Life has changed in so many ways, but we still want to learn, expand our knowledge, hold discussions with other like-minded professionals, and gather with educators in our field across the state. How a virtual conference can benefit your outdoor world.
Handwritten notes from a few virtual conferences, webinars, symposium sessions, and open house gatherings in 2020 and 2021. There are three more full notebooks to the side. Even in a world full of virtual options, I've experienced enough computer crashes and app glitches to handwrite all my notes.
“One good thing that came from the isolation, people began to recognize the nature right outside their own windows, and it was there all along...Nature proved to provide great solace [to the collective sense of human loneliness]." Keynote Speaker, Richard Louv, author of "Our Wild Calling" PAEE Virtual Conference, March 22-23, 2021
On March 15, 2020 I had my books ready, my bags packed, my business cards printed and prepared to distribute during meetings. Wide-eyed and excited for my weeklong PAEE conference at a beautiful lodge just outside of Pittsburgh. The whole trip was planned. We would all go, stay in a cabin, the children would play outside and hike during the day, I would meet new people and soak in all the sessions from sunrise to sunset. Then we would drive to visit our Aunt Bobbie and take her along with us to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the Phipps Conservancy—three of our favorite places to visit in western PA, tickets were purchased. And then...
The death of the in-person conference
Everything was canceled. We abandoned all plans. We closed our doors. We stayed inside—or at least on our property and surrounding area. We carefully chose our pod or bubble, if you will call it. We meticulously ventured outdoors to public areas during times we thought they weren't crowded. We shopped solely at the Farmers' Markets, Farm stands, and on farms. We reconsidered what it meant to live and learn, grow and explore. We started to look at what was right in front of us all along, we investigated our own back yard, we explored our town in a new way.
But I still need to learn! I shouted out in my head. "What about all the conferences and teacher-trainings I love to go to?! What about the people and the perspectives! But I finally have children old enough that I planned a trip to Florida with a friend to take my Level Two NB-ECE teaching certification! WHY?!?!" What now?! I know I was not alone. I know we all had these moments. That trip we finally planned, those things we were finally going to do, those people we finally thought we might see... in our busy lives we squeezed in the time for those really important things. Events getting straight up canceled gave me a crushing feeling. And then, there was a light—a shiny, blue light—brilliantly and glaringly glowing from our multiple devices. "Don't worry," they said, "This may not work, but we are going to try to go virtual!"
The birth of a new conference setting
I am not always a fan of technology. It can help with so many things but it also takes time away from human time. I think it definitely serves a purpose but we dance to a love-hate song with technology in my house. We want to raise people who experience an authentic childhood with mud, free time, hand crafts, arts, tools, music, homegrown food, and who can regulate their own time without zoning out in front of a screen. And yet, technology is here and it has proven to be useful.
And, thus, virtual conferences, webinars, summits, symposiums were thrust upon us. These online platforms for information delivery offer so many pros and cons. At this moment, I'm going to say the pros heavily outweigh the cons. Many of these sessions have been offered for very low costs. I don't need childcare while I interact or participate. I don't need to pay for gas, lodgings, or food. I don't even need to wear actual clothes and I normally wear my slippers. The global possibilities have opened dramatically for both presenters and participants. There have been so many presenters and participants from other areas regionally, nationally, or even globally that the perspectives available at the conferences have opened my eyes and mind in ways I didn't even know were possible.
