Inspired Professional Learning in and with Nature

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. I have been involved in the early childhood education community in York Region, Ontario for almost three decades. Throughout this time it has been my privledge to support professional learning and training at both the pre and in-service level. I have had the opportunity to build professional relationships with many others working in the sector especially through the Child and Family Collaborative (C&FC) of York Region. It was with the support of the C&FC and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority that the York Region Nature Collaborative (YRNC) was established. The inspiration for our work has been a place of nature and beauty; The Swan Lake Centre. Two years ago, Nancy McGee from the TRCA and I attended a C&FC meeting to share the vision for YRNC we invited members of the C&FC to a visioning session. I’d like to thank all the members of the C&FC for their initial and continued support. The YRNC was honoured to have recently hosted the annual end of year luncheon for the C&FC and to provide a “taster” workshop about learning in and with nature. While the weather was not conducive to being outdoors the participants had the opportunity to be in this special place and learn with nature. It was a joyful experience!

Swan Lake Centre

Journey Sticks at Swan Lake

Clay Creatures

We also would like to thank Bernice Landry, Supervisor, Community Programs at Regional Municipality of York and Kelly Clare, Program Co-ordinator, Community Initiatives with the Regional Municipality of York for hiring the YRNC to deliver a series of four workshops for early childhood educators. These workshops are available free of charge to early childhood educators working in the Region of York. It has been a wonderful experience being in nature learning together in an experiential way with others. Volunteer members of the YRNC set up invitations to explore with math, science, art, literature, and music in nature and with nature on the beautiful grounds of the Swan Lake Centre.Swan Lake Collage of Professional Learning

With inspiration from Frances and David Hawkins and the big idea of eolithism that supports that learning should be gained from using existing interests and resources without a rigid agenda we sought to provide an experience for the participants to learn at their own pace and in their own way.

David Hawkins Eolithism

While influenced by forest school practices and the wonderful work of the Forest School Canada these workshops also reflect inspiration from Reggio Emilia.The Reggio Emilia approach was influenced by John Dewey, the American philosopher and educational reformer who believed that education should be based on the principle of learning through doing. Dewey inspired Malaguzzi.


Our workshops are experiential – open ended, self-directed and emergent. This has been the way I have been teaching for decades. After reading, Teaching Adults: An Active Learning Approach by Elizabeth Jones (1986) in 1990 the way I taught forever changed. I will never forget this quote from Jones as it resonates now as much as it did then.

Now we teach our adult students all about Piaget. True, they need to know his name, but it does not really matter if beginning students can distinguish accommodation from assimilation (I have trouble with that one myself). What they really need to understand is the concept of active learning; they need know it ‘in their bones,’ which is where they must have theory in order to be able to apply it. (p. 23)

I was brought back to this quote when I heard the participants share their reflections at our final gathering. The experience was summed up as “the best workshop ever”, “my favourite workshop”. One of the participants elaborated by saying that she could see the connection between the work she does with children because she was able to feel it; in her bones. It is my extreme honour to be the chair of the York Region Nature Collaborative and I hope that the YRNC continues to influence and inspire educators to build connections to nature. With the support of the TRCA, the Region of York, the C&FC and our many volunteers we hope to continue to grow the mission to empower the early learning communities of York Region to engage meaningfully with nature on a daily basis. I invite you to visit the YRNC website and find and follow us on Facebook and Twitter even if you are not living or working in York Region. Our name reflects where the YRNC was born however, we support all initiatives that reflect our mission to build a movement in which every child has the right to meaningful outdoor experiences that invite them to play, learn, and explore their place in nature every day. Visit our events page to post your own or any other events, workshops or conferences that are nature based. Watch for our blog posts about our almost sold out summer session The Rhythm of Learning in Nature. We are growing and as we do, we continue to provide learning in and with nature, in a way that we hope reflects our inspirations.

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