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Summary of the 2012 NH Children in Nature Conference

“Discovering Nature Wherever You Are”

On October 4, 2012, we explored the many ways to experience “nearby nature” with children, youth and families, whether by discovering new ways to use our backyards and city parks; finding local outdoor spaces in communities and neighborhoods; or learning simple, accessible ideas for engaging with the natural world, even in urban settings.

Keynote speaker, Lenore Skenazy shared her thoughts on  “Free-Range Kids:  Why Does an Old-Fashioned Childhood Sound So Radical?”

The rest of the day was filled with informative workshops and networking opportunities that provided participants with the resources, tools and knowledge to create communities that encourage everyone to spend more time in nature.  To read a summary of each workshop and view some of the presentations, click on the links in the titles below.

Workshop Summaries and Presentations 

A-1 “Safe Routes to Play: A Child Centered Transportation Alternative,” (Cindy Heath, Executive Director, GP RED New Hampshire Office)
What if all children had the opportunity to skate, scoot, bicycle, ski, or walk safely to their community parks, natural areas, and play destinations? Safe Routes To Play™ is a community planning process that engages children to help assess a community’s level of ‘active access’. Explore the SRTP methodology, review lessons learned from a project beginning in Lebanon, NH, and discuss obstacles to child-centered active transportation.

A-2 “Using Nature as Your Curriculum Guide,” (Lori Harris, Director, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center’s Child Care Center)
Want to spend more time outdoors with children but worried they aren’t learning enough to affect their development in a positive way?  Climbing on rocks and over downed trees, writing with a stick in the sand, gardening and naming those plants, observing the natural process, and working with others are all examples of outdoor activities that develop cognitive and motor skills in young children.  Come learn what those are and how to talk to others about how these experiences prepare them for academics of all kinds.

A-3 “‘Play Outside?! But there’s nothing to do out there!’: Eliminating the Cultural Roadblocks to Nature Based Play”  (Jessica Sugrue, Child Care Training Specialist, NH Dept of Health and Human Services, Div. of Children, Youth and Families)
Today’s children spend less time outdoors than any previous generation!  What can be done to solve this? An understanding of the culture of “plugged-in” and “indoor” kids and their families is one step in the right direction. This workshop will provide participants with activities, resources, tools and opportunity for self-reflection on how cultural competency impacts outdoor play in education and family environments. Assessing cultural competency increases our understanding of individual value systems and how to provide opportunities for families to explore fun, affordable and varying nature-based experiences in a manner that is comfortable to them!

A-4 “From Textbook to Trail: How to apply effective learning strategies that will bring your presentations to life!” (Kristina Ellis, Education Director, Quarrybrook Outdoor Learning Center, and Coleen Ryan, Camp Director, Cape Ann Waldorf School )
What does it take to lead a truly effective and engaging learning experience? This session explores, through sound educational theory, how humans naturally discover and learn through fun. Led by two experienced outdoor educators, participants will engage in dynamic hands-on activities in class and on the trail. This workshop is good for educators, parents, care providers and anyone else who is interested in encouraging a deeper and more enjoyable connection with children and the natural world. Be prepared for light hiking and lots of fun!

A-5 Youth Opportunities Program: A Model for Serving Urban and At-Risk Youth(Stefanie Brochu, Director, Youth Opportunities Program, Appalachian Mountain Club)
Come learn about a program that provides outdoor experiences for more than 20,000 urban and at-risk youth each year.  The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Youth Opportunities Program has a unique and proven model which has served over 150,000 youth in its 44 year history.  We will discuss this model, including our Outdoor Leadership Trainings for youth workers and teachers, partnerships with local youth serving organizations, and our recent success with dramatically expanding the number of local outdoor adventures for teens.

A-6 “Coastal Rompers: Girl Scouts Discovering Aquatic Life in a “School of the Open”(Neil Savage, Aquatic Ecologist and Science Advisor to the Coastal Rompers Marine Science Interest Group, with Clio and Isabella Tise, Senior Scouts in Girl Scouts of the Green & White Mtns.)
Kids and water naturally go together. Sixteen years ago, we put some ideas into practice, and the result was sensational. Coastal Rompers is a marine conservation group that’s involved Girl Scouts in coast-related ”Discovery” events, tidal creek explorations, beach cleanups, Aquarium trips, and visits to Shoals Marine Lab.  We (two Senior Scouts and the co-founder) will tell you about our experience around New England, share what’s been a successful model for seaside and shoreline exploration, and demonstrate how Coastal Rompers operates.  Then we’ll engage the audience and exchange ideas so that other youth-oriented organizations might consider forming similar groups.