Top 8 virtual resources for webinars, conferences, discussions
In no specific order (2020-2021)
Natural Start Alliance (with NAAEE) July 2020
ERAFANS [Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools]
Early Childhood Investigations
Wonder Tribe/Fairy Dust Teaching: Play Summit July 2020
Educator's Ag Institute [with PA Farm Bureau] summer and winter workshops
PAEE Conference 2021: Opportunities for Action
Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia
Rodale Institute, Kutztown
Where do I start? I love the Rodale Institute, Rodale Publishing, the little Rodale General Store that used to be in Emmaus and then left as soon as I got here. We have participated in the CSA programs both vegetable in the past and the meat CSA for this year. The RI Garden store environmental book club is so great, even when it is virtual. Heather always keeps everyone motivated and chooses three different, yet inspiring books each season. How many events have we attended? I don't even know, to be honest, the Apple Festivals, Days on the Farm, Earth Day, Organic Gardening 101, Medicinal Gardening/Farming, random picnics that my children ask to have by the large shade tree. Going virtual with Rodale worried me at first, "Will I still get the same feels? I need to be out in the open air, soaking in all the farm goodness." Then there was the #Visforvictorygarden initiative which came with access to several online webinars and workshops. The Rodale Virtual Field Day in July which was so rich with content including side by side conventional and organic trials, beekeeping, apple orchard care, Vegetable trials, cover crops, composting, and more. The Rodale 2020 Organic Pioneer Awards live forum was a great view of different perspectives of professionals in the field. Regenerative Shift: Creating Living ecosystems with regenerative agrotourism to combat climate change was a great talk co-sponsored by Rodale and the Regenerative Travel Group. Most recently, Food, Farming, Philadelphia: The impact of organic agriculture on environmental health and human development in the city of Brotherly Love, this session really sparked something in me. Having lived in Philadelphia for nearly seven years and talking about intersectional environmentalism, we obviously have to address the ability for EVERYONE to access both nature and organic food. If you haven't checked out Rodale Institute yet, you won't be disappointed. We are not only Perennial Supporters but we are also members of the J.I. Rodale Leadership Society. Hopefully, I will be hosting children's activities on the farm for the Earth day at the Farm celebration on April 22. There will be an awesome Earth Day event, in person with registration, at the Viaduct in Philadelphia on Saturday, April 24 in efforts of the "Grow Clean Water" campaign, registration is open online. This summer, I am looking forward to volunteering on the Experimental Farm in Emmaus- Allentown location. For all of you who love to plant and grow your own food, check out the Rodale Plant sale on April 2-3 at the farm in Kutztown, PA. #Rodale #RegenerativeOrganic #HealthySoil #HealthyLiving
Natural Start Alliance (NAAEE)
The Natural Start Alliance and NAAEE have so many wonderful online resources all the time. The event I liked the most this year was the NatStart2020 Nature-based Early Learning Virtual Conference. It was hosted initially in July and I was able to attend 12 live sessions and one on-demand session during the event. It is on my to-do list to complete the rest of the on demand sessions and look over the poster sessions because access is available for an entire year! Life got crazy, days blurred into weeks, and here I am at the end of March counting the days until I can watch the rest of a conference from July. It is true. The sessions were lively and vibrant and I really liked how they were broken into learning strands based on topics: administration, research, teaching, Higher ed, and strategies were some of the topics. Surprisingly, or not really surprisingly, some of my cohorts from ERAFANS were also presenting at this conference. I was so inspired afterwards that I applied to present next summer. Cross your fingers for me because I haven't heard back yet. There were wonderful presentations on various topics but some of my favorites—so far— included a talk about puppets, talking to trees, storytelling, GA Farm to ECE program, and University of Delaware's making bird feeders to develop empathy. #NatStart2020
Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools
I have been an active member of ERAFANS for several years now and while they had great services online before and the in-person trainings are life changing, they offer even more webinars, online training, and small in-person trainings now. In the summer of 2019, I attended a weeklong Level One NB-ECE teacher certification in North Carolina. Friends that I made at previous trainings met up with me in NC and we completed the week long, outdoor process together; we also planned on attending our Level Two training last summer in Florida but unfortunately ended up canceling. This year, however, there were some great opportunities for virtual conferences, workshops, and webinars. The Spiritual Development and the Environment as the Third Educator webinar and the ERAFANS Conference/ Nature Play workgroup were two great online events this year. The conference had such a wide array of professionals from members of the health care sector, urban educators, DNR, Nature Center educators, ECE, therapeutic practitioners, and artists. If you work with children outdoors or you want to take children outdoors, I highly recommend becoming a member of ERAFANS and looking into the upcoming trainings and resources. #ForestandNatureSchool #ERAFANS #playoutside #VitaminN #Nature #outdoorsall4
Early Childhood Investigations
I don't even know how I found this website but I am so happy that I did. The thing I really like about this resource is the nearly weekly live sessions. Every session you attend comes with a certification of completion with ECU hours. These sessions are also all recorded and can be viewed at any time. Early Childhood Investigations works with University of Oklahoma to offer college credits for all completed sessions that are accompanied by reflections and sent to the University. All sessions are also free to participants because of the generous donations of educational sponsors. Looking over my notes from this year, I don't think I can even pick just one favorite session, maybe it was Puppet Pals by Jackie Howell, or The Magic Triangle of Reading Aloud. If you need to take some professional development and want a wide range of subjects, objectives, and learning techniques this is a great website to find.
