Nature Pal Exchange: Connecting with nature and new friends
We just got home from a weekend away of camping, boating and swimming with another family at a lake near us. It was so much fun! Our kiddos rode bikes around the campsite, went on “bear hunts” with big sticks, shrieked and giggled when they caught caterpillars and grasshoppers and roasted marshmallows and hotdogs over the fire. We loved every minute of it (actually… there were a few tired kiddo tantrums I wouldn’t mind forgetting, but the majority was great!)
Our family loves to be outdoors during all seasons and we love having friends and family with us. So, when I learned about the Nature Pal Exchange, a program where you connect with another family by exchanging things you find in nature around you, I thought it was SO cool. Plus, I thought that it was a great way for fellow Moving Mom families to get out and explore the world around them and maybe meet someone from the other side of the country. Check out a little more about Nature Pal Exchange and try it out with your family!
- Where did the idea for Nature Pal Exchange come from? What was your motivation in starting it? Who created the idea?
The idea of the Nature Pal Exchange originated from Dawn Smith’s blog, Mud Puddles to Meteors. Dawn hosted a nature exchange in 2013 through her blog. Christy Cox, one of our founding mothers, was intrigued by the idea, but it was now 2015 and Dawn no longer hosted them. She sent a message to Alison Bravenec asking if she and her children would like to exchange nature finds. They collected and sent treasures from California and Virginia to share with each other. After sharing images of their exchange on Instagram, they had others cheering them on to host their own exchange. Alison contacted Dawn to ask permission to use her idea and gather information from an experienced nature lover. While the first exchange was still in the planning stages, Andi Gould stepped in to help with her techy wizarding skills to collect information from participating families. We originally thought the exchange would bring 20 families together, but nearly 100 families joined the first exchange! We knew more help was needed, and had Shannon Kelly join us, bringing her nature inspiration and experience to round out our team of founding mothers.
- How does Nature Pal Exchange (NPE) work? What is expected of you if you join the exchange? How often do you accept new families for the exchange?
From the beginning of NPE we had the desire to bring this community together and help others. Participating families donate a small signup fee each exchange. This money is donated to charities, and helps to pay for the NPE operations. We have supported organizations in Uganda, California, Texas, and a Nature Pal Exchange participant battling stage III colon cancer. Proceeds from the Autumn 2016 exchange will be supporting Project Joy, a group in Nicaragua providing clean water filters. After signups close we manually pair up families across the United States and Canada. We have had 500+ participating families since the third exchange in 2015. Each exchange, participants are paired up with a new family. They go out and collect nature items that are fascinating or beautiful to them, identify them, if possible, and package them up to send to their pal by the deadline. We host 4-5 exchanges each year and families with children at home are welcome to join as many of those exchanges as they wish. And keep your eye out for classroom and group signups opening in September, details coming soon.
- What do you hope that families gain through NPE? Why do you think it is so important for families to explore the natural world around them?
In the words of Charlotte Mason:
Nature knowledge is the most important for young children. It would be well if we all persons in authority, parents and all who act for parents, could make up our minds that there is no sort of knowledge to be got in these early years so valuable to children as that which they get for themselves of the world they live in. Let them once get in touch with nature, and
a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life. We were all meant to be naturalists, each in his degree, and it is inexcusable to live in a world so full of the marvels of plant and animal life and to care for none of these things. (Home Education vol.1, p.61)
When families step away from the busyness of life and join together in intentional exploring they are creating bonds that will be carried with them through life. As you learn about the treasures you find and the relationships you form with the world around you, the connections and learning will continue.
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
- What do you hope families cultivate with their exchange partners?
We have had partners that simply exchange treasures and get a look at a different part of the country they may not be able to visit. We have also had partners that really connect with each other and make it a point to meet up when they are visiting near each other. Community is the heart of NPE. Without the love and support of the families who participate, we would not be able to continue. This is such a unique group of people; always welcoming, alwaysinspiring, and always sharing nature love.
- How do you think NPE can work for families that move often?
Each exchange, families are paired up with a new partner,so they will never be short on partners from a new location. We have had participants move during an exchange before, as long as you contact your pal and keep them updated on when their package is coming and where they should ship your treasures to you. And you never know, you might move near a former pal or another NPE participant and be able to meet up for nature exploring together!
The exchange is also helpful to get families exploring their new neighborhoods. You don’t have to visit a nature center or state park to find treasures, they are all around. Venturing out near your home provides a great opportunity for families that move a lot to learn about their new home. It also creates a chance to build great memories while exploring together. Alison and Andi can speak from personal experience as they both moved to new states in the last year. Doing the exchange with their children has helped them learn to value their new homes in a deeper way.
- Tell us a little about all the beautiful items for your Nature Pal Exchange store? How did you select each item?
We were asked many times about backpacks or stickers and we really wanted some cool swag. Looking around on the interwebs, we finally settled on two different print on demand sites. You can find our shops here: https://society6.com/naturepalexchange and http://www.redbubble.com/people/naturepal. We have purchased many of the items we listed in our shops to check for quality and durability. The items we list are rocking and we loveseeing others enjoying the NPE swag too.
- Anything else you want readers to know?
We are a team of 4 homeschooling moms who simply love nature and getting outdoors with our littles to see all that the world has to offer. However, this isn’t exclusive to homeschoolers. Anyone with a love for nature and children at home will be a perfect fit for Nature Pal Exchange.