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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

March 11 & 12, 2017
(9am-5pm & 9am-4pm)

Reaching nature connectionat Earthaven Ecovillage
near Asheville, NC

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

Join us for two fun days of 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 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.

This 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.

This conference is a fun, rewarding, and community building experience.

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 not only in the United States, but world-wide. 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

Participants are accepted on a first come, first served basis. We anticipate 100% enrollment.

Conference fee - $250-275
Current ECE students - $175-275
 for early childhood education students currently enrolled in an ECE course.

Group discount- 10% off for groups of 3 or more.  We will be in touch to confirm whether space is available for your group. 
Discounts may not be combined.

*limited scholarships available
Maximum participants: 35

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, and dedicated to caring for people and the Earth by learning and demonstrating a holistic, sustainable culture.

Earthaven Ecovillage is off-grid, meaning not supplied by public electricity or water companies, but derives electricity from solar panels and two small hydropower stations and water from springs and wells. There is minimal Internet access, and no cell phone reception, although landline phones are available for short or emergency phone calls. Being at Earthaven offers a balance between comfort and adventure.


Participants are responsible for bringing their own food.  There is no place to buy food at Earthaven so it needs to be brought with you.


Indoor Lodging at Earthaven: Our staff is exploring indoor lodging options with community members at Earthaven for participants who wish to stay close by. Inquire if you are interested.

Camping: Usually the Earthaven Campground doesn't open until April after the frozen weather has passed. It is possible for the campground to open earlier, allowing RNC participants to camp during the conference. This will not be determined until we get closer and know what the weather will be like. Please contact us if you are interested.

Nearby Accommodations: Black Mountain is the closest town center providing standard rental options, which is 30 minutes away from Earthaven, the conference site. The Light Center is worth checking out for a place to stay that has a kitchen for guests as well. It's about 20 minutes from Earthaven.

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 as well as 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 2010-11 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 co-founder and presenter of the annual Reaching Nature Connection Conference and 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 their 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 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 lead mentor for Wilderness Youth Project’s preschool program, Chickadees, where she is able to share her remarkable skills as both naturalist and early childhood educator with her community.  She uses her remarkable awareness, knowledge, and experience to guide scores of young ones into a deep and lasting relationship with the natural world, all the while mentoring numerous staff and volunteers each year. Kelly is Co-founder of the annual Reaching Nature Connection Conference as well 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 elder berry wine. Kelly is the mother of three, and 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, this is where she truly learned about early childhood. 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 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 Santa Barbara City College Children's Center, now The Orfalea Early Learning Center.  She volunteered for Environment Camp and 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 in 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 experience in early childhood education. Erin is co-founder of the annual Reaching Nature Connection Conference and 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 occupied with packing her lunch back into her backpack, focus and attention directed on the effort, when a nearby acorn woodpecker called out from the tall sycamore tree above.  Wacka wacka wacka it called, to greet a family member, returning from a forage.  Without lifting her head or pausing in her undertaking, she 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)

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