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Lia: Starting Outdoor Playgroups

I don’t know Lia personally, but I wish I did. I first met her when she interviewed me on her blog. Her blog is actually more like a website she uses to keep parents up-to-date and informed about “Skedaddle“, the outdoor playgroup she’s created. A playgroup that meets every week no matter what the weather.. in Alaska! I can’t believe she actually had 20 people show up for a playgroup when it was -20°! She must be doing something right.

One of these days I WILL make it to her playgroup… Thanks for doing the interview Lia, for sharing your outdoor playgroup wisdom and for being a truly inspirational OutsideMom!

Name: Lia Keller
Location: Anchorage, AK
Your Children: Two boys, 20 months and almost 3 years old.
Children in the Playgroup: We had a beautiful one month old girl last week and during the summer we have some school aged children. The average age seems to be about 3 years old currently.
Frequency of Meeting: Every Tuesday
Playgroup Established: July 2010

1. Why did you start an Outdoor Playgroup?
I dream of opening an all weather preschool, but get stymied by the needed permits and hoops the government creates. I love being outside and see how my children also love running in the grass, squabble less often and nap better after playing in nature. I channelled my desire for a group of kids learning to socialize and play while it is pouring rain and created Skedaddle!

2. How do you get people to come? Do you advertise?
I started by inviting a few friends, but word of mouth has grown the group. A friend and I started the Anchorage Outdoor Family Network on meetup.com to host skedaddle and her hiking group, Taiga Trekkers. I also have a blog and a Facebook page which seem to bring in a few new faces. I have thought about advertising, but our size is perfect right now. We typically have about 20 people playing around and if there more, it might get a bit overwhelming. Another woman started an afternoon Skedaddle for those with morning nappers.

3. What are some tips for starting outdoor playgroups?
Get out your calendar and find a time that works for you. Look at the playgrounds, natural areas and parks and start making a schedule. Invite a few friends for a playdate and tell them to invite their friends. I quickly realized that parents were yearning for a consistent group to attend. Many had joined playgroups that started and fizzled out or changed times which was frustrating for parents trying to maintain a schedule.

4. What are some tips for maintaining the outdoor playgroup?
I try to introduce myself to new attendees and introduce them to a few other members. Even as adults, we talk to people we know and it can be intimidating for someone new entering a group. I try to have a new location each week and also work to meet at different areas of town. I think the most important factor is consistency. Parents in the group can count on having a playdate each Tuesday at 10, rain or shine.

5. What are some of your favorite ‘resources’ for parents who want to start up a group?
My main resource is our city’s Park Foundation website with a listing of all the neighborhood parks and playgrounds. I also use the parents in my group as they know where new parks are being installed or which playground has the most wonderful puddle.

6. What types of activities do you do?
I don’t ever have a set agenda or activity for the day. I tried this the first time and due to variation in ages, people arriving at different times and wants of the group my nature activities and art projects fell to the wayside. We meet at a park or playground and let the kids run wild. We have had a few “woods romps” where the kids led us through the woods, but the group seems to like just meeting at a park the best. I think it is so important for children to have unstructured time!

7. Do you meet all year round?
We sure do. I did cancel it one time last year as schools and businesses closed due to icy roads and I didn’t want anyone driving unnecessarily! I was anxious to see if people would come during the winter, but it seems that parents are more willing to get their children out as they go stir crazy inside all day. We had 20 people attend a skedaddle when the temperature was -20!

8. What do you think you, your children and/or your community have gained by being involved in a group like this?

I hope everyone learns how important free time in nature is for our children. You don’t need expensive sporting equipment or name brand rain coats to have fun outside and reap the benefits (longer naps!). Feeling snow under your collar, getting dirt under your fingernails and water in your boots are experiences every child needs to have.

9. Any other words of advise for those thinking of starting an outdoor Playgroup?
People ask how I find time to “lead” this group and the question always seems strange to me. I never have felt it was a burden that infringed on my personal time (when the boys nap or take baths!). It takes only a few minutes to find parks, list them on the website and update the blog. It is fun and a partial creative outlet that lets me express my passion for being outside. Also, I don’t see myself as a “leader”. I don’t take control of the group, but just facilitate the experience! I try to inspire families to get outside, answer questions and make the process of getting kids dressed for play outside easier. Parents take care of problems with their own children and we all play “life guard” for all the children.

It is fascinating to watch the children at our skedaddles. They often start out with a few runs on the slide or turn on the swings, but then almost always gravitate to the treed area, river, puddle or sand pile without direction. It makes me so happy to see them more comfortable and having more fun without plastic equipment. It also seems that there are less squabbles and fights when they all are wading through a river. It does take some restraint from the parents not to bring them back from a dirt hole or just let them dive into the puddle even though they forgot their rain suit, but they are teaching the kiddos such wonderful lessons and letting them be free and wild children!

Note: I asked for advise about starting outdoor playgroups on my facebook page, some of the resources listed were:

12 Comments so far

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  1. […] OutsideMom: Starting Playgroups […]

  2. What an adorable family! I have no kids, but I think I could do with an outdoor playgroup now and again…

  3. carly yates

    Lindsey,
    So I was browsing around on Pinterest.com and came across several links to your website. It made me happy. If you haven’t heard of Pinterest it is a way cool website that is an easy way to advertise blogs and websites for free. Let me know if you want an invite.
    Carly Yates

  4. kdog

    This is a great idea. I was just thinking that no amount of PBS kids is going to get us through another long winter like the last one. I am a wuss about getting outside in the cold, but if I had a group of people motivating me to do it then it would be much more likely to happen. Will you move to UT county and get the ball rolling? Pretty please?

  5. So glad it turned out to be a positive experience. And now I’m thinking I need to seek out more moms who are as active as you girls…our playdates have been nothing but gossip sessions lately. I’d much rather true my wheels and go for a ride :)

    • Shawna – If ever you move to Reno, your totally in! I hear ya, It’s amazing how hard it is to find active Moms, I feel VERY fortunate!!

  6. Yes outdoor playgroups is a lot of fun !
    We have many tools for people starting outdoor playgroup and active outdoor playgroups in the US and Canada.

    Lindsey: to get in touch with group: join our network and send Alice a message.

    Have fun starting an outdoor playgroup !

    Kari
    Cheers Kari

    For getting

    • Kari – Thanks for all the great info. I hope folks will use your site, it’s got a TON of good information. You’ve done a lot of work! Much appreciated!

  7. I’m totally impressed. I can’t get people to show up to my outdoor playgroup unless the weather is “perfect.” Glad their are lots of families and kids outside in every weather.

    • Mel – I know! I had a bunch of Moms bail on a play date because there was a 20% change of rain!!

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    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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