Conservation Minnesota

Why I Love Free Forest School (and you should too!)

Somehow I got lucky. I landed the best gig ever. When I was a kid and someone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would have said – work for an environmental non-profit. And now I do! I get to work part time for Conservation MN, doing social media, websites, and digital communications.

I’m also doing something I never pictured myself doing – being a part time stay-at-home mom. Which turns out, is also the best job in the world, most of the time. Figuring out how to do the mom thing has been fascinating, and challenging. What do I do with these kids all day? How do I shape their values? Not melt their brains with too much screen time?  Give them the best opportunities? Not go crazy by 5:00?

One of the things that has made it easier has been Free Forest School, which incidentally I found through Conservation Minnesota. I was posting an article to our website about an organization called Hike it Baby, a group that gets parents out hiking with their kids. I thought – that sounds cool – I’ll check it out. I did, and it is. After a few hikes people started talking about this other great organization… Free Forest School.

I looked into it. “Free Forest School groups host events where children and their parents or caregivers meet to explore and play together in nature. You’ll share a snack, take a hike, play in the woods, and have circle time. Adults get a chance to unplug and step back… Kids and their imaginations take the lead!” At first it seemed intimidating… What if my kids throw a tantrum? What if I’m not “earthy enough?” Wait, I have to bring a shared snack? Does it have to be gluten-free, organic, and in a glass container? Looking back, I had nothing to worry about. Everyone’s kids throw tantrums, we’re made up of all kinds of different people, and half the time I bring graham crackers – the non-organic kind.

The best part of Free Forest School for me is, it’s the easiest part of my week. It might not be easy to get there; we meet all year long, and getting two kids under the age of 4 geared up for Minnesota winter is no joke. But once I’m there I get to slow down, take a deep breath. I don’t need plans or projects or activities, and the kids just get to do what they do best, which is play.

And turns out, nature play is really good for kids. If you’ve ever read anything by Richard Louv, you’ll know that time spent in nature boosts creativity, reduces stress, helps you concentrate, makes you happier. And having kids develop a connection to the great outdoors is the best way to develop their love for it, and their desire to protect it. As Free Forest School says “all children deserve to explore their world… and our world will be better for it.”

So if you’re looking to help build the next generation of environmental stewards, or just have some fun, take your kids or grandkids and come join us in the woods. I think you’ll love it as much as I do.

About Tracy Whitney

Tracy Whitney

When not working in Communications for Conservation Minnesota, Tracy loves to be outside exploring Minnesota with her two small kids. You can find her playing in the woods with Free Forest School, on the lake, or at the local park with the family dog.

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