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whole-life skills for a radically different future

Reaching Nature Connection: Fire, Knives, Sticks, and Bones

East Coast Outdoor Conference for Early Childhood Educators, Teachers, Counselors, Parents, and Mentors
April 14–15, 2018Reaching nature connection
9 am–5 pm Saturday
9 am–4 pm Sunday

at Earthaven Ecovillage
near Asheville, NC

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

This course is currently at full enrollment. Please email  info@schoolofintegratedliving.org to be placed on the waitlist.

Join us for hands-on learning in Nature's playground! Gain educational tools, songs, games, and much more while learning the importance of risk to healthy childhood development of confidence, competence, and self-regulation.

This conference is a program of The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers, hosted by School of Integrated Living in collaboration with Wild Intelligence.

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​- 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.

The conference provides an opportunity to set your watch aside and allow the instructors to hold time for you. The rhythm of each day is designed to move between active and contemplative learning, with a thematic thread running throughout. The classes flow between lecture and hands-on components, weaving together your learning through a variety of approaches, with each new component building on the next.

Circle Under the Oaks

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.

Location and Accommodations

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.

Several accommodation options are available for conference attendees. On site, participants can camp at the Earthaven campground or stay in private indoor lodgings provided by Earthaven community members. Black Mountain, roughly 30 minutes away, is the closest town providing standard rental options. The Light Center, approximately 20 minutes from Earthaven, offers accommodations and a guest kitchen. Please indicate your choice in your registration and online shopping cart.

  • Camping: 1 night $35, 2 nights $40, 3 nights $45
  • Private indoor lodging for 1 person: 1 night $80, 2 nights $115, 3 nights $135
  • Private indoor lodging for 2 people: 1 night $120, 2 nights $172.50, 3 nights $202.50


Delicious, organic, vegan and gluten-free meals (dairy options on the side) are available on site, prepared by talented culinary artists from the Earthaven community. The full meal plan includes lunch and dinner on Saturday plus breakfast and lunch on Sunday; a lunches-only option is also available. Please indicate your choice in your registration and online shopping cart.

  • Full meal plan (lunch/dinner Saturday, breakfast/lunch Sunday): $48
  • Lunches only: $24

How to Secure Your Space

This course is currently at full enrollment. Please email info@schoolofintegratedliving.org to be placed on the waitlist.

CONFERENCE Tuition: Tuition for the conference is offered on a sliding scale, at $250–$325.

Payment: Payment will be requested once you are registered, if a space opens up.

Cancellation Policy

A refund of your registration fees (minus a $50 cancellation fee) is available until March 15, 2018. No refunds are available after March 15, 2018.
If SOIL cancels this course for any reason whatsoever, 100% of your tuition will be refunded.

Contact Gabriel at info@schoolofintegratedliving.org with registration questions.

Check out Earthaven Experience Week

Join the homesteads, farms, and businesses of Earthaven Ecovillage for a hands-on, skill-building immersion in sustainable and climate-resilient community life. The learning journey weaves large-group discussions and classes together with intimate hands-on experiences in the village and farms alongside community members.

Learn More