don’t claim to have it all down pat, we thought it might be helpful to share some of our tips that helped us succeed. Here’s to hoping for even more Nature Play Days success in 2017!
1. Partner Outside Your Comfort Zone
Success with Nature Play Days doesn’t just boil down to convening a bunch of folks who already “get” nature play. If you want to reach a broad audience, you have to include a broader swath of the community in your planning committee, too.
Go the extra mile! Share the planning committee table with representatives from local houses of worship, child care facilities, even public health clinics. Connect with them, find common ground, and be creative about programming. By taking the extra time to build a strong and diverse coalition from the outset, you’ll be likely to draw from audiences you’d never see otherwise.
In Delaware County, one of our sweetest surprises was the success of a Nature Play Days program at a local library which drew almost 40 children for a “Nature Walk Storytime” program. It never would have happened if we didn’t have a librarian on our planning committee!
2. The Buck Must Stop With Someone
It’s exhilarating to pull together a diverse group of community planners, but unless you have one designated person to do the nitty-gritty work—email reminders about upcoming meetings, organize and post your community’s events to social media, organize an events database—even the best-laid plans are likely to fall through.
Does that mean that the other people on your Nature Play Days committee get to shirk their responsibilities? Nope! What it does mean is that the more organized and accountable your planning group is from the outset, the more likely it is that Nature Play Days will be a smashing success.
Are all your committee members strapped for extra time? Seek out interns from the local college, volunteers from the PTA, or a retired volunteer looking to make a difference.
3. Think Assets, Not Deficits
Rather than lamenting what’s lacking within your community, discover and highlight your community’s assets. That is, find existing places, people, or programs that are strong, unique, and popular in your community and then build Nature Play Days programs around them. For example, instead of grumbling that all the selfie-obsessed tweens in your neighborhood never take advantage of the pristine local trails, set up a selfie station by an Instagram-able fountain at your local park and advertise accordingly.
Here’s a secret: many of our partners in Delaware County didn’t create brand-new events for Nature Play Days. They looked at their existing programs, figured out what people loved the most, and then planned to host those programs during Nature Play Days week. They catered to what the community already loved to do outside.
4. Promote, promote, promote!
Let’s face it: marketing costs money. And while Delaware County’s Nature Play Days was lucky enough to have some designated funds for marketing (thanks to the lead Nature Play Days sponsor, BY5) not every community is so lucky.
Still, getting the word out is key, and it is possible to find creative ways to advertise. Again, diverse partnerships are invaluable as they allow word-of-mouth advertising to flourish in areas that would otherwise never hear about Nature Play Days. Talk to your local public radio and television stations, and see if either would be willing to run PSAs for low or no cost. Write a press release and send it to the local paper. Work with your local school district and find a way to get Nature Play Days flyers into the hands of students before school gets out for the year.
And don’t forget about technology. In Muncie, one cost-effective way we were able to advertise was to list our community’s Nature Play Day activities on multiple online platforms. Not only did we post our events on ICAN’s designated website, we also created individual entries for each event on BY5’s Facebook page. We coordinated efforts with all of our partners to make sure they were sharing and commenting on “their” organization’s individual events, which helped spread the word.
Side note: don’t forget about folks in your community who speak a language other than English! Whether your neighbors speak Spanish or Sanskrit, make sure that a portion of your marketing materials are printed in all your community’s major languages. Better yet, invite native speakers to be part of your planning committee and get their input from the outset (see #1.)
Learn more about Nature Play Days here.
Author: Marissa Rose
Marissa Rose works as a Strategic Initiatives Coordinator for Muncie and Delaware County BY5 in Muncie, Indiana. When she’s not working, she’s either writing, organizing for her local neighborhood association, advocating for adult literacy via her self-founded initiative, The Community Reading Project, or wrangling her two small kids. On the craziest days, it’s all five activities at once!