Small Wonders Program and in Bloom Conference Professional Development Opportunities

The Small Wonders Program: Using Science and Nature to Grow Young Minds
This program is made possible by a grant from the Francis R. Dewing Foundation in the 2018-2019 academic year. The program offers early childhood educators workshops, mentoring support, lectures, and a conference taught by experts in engaging young children in outdoor learning.

The 2019 In Bloom Conference: Promising Practices in Nature-Based Early Childhood Education
The Hitchcock Center will be hosting Antioch University’s annual In Bloom Conference in June, 2019. This conference will help to develop enthusiasm among early childhood professionals in their valiant efforts to get children outside and will be inspirational and heartwarming to all that attend. We will feature the good work of practitioners from within our region as well as spotlight the work of Antioch New England faculty members who teach in the Nature-based Early Childhood Certificate program.

Small Wonders Workshop Series

Workshop Details

Workshop 1: Creating a Nature-Based Culture

Saturday, September 29, 2018
Led by Ellen Doris
This workshop will help early childhood educators learn how to create a nature-based culture for their program that embraces active learning and play. They’ll get practical ideas and useful resources to use in their program and take outside. Topics will include:

  • Creating a natural learning and outdoor play philosophy;
  • The roles of the administrators, faculty and staff;
  • Assessing the physical environment and outdoor play space;
  • Integrating nature/outdoors across the curriculum; and
  • Getting family buy-in.
Workshop 2: Nature Play and Natural Playscapes

Saturday, October 20, 2018
Led by Ginny Sullivan and Owen Wormser
This workshop will explore the importance of play in natural landscapes, beyond the “playground” and in addition to “recess”. Participants will be introduced to the Hitchcock Center’s new Nature Play and Learning Places demonstration site (more information in Attachment 3) to explore ways students can engage with natural play spaces on a regular basis. We’ll identify the goals of these spaces and how they differ from those of a typical playground. Design concepts, materials, and construction ideas will be discussed, as well as the cultural norms we cultivate to keep kids physically safe as they explore and engage with natural materials and loose parts. Owen Wormser, Landscape Architect for Abound Design (who helped to develop the Hitchcock Center’s outdoor classroom) and Ginny Sullivan, author of Lens on Outdoor Learning will provide useful information on how to create low-cost, high-impact nature play spaces at school sites. Participants of this workshop will receive a copy of Lens on Outdoor Learning by Wendy Banning and Ginny Sullivan.

Workshop 3: Using the Outdoors for Effective STEAM Learning

Saturday, May 4, 2019
Led by Colleen Kelley and Kay Lisseck
Young children’s innate tendencies toward exploration, sensory stimulation, and STEAM learning are greatly enhanced through outdoor learning. Through this workshop, participants will discover the developmental benefits of outdoor learning and how the rich diversity of settings and materials in nature gives rise to questions and inquiry for deeper learning. Full of activities, examples, and resources to take the fun of STEAM outside, this workshop will help teachers articulate connections between nature play, outdoor experiences, and STEAM learning with young children. We’ll discuss science content, practices, and crosscutting concepts, in addition to children’s approaches to learning that can be integrated into nature-based science teaching and learning. Using a variety of loose parts and “making and tinkering” approaches, we’ll bring these concepts to life by modeling our visions of science in nature-based early childhood education.

Workshop 4: What We Learn Through Play: Creativity, Imagination and Big Ideas

Saturday, May 18, 2019
Led by Colleen Kelley and Kay Lisseck
The future demands creative problem solvers, innovators, scientists, engineers and collaborators. Because nature is ever changing, it provides countless opportunities for discovery, creativity, and problem solving. The natural world inspires children to think, question, make suppositions, and develop creative minds. Children can draw in sand, make designs with twigs, build forts with branches, or simply lie on the ground and look up at the sky. This workshop will offer time, space and materials to explore how nature play can engage children’s diverse learning styles through visual, oral, and kinesthetic learning, as well as opportunities for inquiry-based learning that provide open avenues for child-directed creativity and decision-making. We’ll link our experiences to the role of early childhood educators as “playworkers”—facilitators of rich, open-ended play for children as a framework to develop social and emotional competencies including: initiative, curiosity, persistence and engagement, creativity, cooperation, problem solving, and organization and memory.

Small Wonders Mentoring Support

Five early educator teams (of two) will be selected to receive Small Wonders Mentoring Support — more in-depth follow-up, mentoring support, and technical assistance — at mentee’s individual site through an application process. These centers must serve 30-40% or more low-income children. Centers receive all the benefits above, plus:

Barefoot and Balanced Lectures

Angela Hanscom will present a lecture on her recent book, Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children. Today’s kids have adopted sedentary lifestyles filled with television, video games, and computer screens. But more and more, studies show that children need “rough and tumble” outdoor play in order to develop their sensory, motor, and executive functions. Disturbingly, a lack of movement has been shown to lead to a number of health and cognitive difficulties, such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), emotion regulation and sensory processing issues, and aggressiveness at school recess break. So, how can you ensure your child is fully engaging their body, mind, and all of their senses?

Using the same philosophy that lies at the heart of her popular TimberNook program—that nature is the ultimate sensory experience, and that psychological and physical health improves for children when they spend time outside on a regular basis—author Angela Hanscom offers several strategies to help your child thrive, even if you live in an urban environment. Today it is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, or spinning in circles just for fun. We’ve taken away merry-go-rounds, shortened the length of swings, and done away with teeter-totters to keep children safe. Children have fewer opportunities for unstructured outdoor play than ever before, and recess times at school are shrinking due to demanding educational environments. With this lecture, you’ll discover little things you can do anytime, anywhere to help your kids achieve the movement they need to be happy and healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

In Bloom in Western MA Conference

Antioch University’s first conference on nature-based early childhood education took place in Keene, New Hampshire, in 2012. In Bloom has provided focused professional development for teachers seeking to naturalize existing programs and start new ones ever since. Each conference program includes keynote presentations from nationally and internationally recognized speakers along with interactive, outdoor workshops facilitated by a diverse array of early childhood professionals, higher education faculty, environmental educators, mindfulness practitioners and naturalists. Twenty In Bloom conferences have taken place to date in locations ranging from the coast of California to the coast of Maine. They’ve energized the nature-based early childhood movement in public and independent schools, nature centers and childcare programs, encouraging children, teachers and communities to strengthen their connection to nature.

The 2018-2019 school year kicks off with In Bloom in Santa Barbara on November 3, hosted by Antioch University Santa Barbara and the Orfalea Family Children’s Center. Antioch University New England follows with three spring conferences. Mud season in March brings In Bloom to Brattleboro, Vermont, then on to Kittery, Maine, in April. In Bloom in Western MA, a collaboration with the Hitchcock Center for the Environment, takes place on June 8.

This conference is a fee-based conference but fee waivers are available for early childhood professional teams (accepted above) that serve 30-40% or more low-income children. Registration for this conference is separate from the Small Wonders Program.

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Hitchcock Center for the Environment