Nature Preschool Conference


Our seventh annual Nature Preschool Conference is April 20-21, 2018!

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

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.

This Nature Preschool Conference has been approved by the Maryland State Department of Education as meeting the requirements of a state conference. Participants are eligible for a total of 9.5 clock hours if attending the full conference. Participants must attend a minimum of 6 hours of training to be eligible for Professional Activity Units.

See our 2018 Nature Preschool Conference brochure.


2018 Conference Pricing

Full Conference Friday-Saturday, April 20-21: $195
Full Conference with Camping Fee Friday-Saturday, April 20-21: $220
Friday Only Friday, April 20: $60
Saturday Only Saturday, April 21: $145
Camping – BRING YOUR OWN TENT: $25

Quick Conference Details

  • 25 minutes outside of Baltimore
  • Prices range from $60 to $220
  • Rustic camping available on-site for a $25 fee.

FRIDAY, APRIL 20th, 2018

Arrival & Check In, Friday, 5-6 p.m.

Exhibit Hall / Registration Table

Happy Hour, Open House- Creativity Runs Wild, Bird Hike & Wetland Tour, Friday, 5-7 p.m

Creativity Runs Wild
Karen Madigan and Nature Preschool Staff, Irvine Nature Center
Tour our classrooms and check out dozens of art projects, games and activities that reinforce emergent approaches to nature-based learning.

OPENING ADDRESS Friday, 7-9 p.m.

Wet Sneakers + Dirty Clothes = A Day at Crellin School
Dana McCauley, Crellin School and Sunshine Farm, Crellin MD
There is no ordinary day at Crellin Elementary School! Whether students are exploring their Environmental Education Laboratory, caring for their farm animals, or maintaining the plants in their greenhouse, students spend time actively engaged in nature. Dr. McCauley, teaching principal and Mrs. Friend, kindergarten teacher will share Crellin’s journey toward the creation of a learning environment that increases student and community engagement and excitement for learning. By “taking down the school’s walls,” students and teachers have discovered unique learning opportunities outside. A shift in the school’s culture has given teachers the freedom to be creative and foster students’ curiosities. Crellin’s program is based on the idea that some of the best teaching and learning experiences grow out of a sense of place.

Dana McCauley, Crellin School and Sunshine Farm, Crellin, MD
Dr. Dana McCauley has served as the teaching principal of Crellin Elementary School in Oakland, Maryland for the past sixteen years. As the instructional leader at Crellin Elementary School she coordinates and monitors a learning program that guides students to achieve and sustain academic and personal success. Under her direction, Crellin Elementary School participated in a reclamation project that led to the creation of their Environmental Education Laboratory, consisting of a 5.5 acres outdoor classroom, on school property. In addition, the schoolyard is the home of Sunshine Farm, which houses sheep, goats, chickens, multiple gardens and a greenhouse. These unique school features serve as resources for instruction, place-based projects and student research. McCauley holds a B.S. and M.Ed. from Frostburg State University in Maryland and an Ed.D. from West Virginia University.

SATURDAY, APRIL 21st, 2018

Saturday, 8-8:30 a.m. Morning Activities (Optional)

Rise & Shine Yoga
Jess Gruber, Yoga Instructor Little Moon Yoga, Wash., D.C.
Start the day with yoga poses inspired by nature and discover how to infuse mindful approaches into your curriculum.

Shinrin-yoku (Forest Bathing)
Erika Piotrowski, Irvine Nature Center Eco-Explorers Leader and Little Birds Teacher
Everyone knows that a walk in the woods can be relaxing. Wait until you take a mindful stroll through Irvine’s forest with one of our naturalists to practice Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. This practice was developed in Japan in the 1980’s, and has become the cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Studies have shown Shinrin-yoku can improve your mood and relieve stress.

MORNING EXERCISE Saturday, 9-10:30 a.m.

Nature Play Paves the Way to Learning
Monica French, Irvine Nature Center and Wild Haven
Armed with the wealth of experience she has gained as an educator in various settings, Monica French will lead us on an exciting adventure! She will model approaches to outdoor learning with inspiration coming from The Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young and other provocative literature. Monica will share songs and games, and special techniques for working with groups of children during outdoor learning.

Session A – 10:45 -11:45 a.m.

Building a Nest for Little Birds: A Blueprint for Developing a Parent & Children Program
Beth Savitz, Early Childhood Programs Coordinator, Irvine Nature Center
The goal of Irvine Nature Center’s Little Birds program is to provide children birth through 3 years of age with the opportunity to discover the wonders of wildlife alongside their caregiver. Now in its fifth year, the Little Birds program has tripled in size as parents, grandparents, extended family members, and other childcare providers eagerly look for ways to enjoy nature with their little ones. Join Beth for an hour of fun and learn how you can bring the joy of wildlife to the youngest learners in your programs. This workshop will include a simulated Little Birds class where participants will enjoy songs, stories, crafts, live animal encounters, and a short hike. Learn strategies for building a successful program of your own!

Nature-based Playschools and Daycares
Jessica Clayton, Riverside Rhymes LLC Nature Play School
Did you ever want to open your own nature based childcare out of your home but didn’t know where to begin? Do you have a currently running family childcare but want to incorporate more natural elements into your program? Come look at photos of my New Jersey, home-based program, see how I created indoor and outdoor classrooms at my home, incorporated regular visits to natural spaces, and attracted clients into my full day, state licensed, Nature Play School. Bring all your questions so we can discuss as a group!