Wonder Tribe/Fairy Dust Teaching
A few years ago, during a late night search for wonder-based or Reggio-education, I stumbled across the Winter Conference for Fairy Dust Teaching. Sally Haughey has created and compiled an amazing group of presenters, educators, researchers, authors, and professionals who focus on nature-based, wonder-based, risky-play, nature playscape design, curiosity approach, mud play, Reggio-Emilia Approach education, and authentic childhood. Sally offers many courses, a full academy for wonder-based and REA educators, webinars, zoom calls, conferences, and printed materials. She is so full of life. My favorite session this year was Wonder Tribe: Play Summit co-hosted with Tom Hobson in July, 2020. One of the most memorable quotes was, "Stop stealing childhood in the name of education." #fairydustTeaching
#wonderbasedlearning #ReggioEmiliaApproach #authenticChildhood #playbased #explore #wondertribe
Educator's Ag Institute/ Farm Bureau (Summer and Winter workshops)
Somehow, I found myself on the Ag Institute website over the summer, there may have been an ad on a farm website I was reading, but I am so glad that I clicked and signed up for the Summer Workshop series in July. [YES, if you are reading this and paying attention, the entire month of July was extremely busy in terms of workshops, conferences, and learning opportunities]. This website gives me different perspectives than the organic, regenerative views in which I normally immerse myself on other platforms. [not to say these views are not also shared on this platform but there is more of a conventional farming feel most of the time]. During the Summer workshops two classes were offered every Thursday in July. The Winter Workshop consisted of four days with one course a day. The sessions were a blend of presenters, videos, discussion, farm tours, and a moderator. After participating in over 12 sessions, the link between agriculture, environmental education, food security, and nature-based education is much stronger for me. Of course these things are connected but we never really talk about them all together in the same realm. They are different, they are taught separately, but there is so much overlap. They are really are interdependent. My appreciation for agricultural education has grown tremendously since taking the courses on Ag Institute and the resources that are included are amazing: book and website recommendations, full lesson plans, videos, links for grants, direct contact information for presenters, and with written reflections, you can earn additional continuing ed credits. (And its free!)
