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whole-life skills for a radically different future

Reaching Nature Connection

East Coast Outdoor Conference for Early Childhood Educators, Teachers, Counselors, Parents, and Mentors

April 7–8 and 14–15, 2018

Reaching nature connectionat Earthaven Ecovillage
near Asheville, NC

Collaboratively taught by Erin Boehme, Kelly Villarruel, and Lia Grippo

Join us for hands-on learning in Nature's playground! Gain tools, songs, games, stories, and much more to help bring adults and children alike into a closer relationship with Nature.

This conference is co-sponsored by The Academy of Forest Kindergarten TeachersForest Floor Wilderness ProgramsAsheville Forest School, Wild Intelligence, and Earthpath Education.

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Excellent conference! The depth of the behavioral psychology and child development practices underlying the variety of activities, music, and games made it a truly rich experience.
Participant in June 2016 conference in Santa Barbara

About the Conference

Reaching Nature Connection is an annual outdoor conference based on forest schools, wilderness awareness, and early childhood education. The conference is designed for beginners and experienced educators alike, as well as therapists, administrators, homeschool families, camp counselors, grandparents, and parents who have an interest in developmentally appropriate nature mentoring for children.

Circle Under the Oaks

Be a part of a MOVEMENT, not just a conference.

The Reaching Nature Connection Conference is part of a larger movement in both the United States and across the world. Check out the following links to learn more about this growing web.

Growth of Nature-Based Schools in North AmericaExcerpt from interview with Lia Grippo in School Library Journal 

Whereas the idea of Nature/Forest Schools have been popular in the UK, Scandinavia, and other parts of Europe since the 1950's, why do you think we are now seeing a sudden growth of nature-based schools in North America?

Read more

Educating for the Health of Child and EarthBlog post of Lia Grippo, Founder / Director, Wild Roots Forest School & Cofounder, Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers

Young children, through their senses, take in impressions of the world without judgment, and the quality of those sense impressions matters. In fact, they affect the remainder of a person's life. In early childhood, we develop the foundation for all future relationships.

Read more

Forest School from a Parent's Perspective

My daughter doesn't tell me much about what she does at school. She doesn't have to. The way forest school has impacted her is self-evident.

Read more

Reaching Nature Connection Group Photo

Conference Tuition

2018 CONFERENCE REGISTRATION IS NOT YET OPEN. Please sign up for the SOIL newsletter to be notified when registration opens.

Participants are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. SOIL anticipates full enrollment. Limited scholarships are available.

Conference fee: $250–$275

Tuition Sliding Scale

Current ECE students: $175–$275 for early childhood education students currently enrolled in an ECE course.

ECE Students Sliding Scale

Group discount: 10% off for groups of 3 or more. Contact SOIL to confirm whether space is available for your group. 
Discounts may not be combined.

Food and lodging are not included in Conference fee.



Founded in 1994, Earthaven Ecovillage is located on 329 acres in culturally rich, biologically diverse western North Carolina, about 50 minutes southeast of Asheville and 30 minutes southeast of Black Mountain. Surrounded by like-minded, ecologically oriented neighbors, Earthaven is home to 80+ residents, including students and visitors. The community is dedicated to caring for people and the Earth by learning and demonstrating a holistic, sustainable culture.

Earthaven Ecovillage is off-grid and therefore not supplied by public utilities. However, electricity is available from solar panels and two small hydropower stations. There is minimal internet access and no cell phone reception, although landline phones are available for short phone calls or emergencies. Being at Earthaven offers a balance between comfort and adventure.


Participants are responsible for bringing their own food. There are no food sales at Earthaven, so all food must be brought from outside.


Indoor Lodging at Earthaven: SOIL is exploring indoor lodging options with community members at Earthaven for participants who wish to stay close by. Contact us for more information.

Camping: The Earthaven campground usually does not open until April, after the frozen weather has passed. Weather depending, the campground may be opened earlier for RNC participants. Please contact us if you are interested in camping during the conference.

Nearby Accommodations: Black Mountain, roughly 30 minutes away, is the closest town providing standard rental options. The Light Center, about 20 minutes from Earthaven, offers accommodations and a guest kitchen.