B-1 “You Can’t Bounce off the Walls if there Aren’t Any” (Johanna Booth-Miner, Director, and David Miner, Outdoor Coordinator, Live and Learn Early Childhood Center)
Children need a sense of place and adults to keep the sense of wonder alive.  Come be that adult.  Build fairy houses, explore a river, catch bugs and let your imagination go. Join Live and Learn staff in exploring the unique opportunities available outside for preschool aged children.  Learn how to build all areas of curriculum into a nature based classroom setting.  If you ever wanted to figure out how to stay outside all day this is the workshop for you!

B-2 “Creating Nurturing Landscapes for Nature’s Children: A Plan for Success(Susanne Smith-Meyer, L.A., and Mindy Beltramo, Naturally Rooted LLC)
A vision. Check! Volunteers. Check! Shovels. Check! It’s Saturday morning and excited volunteers have arrived to help! But where’s the plan? Join this experiential and team-oriented workshop prepared to go outside! Using the outdoor environment around the conference center, we’ll conceptualize a child-centered play and learn space.  Teams will assess existing conditions, incorporate a “wish list” and organize a design plan. Participants will consider the importance of a site analysis, developmental abilities of the child, habitat development, relationships to nearby wildlife habitats, and more! Come away with new ideas, implementation strategies, and a plan for THE PLAN!

B-3 “The Science of Inquiry and the Art of Mindfulness(Helen Dalbeck and Rachel Brown, Amoskeag Fishways, a partnership between Public Service of New Hampshire, New Hampshire Audubon, NH Fish and Game Department and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.)
Inquiry happens everywhere.  As investigations lead to ever more questions, all benefit by taking a mindful approach.  By being fully present in the moment, active listening arises along with purposeful exploration.  Enhanced learning will take place with a cultivated sense of joy, in any setting.  Workshop participants will learn inquiry worthy, accessible and everywhere investigations, from a bucket of soil brought inside to a backyard wildlife search done outside.  We’ll teach basic mindfulness techniques and model the QUEST inquiry method, with the goal of enhancing science learning in your classrooms, diverse settings, and wherever you are.

B-4 “Gardening for Growth,” (Kathy D’Andrea, The Mission Hill School)
Eating fresh is eating healthy.  In a time where 1 out of 3 children are considered obese and children are spending over three hours a day in front of screens, it is imperative that we offer an alternative. Urban gardening is a great way to connect children with nature where ever they are.  There are so many opportunities that can arise from planting container gardens, planting in the schoolyard, or planting at your home.  During this workshop we will be discussing the benefits of urban gardening.  We will also be talking about tools, techniques that work, maintenance, and great crops to grow.

B-5 “Finding Your Way: Basic Land Navigation Using a Map and Compass”  (Joshua Mackay, Outdoor Skills Unit, NH Fish and Game Department)
Whether you are on a trail in the White Mountains, in a boat off the Isle of Shoals, or in the small section of woods behind your house, knowing how to use a map and compass is a necessary and potentially life saving skill.  It’s also a lot of fun.  In this workshop you will learn the very basics of using a compass by itself and using a compass paired with a map.  We will then head into the field to put our new skills to use.

B-6 “Skiing with Kids: Not an Uphill Battle” (Jason Stadler, Marketing Manager, Alpina Sports; Karl Stone, Marketing Director, SkiNH; Chad Denning, Director, New London Recreation Dept; and Jess Gerrior, parent)
As our official state sport, skiing is virtually outside our back door and offers families a wonderful opportunity to recreate together.  Skiing targets anyone from childhood through adulthood, and develops a skill for life.  Challenges in today’s economy and competing interest in technology can deter our children from the trails. Learn how skiing – downhill and cross country – can be affordable for families and good for our local economy, and how it helps promote youth recreation and physical fitness and family wellness.  Join us to gather some fantastic “inside” tips from the folks at SkiNH plus some programming ideas from a local Recreation Director and accomplished athlete.  Parents, Educators, CPR directors, youth group coordinators, and general outdoor enthusiasts all will benefit from attending.

Pecha Kucha Talks

Children and Mud,” Lori Harris

Do Spiders Fart?” Kathy D’Andrea

Monarch School’s Gardens” Kathryn Perry

Live and Learn’s Early Childhood Outdoor Space” Johanna Booth-Miner

Keene Community Garden Project” Allan Pearce

Revitalizing Hedgehog Park” Chris Dillon


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