Midwest Early Childhood Educator Symposium: Lessons from the Forest: How Great Programs Place Nature at the Heart of Their Curriculum

Schedule and Location

Saturday, June 1, 2019, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Thornhill Education Center, The Morton Arboretum

8:30 to 9:15 a.m. 

Registration, Coffee, and Demonstrations

9:15 to 9:30 a.m. 

Welcome and Introduction (Arbor Room)

9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Keynote Speaker: Christy Merrick, Natural Start Alliance

10:30 to 10:45 a.m.


10:45 to 11:45 a.m.

Concurrent Session 1

  • Vince Gortner, moderator,  “Panel on Outdoor Intruder Safety and Emergency Planning”
  • Catherine Koons Hubbard, “How Learning to Put on Your Own Rainboots Leads to Academic Success”
  • Marilyn Brink, “The Power in Nature Play and Nature-based Early Learning”
  • Laura Scheinholtz, “From Roots to STEMs: Mud play as a building block of early childhood education.” (Outdoor session)

11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. 


12:45 to 1:45 p.m.

Concurrent Session 2

  • Carla Gull, “Branching Out: Tree Climbing in U.S. Early Childhood Settings”
  • Jessica Fong, “Nature Play: A Catalyst for Language Development”
  • Christa Donner, Arlene Brennan, Karen Brennan,  Emily Klein, Gary Morrissey,  Activating Natural Space in the City: One Nature Preserve, Four Approaches”
  • Patti Darby, “Through the Lens: Nature Photography with Children”
  • Rachel Schaller “Risk vs Hazard in Outdoor Education”

1:45 to 2:00 p.m. 


2:00 to 3:00 p.m.

Concurrent Session 3

  • Peter Dargatz, “You’re Not in This Alone! Enhancing the Curriculum through Collaborative Community Connections”
  • Rebecca Gonzalez “Integrating Nature in an Urban Classroom”
  • Catherine Koons Hubbard, Virginia Wiggen, Matt Flower, Tara Von Dollen “When Nature Calls”
  • Kathryn Rybicki “The ABC’s of ASL: Sign Language and Nature Based Early Childhood”
  • Kim Cuenca, “Naturally Introducing Mindfulness and Yoga”

3:00 p.m.

Wrap up and Evaluations

Fees and Registration

$55.00 member
$55.00 nonmember
(Fees include admission to the Arboretum)
BY PHONE: 630-719-2468 ( Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)

Course Description

Nature-based learning is one of the fastest-growing approaches to early education in the United States today. Leaders in the field are working to develop a common set of practices for high-quality nature-based preschool programs - this symposium will highlight these emerging best practices and share practical tips for bringing nature into the classroom and taking learning outdoors. Discover what the schools at the forefront of this movement - nature and forest schools - have in common, and what lessons do they hold for other schools who are just starting to step outside.

The Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association (NINPA), in conjunction with the Wisconsin Nature-based Early Childhood Association (WiNBECA) and The Morton Arboretum, is holding a symposium on June 1, 2019. This one-day event will bring together early childhood educators, administrators, and naturalists from across Midwest to share ideas to advance nature-based education in early childhood education. Join us to add new skills to your toolkit and learn about emerging ideas and trends in the field from experts and peers. 

The 2019 keynote speaker will be Christy Merrick, Special Projects Advisor at the Natural Start Alliance. Christy has worked in environmental education and communications for over 20 years. In 2013, she launched the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Natural Start Alliance, and is now working with education leaders to develop a common set of practices for high-quality nature-based preschool programs in the United States. You'll get a look inside this new resource and see how it is being applied.

Course number


Course Details

  • Notes: Held indoors and outdoors. Limit 170
  • Continuing education: 4 CPDH credits for educators or Gateways CEUs are available.  


Lodging and Transporation:

The conference hotel is the Hyatt Lisle:

Hyatt Lisle
1400 Corporetum Drive
Lisle, IL 60532

  • To reserve a room please click here and enter May 31 through June 1 (the corporate code G-MIDD should automatically populate), or call 1-888-421-1442 and ask for the Midwest Early Childhood Educator Symposium.
  • ​Rooms in the block are $104 per night. not including taxes and fees.
  • There are a limited number of hotel rooms reserved for the conference, please book your hotel rooms by May 10, 2019 to receive the conference rate.
  • To reach the hotel from the Arboretum, drive south on Route 53 just past Warrenville Road and turn right.

The two closest airports to The Morton Arboretum are Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) or Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW).  Please see the Maps and Directions page on the Arboretum website for additional information on getting to the Arboretum.
Arboretum class weather, cancellation and refund policies

Midwest Early Childhood Educator Symposium: Lessons from the Forest: How Great Programs Place Nature at the Heart of Their Curriculum