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whole-life skills for a radically different future

Reaching Nature Connection

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

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

Click here to learn more about the 2021 East Coast Reaching Nature Connection Conference: Singing Snails and Rainbow Tails.

This conference is a program of The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers, in collaboration with School of Integrated Living to host the East Coast Conferences.

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.

Reaching Nature Connection has hosted conferences in North Carolina (near Asheville) as as well as California (Santa Barbara, Eastern Sierras, and the Bay Area).

Playing at Reaching Nature Connection

Participants learn a new game at the 2017 East Coast RNC conference.

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?

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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.

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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.

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Prior Year Themes

2021 - Singing Snails and Rainbow Tails. Be immersed in timeless crafting, joyful singing, and the freedom of play all in the spirit of the young child.

2020 - not held. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was cancelled in 2020.

2019 - Storytelling. Take a storytelling journey to develop capacities for using stories as effective teaching tools for nature connection & beyond.

2018 - Fire, Knives, Sticks, and Bones. Gain educational tools, songs, games, and much more while learning the importance of risk to healthy childhood development of confidence, competence, and self-regulation.

2017 - The Primary of Play. Understand the role of healthy play in a young child’s developing relationship to nature and celebration of the genius of children’s natural play!

2016 - Guiding the Young Child: Creative Discipline. Hone your ability to resolve problems and shift behavior with creative discipline as well as increase children’s empathy, moral fortitude, and emotional intelligence.

Reaching Nature Connection group by Council Hall

Participants learn a new song at the 2017 East Coast RNC conference.

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 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)

Experience a developing ecovillage for yourself!

Most of SOIL’s classes take place at Earthaven Ecovillage, giving participants a hands-on, skill-building immersion within an authentic community-based, village setting. Tours of Earthaven are also available on a monthly basis, a great way to dip your toe into this long-standing, intergenerational social experiment.

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COVID 19 Response: SOIL is publishing resources and deferring all programs to 2021.Read More
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