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Nature Preschool Conference

June 6-8, 2014

Now expanded to 3 days!

Nature-based preschools are re-focusing the lens on early childhood education. Join us for the third annual conference to address the unique benefits and challenges of nature-based curriculum in early childhood programs.

Review the whole conference brochure!

Attendees will participate in engaging workshops under the following strands:

  1. Nature Immersion and Wild Nature Play
  2. Nature-based Learning in Urban Settings
  3. Best Practices and Curricula in Nature Preschools

The conference is pending MSDE approval for professional development clock hours through the Office of Child Care. Up to 19 clock hours will be awarded to participants that attend the entire three-day conference. Successful completion of a conference assessment is required in order to receive your certificate.


Growing Up Wild in City Parks
Mary Hardcastle: Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, Md.
Friday, 7 – 9  p.m.
One of the greatest gifts we can give children is access to nearby settings where they can explore the wonders of nature. City parks can be those places for structured and unstructured opportunities through recreational and educational activities – think of parks as outdoor classrooms! The physical and cognitive benefits of nature discovery in parks far outweigh any potential hazards. We are hard-wired to connect with our environment so let’s make sure that public parks and green spaces are available to all children and that every child can develop a caring relationship with the natural world. Read Mary's bio.

See the full conference schedule.

Review the whole conference brochure!


These interactive workshops provide inspiration for nature-based curriculum in your program:

KEYNOTE EXERCISE: Coming Full Circle in the Urban Wild
Mary Hardcastle: Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, Md.
Saturday, 9:15 – 10:15  a.m.
Parks can be natural havens for children growing up in densely populated areas. Join Mary as she explores how parks and programming have a positive effect on children’s health and well-being. Children growing up wild in parks become the future keepers of urban wild spaces.

Magic as Method: Cultivating Curiosity Through Exploration
Sarah Olmstead: Imagine Childhood, Calif.
Saturday, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and Saturday, 1:15  – 2:45 p.m.
There is nothing more engaging than a mystery, and nature is full of beautiful and mysterious organisms. From the potential of seeds, to hidden rainbows, beautiful birds, and the power of dirt, the natural world is a magical place. Discover simple ways you can inspire investigations inside the classroom or out in the world, drawing on a child’s penchant for mystery and magic. Read Sarah's bio.

Nature Photography for Early Learners
Emily Stanley: The Jemicy School, Md.
Saturday, 11 a.m.  – 12:30 p.m.
Young children are naturally attuned to the diversity of living things in outdoor environments. Photography is a simple and motivating tool to document their discoveries. We will explore how children and teachers use photography and the Maryland Biodiversity Project to enhance local natural history knowledge while contributing to an ongoing citizen science initiative. Read Emily's bio.

A Hands-on Approach to Math and Science through Nature
Marianne Kay: New Canaan Nature Center Preschool, Conn.
Saturday, 1:15 – 2:45 p.m.
Gain a wide variety of new and innovative ways to further math and science with your Preschool class.  We will help you extend your outdoor experiences with simple, fun, engaging activities that will also help you meet and assess Early Learning and Development Standards.

Planning Your Nature Preschool
Monica Wiedel-Lubinski: The Nature Preschool at Irvine, Md.
Saturday, 3 – 4:30 p.m.
Nature preschools are growing in popularity as research continues to prove that we thrive when we deepen our connection with nature. Join the discussion as we share inspiration and practical ideas for establishing a nature preschool.

Art, Nature and Literacy: Integrating the Aesthetics of Nature into the Curriculum
Victoria Brown, Ph.D.: The Lucy School, Md.
Saturday, 3 – 4:30 p.m.
If we want our children to become stewards of the environment they inherit, we must foster the joy of discovery, and a love of nature and being outdoors in the early years. Come experience first-hand how teachers of young children can use art to nurture this bond with the environment by integrating the elements and aesthetics of art and nature into the learning process.  Participate in observational nature drawing, work with found objects and discover how this work enriches learning across the curriculum, while engaging in an ensuing discussion of implementation and cross-curricular connections. Read Victoria's bio.

Open House: Creativity Runs Wild
The Nature Preschool at Irvine
Saturday, 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.
Tour our classrooms and check out dozens of art projects, games, and activity ideas that reinforce nature-based curriculum.

Experiential Learning with Amy Beam
Amy Beam: Metro Montessori Schools and Kids Love Nature!, Md.
Sunday, 9:15 – 10:45 a.m.
Follow Amy on the trail and go play on the landscape! She will model techniques for outdoor learning like the art of questioning, the 50/50 principle and the importance of a ‘sit spot.’ She will also share nature songs and games, and offer practical management of groups during outdoor learning. Her workshop is rooted in the pedagogy of The Coyote Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young. Check out presenter Amy Beam leading nature games during the 2013 conference in this YouTube video.

Embracing Science with Emergent Curriculum
Paula Goodwin and Kris Scopinich: Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Community Preschool, Mass.
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and Sunday, 1:15 – 2:45 p.m.
Schoolyards provide a rich source of experiences and hands-on activities that encourage child-centered science learning and discovery. We'll address new insight about how the study of science in early childhood education can develop future scientific understanding and promote essential learning attitudes and confidence.

