Reaching Nature Connection: Singing Snails and Rainbow Tails

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

Registration is closed for 2021. Check back in the beginning of 2022 for next summer’s conference. 

June 18-20, 2021

Earthaven Ecovillage
Near Asheville, NC

With this year’s theme, Singing Snails and Rainbow Tails, presenters Lia Grippo, Kelly Villarruel, and Erin Boehme will immerse participants in timeless crafting, joyful singing, and the freedom of play all in the spirit of the young child.

This annual conference is a program of The Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers, co-sponsored by SOIL.

Archery class at Reaching Nature Connection Workshop

Lia, Kelly, and Erin brought evidenced-based information, personal stories and a wealth of experience. The content felt relevant to both the brand-new forest kindergarten teacher, at the same time met the needs of an experienced facilitator. ~ Kathryn, Reaching Nature Connection Conference Participant 2018

The Reaching Nature Connection Conference at Earthaven was a soul-nourishing experience. I have been a nature and play-based early childhood teacher for 20 years and I left this gathering full of inspiration, new questions about my work, a deeper understanding of what can inform it and experiences of thrill, joy, and community. I will be looking for more opportunities to engage in these trainings.  -Marie

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.

Reaching Nature Connection invites you to join in an exciting weekend of hands-on, research-based, and anecdotal learning. As always, the conference will be infused with songs, games, stories, and deeper nature connection.

Reaching Nature Connection provides an opportunity to set your watch aside and allow the leaders of the conference 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. We will flow between lecture and hands-on components, weaving together our learning through a variety of approaches, with each new component building on the next.

Collaboratively taught by Erin Boehme, Kelly Villarruel, and Lia Grippo with special guest Doug Elliott.


Proud of handmade antler button at Reaching Nature Connection conference

Academy of Forest Kindergarten Directors

Learn more about nature connection and the conference in this interview with the teaching team.

Kelly Gaskill making a cooking fire at the Reaching Nature Connection Conference


Friday, June 18 (Optional Add-on)
6:30pm Dinner
7:30pm An evening of stories and songs with Doug Elliott

Saturday, June 19
8:00am Breakfast
8:30–8:45am Conference check-in. Please arrive by 8:45am.
9:00am–5:00pm Conference begins promptly at 9:00 am (break for lunch)
6:30pm Dinner
7:30pm An evening of connection and peer-mentorship (optional)

Sunday, June 20
8:00am Breakfast
9:00am–4:00pm Conference begins promptly at 9:00am (break for lunch)

Sliding Scale Tuition

Because some people have more financial means than others, we have created a sliding scale fee system to accommodate a range of economic realities. The high-end of the scale reflects the value we believe the program holds, and the low-end offers a more accessible entry point.

By choosing a higher price point, you are helping make the program more accessible to others for whom the low-end may be cost-prohibitive. Please consider your needs and resources to determine what might be a stretch, but not a strain.

Making hand drills at Reaching Nature Connection conference


Tuition Sliding Scale: $370-$510

What’s Included
Tuition includes instruction, 2 nights camping, food (5 meals), and materials. Indoor lodging and transportation are available for an additional cost.

Current ECE Students
If you are a current ECE Student, please email us for a coupon code to use at checkout, at

We offer partial scholarships (50% off) to black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) who otherwise would not be able to afford to attend. We understand that BIPOC experience more financial and institutional barriers to participation, and this is one way we are able to create more access. If you identify as BIPOC and would like to receive a scholarship, please contact us at



Several accommodation options are available at Earthaven Ecovillage and in the surrounding area.

Included in tuition.

Shared indoor lodging
Cost for 1 person: 2 nights $30

Private indoor lodging
Cost for 1 person: 2 nights $75
Cost for 2 people (shared bed): 2 nights $137.50

Off-site options
Various options in Bat Cave, Black Mountain, and Asheville.

Read More About Accommodations

Health Considerations

To meet our needs for connection and learning as well as health and safety, we’re creatively adapting our programs. SOIL’s in-person classes take place primarily outdoors, with appropriate shelter in inclement weather.

Let’s connect with each other and the natural world to stay healthy!

For more information, see SOIL's Health and Safety Practices.


Composite image of bowls of pasta, soup and salad

Delicious, omnivorous meals are prepared by talented culinary artists from the Earthaven community. Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options available. Snacks and beverages (tea, coffee) are provided. Participants are invited to help with meal clean-up. Many hands make light work.

As much food as possible is sourced from Earthaven and its surrounding farms and gardens, with some ingredients sourced from local grocery stores. Our meals are created with seasonal, local, fresh, wildcrafted, humanely-raised, and organic ingredients.

***If you have dietary needs beyond the ones listed here, please be prepared to bring supplemental food to support your nourishment and well-being. Our kitchen simply cannot accommodate all diets.

Program Specific Info

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are included, Saturday breakfast through Sunday lunch.

    Cancellation & Refunds

    If you cancel your registration, you may:

    • Donate your tuition to support our continued work
    • Request a refund per our policy:
      • 90% refund for cancellations prior to 30 days before the start of the program
      • 50% refund for cancellations prior to 10 days before the start of the program

    If SOIL cancels this program for any reason whatsoever, you would receive a 100% refund.

    Contact us at with registration questions.

    Crowdfunding & Fundraising

    Check out our Crowdfunding & Fundraising page for creative ways to engage your community and launch a "Community Supported Education" campaign. This approach can help support your investment in yourself, your community, the planet, and future generations.


    This program takes place at Earthaven Ecovillage. This permaculture-based community offers a unique living classroom where participants will engage with the natural world, eco-infrastructure, and the intimate experience of rural community living.

    What to Expect at Earthaven

    About the Facilitation Team

    Lia Grippo

    Lia Grippo

    Reaching Nature Connection Conference Faculty

    Lia spent many of her earliest years in Riga, Latvia, foraging and fishing the nearby woodlands with her family. Lia has taught in a variety of settings, including small and large preschools, a Waldorf kindergarten, a parent cooperative, and wilderness programs.

    Kelly Villarruel

    Kelly Villarruel

    Reaching Nature Connection Conference Faculty

    Kelly has over two decades 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. 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.

    Erin Boehme

    Erin Boehme

    Reaching Nature Connection Conference Faculty

    Erin grew up freely exploring the pastures, creeks, and high deserts of California’s Eastern Sierra mountains. 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.


    Click for 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.