ECO Institute 2019: Educating Children Outdoors Level 1, Darmstadt, Summer 2019

Course Number: EDU 5627 C21 (Graduate)
Instructor: Chip Darmstadt, Amy Butler & Susan Koch
Location: North Branch Nature Center, Montpelier, VT
Dates and Times: June 8- 12, 2019. Final project is due July 26, 2018.
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?

The purpose of ECO Level 1 is to apply integrated academic 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, activities, and discussions entirely held 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 practiced in the course. A successful nature immersion model allows for students to have choices, to be respected and trusted, and to take risks. Students will develop an understanding of risks vs. hazards as to prepare for and encourage safe risk taking in the outdoor classroom. 
During this course, we experience place-based curriculum within which is the daily rhythm of the core routines. This daily rhythm mirrors the experience of elementary students during a typical day of ECO. Participants will close the week envisioning integration of the philosophies and practices that are built into a nature immersion experience. All lessons given to participants to use in their own classroom will be aligned to Vermont State Standards, Common Core and NGSS when applicable. Curriculum meets elementary standards-based objectives when lessons and units are practiced outdoors. Please leave all technology at home.

Course Goals & Objectives

In teaching Educating Children Outdoors, we have three primary goals:

  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 focused lessons with seasonal themes which have been aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core.
  3. To engage participants in dialogue about methods of connecting children with their natural communities.

Secondary Goals 

  1. To practice safety protocols within the context of an outdoor classroom.
  2. To conduct a site and risk assessment in an outdoor classroom as an example to teachers of how to conduct this assessment on their school’s terrain.
  3. To address potential logistical challenges in starting a program.
  4. To build upon existing strengths and opportunities within a school community to support learning outdoors.
  5. To share games, stories, classroom extensions and technology integration to support the nature immersion curriculum.
  6. 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 July 26, 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 course tuition.

  1. Sara Knight . Risk and Adventure in Early Years Outdoor Play (A good accompaniment for site assessment projects)
  2. David Sobel. Childhood and Nature, Design Principles for Educators (the 7 design principles and examples of projects in public school settings) 
  3. Jon Young . Coyotes Guide to Nature Awareness (Expounds upon the core routines in the ECO schedule)
  4. Juliet Robertson,. Dirty Teaching and/or Messy Maths (Examples of nature immersion lessons and experiences)
  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, Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools . (This book outlines the philosophy and benefits behind outdoor learning environments, and provides activity and lesson ideas.) 
  7. Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods : Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (A must read for all educators, parents, and community members who care about children and our environment.)

Other Information Not Listed Above

Course Requirements 

  1. In course: Group discussions based on required readings during the week. 
  2. In course: Daily written reflections related to professional and personal ethos.
  3. Post course: The final project will be presented in the form of a written document. Participants will outline their final project related to taking their students outdoors to learn. If a student wishes to address another facet of their ECO program, this can be granted through a discussion with the instructor. 

This written document shall include: 

  • Description and purpose 
  • Essential questions related to theme or topic and standards being addressed
  • Description of the location where the learning will take place
  • Theme it is related to being taught in the classroom and projected outcomes and benefits of teaching outdoors 
  • Timeline for implementing the project
  • Logistics of the project that will ensure success and a plan to address potential challenges
  • A plan to obtain necessary support

The final project is based on an in depth vision and exploration of one topic. Students will choose one book from the Resources list to use as a reference on which to base their project. This book should be read in full and referred to in the project. Please list it in the bibliography alongside any other resources used for the final project. 

For this project, we will look for answers to all of the questions outlined at the end of the syllabus. Then we will look for any and all documents as well as explaining in writing who you needed on board for the project. 

For instance, if you outline a site assessment, please submit the site assessment and document the conversations you have had with the principal and/or any and all involved parties on moving forward with eliminating hazards from the site. Include a map of the site, a schedule for hazards to be looked at, and contact information for each person you envision being a part of your site assessment, beginning to end. Include a map with your vision of risk-benefit opportunities (balancing log, slack line trees, fire pit location, jumping rock, etc.) and your vision of the layout of camp once hazards are addressed. 

First draft of projects: 

  1. Should first and foremost SERVE YOU practically in developing your ECO program.
  2. Should have one book resource from the list provided which the project references. Please read this book in its totality. 
  3. Should be reviewed by at least one peer in the class. Please use google docs to receive comments from your peer(s).
  4. Should be reviewed by Amy or Brenda on google docs. 
  5. Should then be developed into the final product and submitted to mail to: 

Final Product can be developed and handed in by July 26th. A grade will be submitted online at the Castleton Portal by August 31st.

For additional course information

Amy Butler
(802) 229-6206

For additional registration information

Suzanne Eikenberry
(802) 229-6206

Register online now!