MP recently met with Courtney Cronin, a Portland-based mother of two who is the founder of Maine Forest Playgroup, a parent-powered program that encourages families to enjoy the outdoors together. Designed for children ages one to five, the group meets on Friday mornings at nature preserves, parks, and beaches in and around Portland.
Courtney started the group in December 2015. As a mother to an infant and an active toddler, she wanted a playgroup that would engage them both. A lifelong love of the outdoors, coupled with years of community outreach experience, gave her the tools she needed to start. Courtney organized the initial playgroup meetings on her own, offering an outdoor activity and a fun, new location for families to meet each week. Before long, word about Maine Forest Playgroup spread and parents began volunteering to facilitate group outings. Courtney says at least a dozen kids and parents show up on Friday mornings, no matter what the weather.
The beauty of the group is its casual approach. Weekly meetings begin with a friendly introduction so that everyone can get to know each other and feel welcome. Then families often make a craft together. Courtney says many of the craft projects center around things found in nature (a recent playgroup at Baxter Woods Park in Portland made chestnut necklaces). “The activity gives members a purpose to come and helps shape the day,” she tells MP. “After that, families can set up base camp in one spot, play together or simply explore.”
The success of the playgroup caught the interest of Breakwater School in Portland, which recently expanded into a center for community learning. In September, Courtney became their Community Programs Specialist, where she hopes to create partnerships with teachers, parents, and local businesses so there can be more great resources like Maine Forest Playgroup.
As interest in the Forest Playgroup continues to grow, Courtney is hoping to kick off additional branches here in Maine and nationwide. If you’re interested, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And many thanks to Emily Griffith Photography, who provided all of the wonderful images you see here.
PS: Maine Forest Playgroup is organizing their first family potluck on Saturday, Dec. 10 at Breakwater’s Jessieland Nature Preserve on Jessie Lane in Cumberland from 4:30-8:00 p.m. To learn more, visit Maine Forest Playgroup on Facebook.