Nature Preschool Conference


Our sixth annual Nature Preschool Conference will occur June 9-10, 2017. Details will be posted in February 2017.

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

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

Network with participants from across the country to share and grow the EECE movement! See where professional development intersects with teacher retreat during an inspiring weekend.

See our 2016 Nature Preschool Conference brochure.


2016 Conference Pricing

Full Conference Attendees:   $225
Friday Only – Happy Hour & Key Note:  $50
Saturday Only – Workshops:   $135
Sunday Only – Workshops:  $90

Quick Conference Details

    • 25 minutes outside of Baltimore
    • Prices range from $50 – $250
    • Rustic camping available on-site. Hotels nearby.
    • Professional development credits available.

FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 2016

Helping Children Develop an Ecological Identity

Patti Ensel Bailie
Friday, June 10,  7 – 9 p.m.

In years past, nature play was a routine part of childhood. But today, activities such as exploring in the woods and catching frogs have become rare. Yet research shows that nature play has a positive effect on young children, especially in the development of their “ecological identity.” This presentation will review the research surrounding children’s connection to nature, particularly how nature experiences impact the developing brain and the importance of developing an ecological identity.

Patti Ensel Bailie, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of early childhood education at the University of Maine at Farmington. She also served as assistant director of the Nature-Based Early Childhood certificate program at Antioch University New England. She has worked in the field of early childhood environmental education for nearly 25 years, as founding director of the Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and as co-director of the Early Childhood Outdoors Institute in Omaha, Nebraska.



Evaluating the “Natureness” of a Program: High-quality Practices at Nature Preschools | Patti Ensel Bailie. Saturday, 9-11 a.m.

Nature preschools and forest kindergartens provide nature experiences for young children unlike those found at most traditional preschools. The variety of nature-based early childhood programs continues to expand. But what makes a program nature-based and how do we know if it is of high quality? Using the Schlitz Audubon Nature Preschool and other similar programs as examples, this workshop introduces the development of a “natureness” scale that identifies high quality practices for nature-based early childhood programs. Workshop participants have the opportunity to try out the scale in order to rate their own programs. They also have the chance to provide feedback on the usefulness of this tool.

Q&A: Establishing Your Nature Preschool | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski. Saturday, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Nature preschools are growing in popularity as research continues to prove that we thrive when we deepen our connection with nature. Discover practical approaches for your own journey. Our discussion touches on policies, licensing, budgets, curriculum, student behavior, scheduling, parent relationships, hiring, assessment, health and safety topics – bring your questions as discussion is encouraged!

Magic and Wonderment in the Heart of Education | Elements Preschool. Saturday, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Learning is rooted in everyday magic. Discover how children spend their days playing in a sensory, intuitive manner. We highlight how children learn to trust their experiences, build meaningful relationships with one another and teachers, and explore their surroundings with curiosity. We share design and tools used to optimize interaction and engagement with nature and how we use this environment to help in the development of social, emotional and creative skills.

Creativity Runs Wild | The Nature Preschool at Irvine. Saturday, 1-2 p.m.

Tour our classrooms and check out dozens of art projects, games and activities that reinforce emergent approaches to nature-based learning.

For the Love of Nature: Outdoor Learning at The Nature Preschool | The Nature Preschool at Irvine. Saturday, 2-3:30 p.m.

Exploration of the grounds and Outdoor Classroom at Irvine engages participants and highlights how The Nature Preschool students connect with nature. Bring your camera and a sketchbook for activities during our hike. Frog-catching encouraged!

Reggio Approaches in Forest Preschool | The Raintree School. Saturday, 2-3:30 p.m. and 3:45-5:15 p.m.

Reggio and Forest School are complimentary practices in an early childhood education. These two philosophies benefit child-directed learning as well as experiential education. In this setting, children are able to seek answers to their deepest inquiries
all while honoring nature.

Nature as a Platform for Dramatic Play | Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School. Saturday, 3:45-5:15 p.m.

Please join us for session on bringing dramatic play into the forest. The children of Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School created a world of their own imagination called, “The Blue House at the Edge of the Forest” which is built from found materials like logs, branches and abandoned wooden pallets. The dramatic play arc is scaffolded by the parents and teachers. Learn how to shape free-flowing play that used to be found on every street corner and wooded glade.

