ECO Institute 2019: Educating Children Outdoors Level 1 for Early Childhood Educators

Course Number: EDU 5627 C22 (Graduate)
Instructor: Chip Darmstadt, Amy Butler & Mary Zentara
Location: North Branch Nature Center, Montpelier, VT
Dates and Times: July 15 -19, 2019. Final course assignment is due by August 2, 2019.
Tuition: $1,675

Note:Please register directly with North Branch Nature Center (NBNC). Please notify NBNC if you wish to take the Castleton course. NBNC will then give you the link to Castleton's online registration form. All payments should be payable to NBNC and sent to NBNC at 713 Elm Street, Montpelier, VT 05658.

Course Description

Essential Question: What does it mean to educate children outdoors in an early childhood setting?

The purpose of this course is to apply early childhood learning curricula beyond the classroom, while immersed in and participating with nature as a learning partner. The course provides inquiry-based learning through intensive experiential lessons, provocations and discussions held entirely outdoors. Participants will explore, create and experiment within specific ECO lessons catered to the daily topic. Daily reflection and mindfulness practices are an integral part of the nature immersion learning model and will be offered in the course. A successful nature immersion model allows for children to have choices, to be respected and trusted, and to take risks. Participants will develop an understanding of risks vs. hazards to prepare for and encourage safe risk taking in the outdoor classroom. 
During this course, we experience a week-long rhythm of place-based curriculum within which, the daily rhythm of the core routines are embedded. This daily rhythm mirrors the experience of Pre-K students during a typical day of learning outdoors. Participants will close the week by envisioning integration of the philosophies and practices that are built into a nature immersion experience. NBNC curriculum ideas will be given to participants to use in their own programs. Our emergent and nature based curriculum meets ECE standards. Scaffolding techniques and provocations will be demonstrated during the course. 
Please leave all technology at home.

Course Goals & Objectives

  1. To instill in teachers the core routines of an outdoor classroom so they feel competent managing their own nature immersion curriculum outdoors.
  2. To facilitate experiences and learning with seasonal themes which meet VELS.
  3. To engage participants in dialogue around methods of connecting children with their natural communities in order to support a nature pedagogy. 
  4. To practice safety protocols within the context of an outdoor classroom.
  5. To conduct a site and risk assessment in an outdoor classroom in order to provide participants with the skills to conduct a site assessment at their own school.
  6. To address potential logistical challenges in starting a program.
  7. To build upon existing strengths and opportunities within a learning community to support experiences outdoors.
  8. To share songs, games, stories and provocations to support a nature immersion curriculum.
  9. To provide time for collaboration among participants in creating a project/program of their own.

Course Expectations

It is expected that all course participants will fully engage in the practices demonstrated of executing a nature immersion program. The ECO Institute courses are held entirely outdoors and it is essential that all participants come prepared each day to be outdoors. A list of needed clothing and gear will be provided upon registration. Participants will complete their final course assignment by August 2, 2019 and otherwise adhere to all current university guidelines regarding course policies. 

Castleton charges the same tuition rate whether an individual enrolls for graduate credit or decides to audit. The University registers all individuals accordingly and will produce online grade reports confirming their final grades and course participation.

Required Texts

Costs for required texts, if any, are not included in the course tuition.

  1. Sara Knight. Risk and Adventure in Early Years Outdoor Play (A good accompaniment for site assessment projects)
  2. David Sobel. Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens (this is a handbook for beginning your own program or school!) 
  3. Jon Young. Coyotes Guide to Nature Awareness ( a primer on the core routines in the ECO Institute schedule)
  4. Juliette Robertson. Dirty Teaching or Messy Maths (Examples of lessons and experiences happening outdoors)
  5. Angela Hanscomb. Barefoot & Balanced (Pediatric occupational therapist and founder of TimberNook shows how outdoor play and unstructured freedom of movement are vital for children’s cognitive development and growth, and offers tons of fun, engaging ways to help ensure that kids grow into healthy, balanced, and resilient adults.)
  6. Claire Warden, The Fascination Series : Air, Water, Earth and Fire ( each book in this series is a clear guide on how to teach with these elements in an ECE setting) 
  7. Richard Louv, Last Child in theWoods : Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (A must read for all educators, parents, and community members who care about children and our environment.)

For additional course information

Amy Butler
(802) 229-6206

For additional registration information

Suzanne Eikenberry

Register online now!