Growing Our Roots: Jewish Farm-based Education
Morris Panitz and Laura Menyuk: The Pearlstone Center, Md.
Sunday, 1:15 – 2:45 p.m.
Jewish farm-based education shares ties with another popular practice: growing food on school grounds. Both can connect students with a sense of place,  deep-rooted cultural identity, and of course – their food! Discover how we make meaningful connections with the whole child during this hands-on workshop. Activities and highlights from the Pearlstone Center’s partnership with The Nature Preschool will also be explored.

Risk-Taking and Action Research
Lesley Romanoff: Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School, Md.
Sunday, 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
In order to address the many developmental needs in a particular class, the director and families planned out a series of interventions using an action research model. The goal was to introduce the children to the unknown by taking them into the forest on a regular basis. Lesley will explain why the forest, nestled in a suburban neighborhood, holds the key to support these needs. Discover the journey these children took to gain connections to each other, secure confidence in their abilities, and exponentially expand their ability to embrace imaginary play in nature.

For the Love of Nature: Outdoor Learning at The Nature Preschool
Monica Wiedel-Lubinski and Karen Madigan
Sunday, 3 – 4:30 p.m.
Exploration of the grounds and Outdoor Classroom at Irvine Nature Center will engage participants and highlight how The Nature Preschool students connect with nature. Bring your camera and a sketchbook for activities during our hike. Frog-catching encouraged!

Exploring Nature In A City-Based Program
Nancy Newman, Sandy Lee, Amy Davidson and Jasmine Williams; The Ark Preschool, Md.
Sunday, 3 – 4:30 p.m.

The Ark at Johnston Square is Maryland’s only MSDE accredited preschool program designed for three- and four- year-olds in homeless situations. The Ark has partnered with The Nature Preschool at Irvine for two years by making monthly visits. This session will explore this long-term partnership and its positive effect on our students and staff. We will also discuss the challenges of developing a nature component in our program which is located in an impoverished urban setting.  We will encourage a discussion of ways to facilitate nature experiences for all children regardless of the setting.


Dependent upon the dates of your attendance, there are also several opportunities for personal enrichment:

  • Early Riser Yoga (Saturday or Sunday morning)
  • Bird Song Morning Hike (Saturday or Sunday morning)
  • Lunch with the Animals (Saturday or Sunday afternoon)
  • Sunset Hike (Saturday evening only)
  • Natural Play Space Group Project (Saturday evening only)

New! Nominate an educator for the Margaret O’Neill Early Childhood Nature Educator Award. This award recognizes the contributions of an outstanding early childhood educator who facilitates nature-based learning to provide meaningful programming for children age birth through eight years old.


  • Full Conference | Includes all workshops, keynote, yoga or morning hike, and five meals. = $225
  • Full Conference w/ Camping Fee | Includes all workshops, keynote, yoga or morning hike, and five meals & reserved camping spot. = $250
  • Friday Keynote Only | Includes happy hour, keynote and campfire. = $50
  • Saturday Only | Includes yoga or morning hike, three meals, Saturday workshops, sunset hike or group project, and campfire. = $120
  • Sunday Only | Includes yoga or morning hike, two meals and Sunday workshops. = $80
  • Saturday and Sunday Only | Includes yoga or morning hike, five meals and workshops. = $200


  1. Camp out! For $25 more, join your colleagues at Irvine for an overnight campout. Bring a tent, or borrow one from us.
  2. Stay nearby. Irvine has blocked off a group of rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn, about 3 miles from us in Owings Mills. They offer a convienent shuttle service that can bring you to Irvine any day of the conference.

Quotes from our 2013 Particpants

  • “Keep having this conference – I used so many ideas from last year! It gets me fired up!”
  • “Truly every part was wonderful! Nice schedule that went from hands on, active seminars to sit and listen and back to active again. Meals were a great time to network. Best memory is camping near the fire pit area and watching the field light up with fire flies!”
  • “We need MORE Amy Beam. After 17 years as an environmental educator and workshop presenter, I rarely hear new/fresh ideas – but she had new twists and it was great! Refreshing!”
  • “I especially enjoyed the hike in the rain!”
  • “Everything was fun and informative – even walking in the rain!”
  • “Everything was beautiful! It was very educational and the activities were so fun! I really liked trying different food and enjoyed the meals offered.”
  • “Awesome hands-on learning and experiences throughout entire conference.”
  • “Loved everything. Really great place, great ideas presented, excellent presenters, and food was delicious, too!”
  • “Highlights were meeting other nature educators, sharing information, struggles, triumphs, camaraderie, and natural setting.”
  • “I appreciate the spiritual connection Kayam Farm included.”
  • “Erin’s discussions were awesome! The hands-on activities were also very useful. I loved walking on the property. What an inspiring location and preschool. “
  • “I really appreciated the Ark presentation and the improvements seen with the children.”
  • “The facility is fantastic!”
  • “Faculty and staff of Irvine were superb!”
  • “I liked the hike in the mud and all of the sessions were great!”


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