SUNDAY, JUNE 12, 2016

Experiential Outdoor Learning | Amy Beam. Sunday, 9-11 a.m.

Follow Amy on the trail and go play on the landscape! She models techniques for outdoor learning like the art of questioning, the 50/50 principle and the importance of a ‘sit spot.’ She also shares nature songs and games, and offers 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.

Needs and Seeds of a Community | Tree of Life Nature Preschool. Sunday, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

We have embarked on a journey to establish a nature preschool as an extension of our Jewish congregation and the greater Annapolis, Md., community. Join us to learn more about our Nature Playspace and interdisciplinary curriculum which fosters connections to the natural world, to each other and a context for our religious beliefs.

Natural Playthings | The Nature Preschool at Irvine. Sunday, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Handmade games and manipulatives spark creativity and learning in a whole new way! Children discover how to be resourceful and how to repurpose plentiful natural and recycled materials while refining foundational skills. Come and create playthings for your little darlings during this hands-on workshop.

Inspirational Curriculum Comes Naturally | Magothy Cooperative Preschool. Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m.

Learn how to integrate nature-based activities throughout the curriculum from our cooperative, certified Green School. We share ideas for physical set-up, themes and practical planning that your program can take and run with! Learn how nature is easily connected through stories, the arts or by a journey outside. Finally, create a hands-on activity for use in your classroom.

From the Big City to the Sheltering Woods | The Ark Preschool. Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m.

The Ark Preschool at Madison Avenue is Maryland’s only
MSDE-accredited preschool program designed for three- and four-year-olds in homeless situations and families whose incomes are at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. The Ark has partnered with The Nature Preschool at Irvine for four years, making monthly visits to explore nature. This session examines the positive effects of this long-term partnership on students and staff. We also discuss the challenges of developing a nature component in an impoverished urban setting and ways to facilitate success.

Depending on the dates of your attendance, there are also several opportunities for personal enrichment included in the cost of attendance.

  • Early Riser Yoga (Saturday or Sunday morning) Start the day with yoga poses inspired by nature. Discover how to infuse mindful approaches in your curriculum too.
  • Bird Song Morning Hike (Saturday or Sunday morning) Listen to the symphony of birds at Irvine. Feel free to bring your binoculars for a peaceful morning trek.
  • Lunch with the Animals (Saturday or Sunday afternoon) Educators will informally share live animals and answer questions about how young children learn from them.
  • Sunset Hike (Saturday evening only) As dusk settles, many animals wake up! Tip toe through the forest to uncover the falling night’s magic.
  • Onsite Project: Tree Looms (Saturday evening only) Lend a hand to create a tree loom along Irvine’s trail. Gain skills so you can make a loom at your site!
  • Mother Nature’s Spa (Saturday evening only) You work hard and gosh darn it, you deserve to be pampered! Indulge in our version of a natural spa, complete with masks and other feel good potions you can make and enjoy. P.S. These are great recipes for parent workshops and thank you gifts as well.


The Nature Preschool Conference has qualified for MSDE Clock Hours each of the last three years. At this time, the conference is still pending MSDE approval. Please check back for details once approval process is complete.

For your convenience, we have blocked off rooms at the Hyatt Place in Owings Mills. Rather stay outside? Let us pitch a tent for you! Rustic accommodations do not include shower facilities, but sunrise over the meadow and morning bird songs are pure bliss. (Port-o-potties are in walking distance; campground is a 10 minute walk from the nature center.)

2014 Conference-Goers Had This To Say:

  • “The networking was great! The workshops were very educational and inspirational.”
  • “Inspired me to keep trying despite setbacks or parental resistance – learn from your mistakes!”
  • “I really appreciated the “curriculum”/skill connections and the AH-HA about allowing for freedom, risk-taking and engagement.”
  • “I enjoyed the whole experience!”
  • “There were many concrete and practical ideas for the classroom. I loved seeing ideas from The Nature Preschool open house.”
  • “Your classrooms were inspiring. The grounds are beautiful and your outdoor classroom was great.”
  • “Superior training and Irvine staff!”
  • “Best preschool conference I’ve been to!”
  • “Excellent job! I was very impressed with the whole conference.”
  • “I loved everything and will be back.”