About the Facilitation Team

Lia GrippoLia Grippo

​Born in Riga, Latvia, Lia spent many of her earliest years foraging and fishing the nearby woodlands with her family. Her early relationship with Nature has remained a constant thread in her life. At an early age, Lia was drawn towards working with young children and has been an early childhood educator since 1989. She has been fortunate to have had wise and skilled mentors in both early childhood education and nature connection. Lia has taught in a variety of settings, including small and and large preschools, a Waldorf kindergarten, a parent cooperative, and wilderness programs. In 1996, Lia founded her first preschool, Seedlings, and in 1998 she opened Wild Roots Forest School, a preschool and kindergarten roofed by the sky and carpeted with the living woodland floor. In 2010–2011 Lia directed Orca School, a Waldorf inspired K–8 school with nature immersion at its center. Lia is an accomplished storyteller, parent educator, naturalist, and herbalist and teaches classes and workshops in all of these areas of study. She is a co-founder and presenter of the annual Reaching Nature Connection Conference and the co-founder of The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers. Lia resides in Santa Barbara, CA with her musical husband, Jim, her two nature-immersed, tree-climbing sons, and three cats.  

Kelly VillarruelKelly Villarruel

Kelly grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and developed an intimate knowledge and love of the area while roaming the land throughout her childhood. Kelly has 23 years of experience in the field of early childhood education, working in preschool and home day care settings as well as wilderness and nature immersion programs. Kelly holds a degree in Environmental Horticulture with an emphasis on restoration and regeneration. Kelly is the lead mentor for Wilderness Youth Project’s preschool program, Chickadees, where she shares her remarkable skills as both a naturalist and early childhood educator with her community. She uses her awareness, knowledge, and experience to guide scores of young ones into a deep and lasting relationship with the natural world, all while mentoring numerous staff and volunteers each year. Kelly is a co-founder of the annual Reaching Nature Connection Conference and the co-founder of The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers. She lives in the beautiful Santa Barbara mountains, where she can be found communing with her neighbor, “Old One Eye” the one-eyed raccoon, and brewing elderberry wine. Kelly is a mother of three and the proud grandmother of a new baby boy.

Erin BoehmeErin Boehme

Erin grew up freely exploring the pastures, creeks, and high deserts of California's Eastern Sierra mountains. Her passion to work with children and families in nature led her on a journey into teaching. While studying early childhood education and child development, Erin worked as a Public Project Coordinator at the Kidspace Museum in Pasadena. In 2000, Erin traveled to Italy to study in the Reggio Emilia Municipal Schools. Upon her return to Santa Barbara, CA, Erin taught preschool and mentored student teachers at the Santa Barbara City College Children's Center, now the Orfalea Early Learning Center. She volunteered for Environment Camp and the Wilderness Youth Project in its earliest years, taking children on the land in search of joy, laughter, adventure, and a genuine connection to the natural world.  In 2010,  Erin acted as the assistant director and farming teacher for Orca School and was the first teacher of Wild Roots Forest Schools inaugural kindergarten class in 2011. After 19 years in Santa Barbara, Erin has returned to her homeland in the Sierra Mountains, where she directs and teaches Wild Roots Outreach Programs based on her 20 years of experience in early childhood education. Erin is a co-founder of the annual Reaching Nature Connection Conference and a co-founder of The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers. She is an artist and designer that seeks to fuel the creative spirit in herself and others everyday. She is mentored by her two children and still runs barefoot exploring in nature.

As educators, we can never give a child what we don't have. In many ways, we ourselves are the curriculum. Many years ago, during a period of intense study of birds, bird language, and bird behavior, I was with my class of young ones in the forest. Every bird I heard, I tried to imitate. I wasn't always good at it, but I tried. Never having spoken to the children about what I was doing, I simply paid attention and responded in their presence, all the while serving the snack, or tying someone's shoes, grinding rocks for paint, or any number of other tasks that needed tending. After many weeks of this, at the end of the morning, a 4-year-old girl was occupied with packing her lunch back into her backpack. Her focus and attention was directed on the effort when a nearby acorn woodpecker called out from the tall sycamore tree above. "Wacka wacka wacka," it called, as if to greet a family member returning from a forage. Without lifting her head or pausing in her undertaking, the girl answered the woodpecker with her own "wacka, wacka, wacka." I remained silent on the matter with great difficulty. Inside, I was cheering and celebrating her broadened awareness, her sense of connection, and her sense of normalcy in it all. Being in relationship with the world around her was a given.  It would likely always be.
~ Lia Grippo (Reaching Nature Connection Conference presenter, The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers, Co-founder/Instructor)

Check out Helpers Mentoring Society

Salvatore Gencarelle, a friend and colleague of SOIL, recently launched an educational organization called Helpers Mentoring Society. His courses focus on cultural ceremony and draw from nearly two decades of immersion in the wisdom of indigenous cultures across the globe.

Learn More