A week-long, nature-based teaching and learning retreat offers great opportunities for networking, inner tracking, and reimagining alternative approaches towards authentic education.
The entrance to the Children's Garden welcomes young children and participants to its outdoor nature camps and preschool program. The program, which is located at the Robinson Nature Center in Columbia, MD, (Howard County), is a short drive from Baltimore.
ERAFANS: Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools
I have attended many learning opportunities which have been offered through or sponsored by ERAFANS since late 2016, early 2017. They have many wonderful experiences and events throughout the year. There are online courses, webinars, conferences, summits, teaching retreats, and the Outdoor Nature ECE teaching certification program. While it is extremely important to me that I stay current with pedagogical practices, educational tactics, and authentic learning methods, having young children has impacted my ability to fully engage in these professional development opportunities. During the summer of 2019, I was finally able to take my level one certification for Nature-based ECE. We were in North Carolina located in the greater Chapel Hill area and it was hot. It was so hot that when I walked outside I was squeezed to death by the oppressive humidity and the scorching sun rays. We were outdoors nearly the entire time from 8am-dinner time. We went on amazing "field trips" and visited many nature-based educational settings, nature preschools held in churches, nature groups who met in the woods. The experience was exactly what I needed. We talked about braiding sweetgrass, centered ourselves during forest yoga, sparked fire with nothing other than a single match, set intentions for short and longterm goals, and made friends with like-minded individuals—the ones who caught fireflies as children, ran barefoot in the summers, and came home covered in mud even in modern times.
Let's meet up next year, we said, after our 36-hour weeklong training. We'll all come back and take Level Two together. We planned, chatted, followed each other on social media, rented an AirBnB, charted our drive to Melbourne, Florida for June 2020—and then, everything came to a halt. Everything changed, movement ceased, jobs were lost, funds depleted, tears were shed, and we canceled our trip. Life kept moving and ebbing and flowing. And then, I had to do it with or without my crew. So, I signed up for the Nature-based ECE Level Two teacher certification program for the end of June to the beginning of July. I was a little nervous as I had planned on going with a tight-knit crew of friends and colleagues but I ended up going all alone. Everything worked out in the end, as the group was made up of a diverse collection of ages, talent, regional representation, and field experience. What was really interesting this time around was the group of six members from one outdoor nature setting. Wow, that can really spice things up when a large portion of the group all drove across the country from Michigan to Baltimore to attend this certification program together but it was really refreshing to have people who knew each other so intimately still interact with mostly solo representation individuals.
Here are several experiences during the Baltimore trip. Our home base was located at the Waldorf School of Baltimore. Some of the participants traveled all the way from California. We found some tiny friends, felted onto stones, made wisteria baskets, crushed our own rocks and minerals to make pigments, visited the Carrie Murray Nature center, visited the Robinson Nature Center, and used our handmade pigments to experiment and create artwork.
“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” ~John Muir
Growth, Friendship, Accountability
So how did we plant seeds of growth, friendship, and accountability? The week unfolded and shined light on many of our own eccentricities, we all learned from each other, our guides, the leadership team, and ultimately, ourselves. The hands-on, minds-on opportunities were just what I needed. I love to be in the wild, in nature, outside and find ways to make anything. So constructing fairy houses with found items in complete silence with 5 strangers teaches more than what meets the eye. We learn about ourselves, others, our place, and our space. Observing other nature educators gives us the ability to reflect upon our own practices and methods, adapt, analyze, and infiltrate our styles. Foraging for fibers and vines to make our own baskets turned into an obsession. I came home and immediately wanted to make more. Diving deep into the secrets of the forest, plucking ripe fruits from their hidden spots along the edge of the woods, and crushing spicebush leaves opened my senses and warmed my soul in ways I cannot describe. The lectures, workshops, adventures, and the honesty stirred questions, answers, and a direction within me and I didn't realize how meaningful this was until it was happening. It is wonderful to have friends—right here, right now—friends who you can see everyday, but to have a collection of friends across the country, in different walks of life, at different points of their personal journeys—this really is motivating in a way that needs to be experienced.
Luckily, the weather was so much more pleasant this time around. Maybe it was the calmer weather that aided the friendships but I'd like to think it was the people. We worked together, we worked alone yet in close proximity, we found a sit spot and meditated in complete solitude. There were bee stings, sunburns, and felting needle jabs but mostly there was collaboration, understanding, appreciation, acknowledgement, and hearty-laugh love. As we all parted on the fifth day after over 36 hours of interaction, experiments, creation, investigations, exploration, and lots of discussion we decided that we would take a year off and come back in two years to complete the final portion of the certification, level three. This is comprised of a year-long journey with virtual meetups, in-person trainings, and more in-depth research and pedagogical application. I look forward to where we will be at that time. I look forward to our growth as individuals and as a group. I am so grateful for my time with this program and I appreciate the ability to experience this opportunity. 'Til we meet again (in person), à bientôt mes amis.
I will be your cheerleader. I will be there when you need someone to witness when you need to work through feelings or events. I will send encouraging messages at random times of the day and night through Instagram. I will text you mid-sentence as if we are deep in conversation right now in person. I will hold myself accountable for forward progress, for loving kindness, for growth in all forms, and for self-reflection and inner tracking. I will be your cheerleader; I will be my cheerleader.
To learn more about ERAFANS —Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools, check them out online, on Facebook, or on Instagram. ERAFANS is a non-profit organization which encourages outdoor learning experiences. They offer trainings, professional development, webinars, and an amazing network of deeply-rooted individuals across the country. Membership is affordable and worth every penny. Learning opportunities are available for all stages and walks of life whether you're a teacher, parent, outdoor educator for 20 years or 2 months.
Everything written here is my own opinion, reflection, or thoughts. Today is just a quick recap of my recent learning experience for my Level Two teaching certification for Nature-Based ECE.
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