PAEE 2021 Virtual Conference: Opportunities for Action
Throughout the year, I get amazing emails weekly with resources, events, lesson plans, themes, courses, and community outreach from PAEE [PA Association of Environmental Educators]. Last year I was so excited to see keynote speaker, Richard Louv, at the PAEE / PRPS conference but unfortunately it was canceled. I have several of his books and he is constantly referenced by educators in the nature-based field. This year, I was pleased to see that many of the sessions were the same as the ones offered in 2020. It is always so surprising that during these conferences, I "meet" or find people and places right around my home that share so many interests and yet, I never knew about them. For example, I lived in Philadelphia for 7 years, I volunteered and studied the arts, education, history, and I have never heard of Wagner's Free Institute of Science— literally on Temple University's campus. Drexel now has an environmental education and sustainability program. There is a Junior Solar Sprint competition every year in the city on Drexel's campus, as they are the sponsors, and I never knew. I would have volunteered to help children build solar-powered cars or helped during the event in any way that was needed. Having professionals from across the state in urban, suburban, and rural areas working within private and public sectors, government agencies like PA Dept of Environmental Protection, or PA DCNR, PA Farm Bureau, Dairy Farmers of North Eastern America, teachers, nature center directors, outdoor educators, mindfulness trainers, Occupational and Movement therapists, and park rangers, to name a few, gives so much perspective on what is happening in the environmental education scene on so many intricate levels. All of the sessions were punctual, well-executed, and clearly followed the subjects that were listed on the agenda. They utilized the Whova App and allowed for conversation, questions, and discussion among the participants. All material is available for 6 months, starting today. For anyone working within environmental education, science, agricultural science, nature-based learning, outdoor learning, or if you are just interested in learning about events and activities in and around the outdoors of PA, I highly recommend joining the PAEE or at least signing up for the mailing list. #ITeachOutside #PAEE #OpportunitiesForAction #RichardLouv #OurWildCalling #Nature #Outdoors #1000HoursOutside
Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, Philadelphia
Remember how I mentioned that July was really, really busy? Well, that is when I stumbled across the July Thursday night discussions that are hosted by PAEE 2021 Keystone Award Recipient, Mike Weilbacher. I had known about the SCEE for some time by then, as I attended a full-day teacher training offered by ERAFANS in February of 2017 or 2018. First, I want to say that I wish with every bone in my body that I had found this place while I was completing my MEd at Temple University or even after completing my BS in graphic design at Drexel, and I had acquired a job at the Environmental center or, better yet, the Nature-preschool. I imagine my children would just come to school with me, happily playing in the mud outdoors every day, wind in their hair, exhausted from building forts in the pine forest. Obviously we know that didn't happen and my life took a much different path, I digress. Happily, I found this Thursday night discussion online in July. The topics were relevant, engaging, and many were just plain fun. From foraging, secret life of moths, climate change in Philadelphia, the summer topics caught my attention and gave me one hour a week to connect with local like-minded folks online. These sessions are up again now and they do not disappoint. Our personal favorite was the Naughty by Nature Valentine's Day special which discussed the many fascinating mating habits of the natural world, humans excluded. For a few more days—until Saturday, March 27— the Citizen's Eye: Kaleidoscope of Nature photography exhibit will be displayed in the environmental art department and can still be viewed online. We discussed this in an earlier post but we have a few photos in the display and they also used some of my reflection as quotes on the wall. Be sure to check out all the events, activities, and exhibits both online and safely in-person; and, you can grab up some native seedlings and plants at their annual plant sale, which is going on right now! #nativeplantsale #OutdoorEducation #Hike #NBECE #playoutside #raiseawildchild #natureplay #EnviroEd #NaturePreschool #EnviroArt #photography
All of the mentioned organizations have some events coming up in the near future. There are some small-scale, in-person events occurring soon, especially for Earth Day. There are a few more conferences and smaller summits coming up this summer. Be sure to check out the websites if you see something that is a good fit for you.
If you are looking for a beneficial conference that is coming up soon, check out:
It starts with us: Cultural responsiveness in Early Childhood Education which will be hosted by Hopin on Kayumbu360. The conference will be hosted on April 6-8, 2021 with a fireside chat by esteemed featured Keynote speaker, civil rights activist and author, Ruby Bridges.
This week I didn't feature many photos or quotes. This was really more of a reflective and resourceful entry for anyone feeling alone, isolated, disconnected. Find something that inspires you. Find people that wake up your light, even if it is online for now. There are so many spaces outdoors, even if you just go in your yard or a small public park in the city, you can make any place greener with just one plant. You can grow your own garden, find people who lift you up, connect back to nature, recognize our innate interconnectedness, and shed everything that no longer suits you to reveal the butterfly that has been waiting to emerge all along.
See you next week friends. Thanks for tuning in. Learn, Grow, Love, repeat.
**All of the information in this post is for sharing purposes to help spread the word of some great resources I have found. These are all of my own opinions and thoughts and were not sponsored or supported by any of the listed parties. Remember to support local artists, educators, and farmers in any way possible, even if it is volunteering some time. Every action creates a ripple. Remember to send out some good vibes this Thursday, (and every day).