Nature-based Homeschool Programs
Stephanie Holzman, Head of Homeschool Programs, Irvine Nature Center
Creativity can spark deeper connections to the world around us. At Irvine, our Earth Friends Homeschool program has been infused with creative arts since its inception. The use of art, music, creative writing, storytelling and drama modalities in our classes have been an exciting way to encourage sensory engagement with natural history and science. Join Stephanie Holzman, Earth Friends teacher and former Creative Arts Therapist to further explore your own creativity and learn to deepen the place-based connections between your environment and the children you teach.

Guided Hike
Naturalists, Irvine Nature Center
Join an Irvine Naturalist for an hour long, guided hike through the different habitats found on our property. We will visit the forest, meadow, and wetlands; all while learning about the different plants and animals that call each habitat their home. During our journey we will stop at Irvine’s aviary to discuss the natural history of birds of prey, we will get an up-close look at life under a log, we will sample and discuss the many edible plants that grow in the area, and we will discover how everything is connected to nature, even ourselves! This hike is mildly strenuous; please expect to walk between 1-2 miles. Closed-toed shoes or boots are highly recommended, along with a water bottle and sunscreen/bug spray if needed. Questions are welcome during the hike, photographs are encouraged, and immersing yourself into Irvine’s mission of ‘explore, respect, and protect nature’ is a given!

LUNCH & LEARN 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.

Enjoy a delicious lunch on the go while learning about the many programs offered here at Irvine, or join Amy Beam to discover the benefits of The Eastern Region of Forest and Nature Schools: Maryland Chapter, or meet author and presenter Sandra Duncan for a book signing. We also invite you to take your picnic lunch and explore the trails or find a quiet place to reflect on all the wonderful knowledge you’re acquiring!

Session B – 12:45-1:45 p.m.

Natural Playthings – Sticks & Stones
Karen Madigan, The Nature Preschool at Irvine
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, specifically sticks and stones, while refining foundational skills. Come and create playthings for your school during this hands-on workshop.

STEM in a Backpack
Sue Penix, Baltimore City Child Care Resource Center
Providing nature experiences in an urban setting can be a challenge for many childcare programs. STEM in a Backpack is a nature immersion program for childcare providers to help them incorporate more STEM activities into their programs, both indoors and outdoors. The program leads participants in discovering the rich, natural resources available to them throughout Baltimore City, and outside their own front doors. It allows participants to experience nature first-hand during visits to local city parks. This workshop gives an overview of STEM in a Backpack, and includes a short hike and make and take activity.

Revisiting Natural Play Rhythms
Ann Marie Douglass, Nature Club Kids, LLC.
Ann Marie will demonstrate how primitive technologies, sensory awareness activities, and gratitude for Nature’s pace, complexity, and abundance leads to curiosity, awe, and stewardship in all learners. Ann Marie dreams of a ‘Natureopolis’ where humans find their place again in balance with the Natural world.

Guided Hike
Naturalists, Irvine Nature Center

Session C- 2:00-3:00 p.m.

Natural Playthings – Sticks & Stones
Karen Madigan, The Nature Preschool at Irvine

Mindfulness & Yoga
Jessica Gruber, Little Moon Yoga
This presentation will consider how breath and mindfulness play a role within the nervous system and how this affects child development, specifically children with AD(H)D, ASD, and sensory processing disorders. Participants will practice deep breathing and mindfulness techniques that are not only beneficial for educators, but can be taught in any classroom setting. Then, as we notice how these tools affect our own mental, emotional, and physical bodies, we will dive into the neuroscience behind breath, mindfulness, and intentional movement and how it applies to children. We will practice multiple methods of embodying mindfulness, teaching it, and reinforcing it in our classrooms, whether indoors or out in nature.

We are all Connected: Creating Environments that Connect Young Children, Families, and Communities
Sandra Duncan, co-author of Inspiring Spaces for Young Children; Rethinking the Classroom Landscape: Creating Environments that Connect Young Children, among other publications.
There is an invisible thread of life that connects us all. It weaves in and out among us to create a unique tapestry of beauty and diversity. Beginning with the child and radiating out to the family, school, and community, this invisible thread connects us all together. This thread entwines everything and everybody–creating a tapestry of interdependence and interconnection impossible to unravel. Learn how to strengthen your classroom tapestry with the power of nature and natural elements.

Guided Hike
Naturalists, Irvine Nature Center

Session D – 3:15-4:15 p.m.

Supporting Children’s Emotional Competence, Naturally
Stephanie Bozzo and Amelia McLaughlin, Audubon Nature Preschool
One of the primary goals of early childhood education is to help young children find their own voices and socialize successfully with peers. Discover ways that nature-based learning connects children’s natural interests with one another and facilitates authentic moments of self-discovery.

Music & Movement,
Rhythms & Rhymes
Monica French, Irvine Nature Center and Wild Haven
Music and movement creates opportunities for children to develop cognitive and social emotional skills, as well as their ability to express creatively! Inspired by the movements and sounds found in the natural world, this workshop explores how to integrate music and movement into the daily rhythm of your program. Musical elements like “pitch”, “tone”, “rhythm” and “scale” surround us in nature! Birds calling in the tree tops, the stealthy stride of a hungry fox, and the pitter patter of raindrops are all examples of these. Come ready with your favorite song and we can learn and share together!

Stupendous Storytelling!
Paula Jackson, Forest Dreamers at Irvine Nature Center
We all have a story to tell! Whether it’s a spontaneous tale created by your children, or a folktale from the past, storytelling should be an interactive and exciting part of your day. In this engaging workshop we will learn how to use the outdoors to enhance the way we create or share narratives. We will look at how to extend literary text to include memorable lessons, and how to use the natural landscape as inspiration for developing a love of literacy.

Guided Hike
Naturalists, Irvine Nature Center

Pitch your own tent on our beautiful property for a minimal fee ($25). 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.) Space is limited. Reserve early!


Previous 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.”