The Rhythm of Learning in Nature: A Knowledge Retreat

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. This is the third summer, that the York Region Nature Collaborative  has hosted the The Rhythm of Learning in Nature, which has been promoted over the years as a 5-day summer intensive – an unforgettable indoor/outdoor learning journey for about 30 early learning professionals. Previously billed as the Reggio Summer Intensive, this is the fifth year of attendance for many of us. Each year brings a different rhythm for our learning depending on those participating and the emergent experiences that evolve in place. The place, for the last three years, is Swan Lake, a tiny kettle lake carved out by the glaciers that created what is now known as the Oak Ridges Moraine, an ecologically important geographical land form hidden within the Greater Toronto Area in the north end of Richmond Hill, Ontario. Outdoors there is a lake, majestic and magnificent forested areas and trails that seem to go on forever. Indoors there is the mansion, now renovated to serve as a wonderful venue for our small congregation of early learning enthusiasts devoted to continuous professional development in and with nature, together with others.

Swan Lake 1Swan Lake 2This year #Rhythm2017 began to take form when we connected with the Pop Up Adventure Play folks from the UK to be a stop on their Canadian tour. On our first day together we popped up our own adventure play experience on the lawn followed by a raw bar inspired by languages of food. On our second day, after exploring trails, creating journey sticks and clay creatures we joined the UK playworkers at the Kortright Centre for an adventure playground experience set up for us by Earth Day Canada. Some of us watched the Kortright camp children explore but most of us could not resist the opportunity to play. After a delicious BBQ dinner Morgan, Suzanna and Andy from Pop Up Adventure Play UK delivered an inspiring workshop on the joys and benefits of adventure playgrounds.

Adventure Play!Back at Swan for day three, four and five we had a lot of time to get to know each other and to learn from one another. We had the good fortune to have Drew Williams from StoryPark  there to learn about digital documentation and to think deeply about the intersection of technology and nature. We had participants from California, Michigan, Manitoba and all over Ontario as well from as far as Adelaide, South Australia! It was Sally Cook from Adelaide that during one of our reflection circles labelled the Rhythm as a knowledge retreat. I think this description will be applied for years forward as we look ahead to #Rhythm2018 and beyond.

RhythmAs one of the facilitators of the five day intensive which this year took on a sixth day with the culminating Tapestry of Learning conference at Richland Academy I always come away with so much. Significantly it has been relationships – with the place and the people. This year that has not changed. I live for this week all year and experience “Rhythm withdrawal” when it ends because I love the connections that I make and the bonds that are strengthened with new and old friends whom I adore. Sally’s suggestion about the nature of Rhythm2017 has helped me to think about knowledge gained from experience with the place and the people. On our final day at Swan, Andrew McMartin from the p.i.n.e project facilitated a nature connection experience that saw a wonderful bringing together of people and place.

With AndrewAs the volunteer chair of the York Region Nature Collaborative I am so excited about our future partnership with the p.i.n.e project. Stay tuned for exciting announcements about upcoming events! Our time together with Andrew was so rich and significant. I am now immersed in the amazing Coyote’s Guide of Connecting with Nature to learn more about the importance of this essential type of nature connection. Piled together with the mentoring book, are three other important publications that were gifted to me by Rhythm participants.

Books from RhythmI am so grateful to these generous souls for sharing their knowledge. I am also eternally grateful to Rosalba Bortolotti for bringing the atelier of taste to this year’s Rhythm. After a trip to the local farmer’s market we transformed the bounty of vegetables and herbs into our version of stone soup.

Stone SoupI don’t know what #Rhythm2018 will bring. I wish that Sally and Dannielle Gibson could return again. After Cindy Green and I had the opportunity of a lifetime to facilitate four workshops in Adelaide in May 2016, I never thought that we would be able to keep the connection going. How wonderful it was to learn about the South Australian context from Sally and Dannielle. How fun was it to feel like a tourist in my own town and share some of what is Toronto including a trip to the CN Tower and a guided tour of the amazing play garden at Evergreen Brickworks. During the Tapestry conference Sally shared a video about the nature program she ran at Grove Kindergarten. So much inspiration! So much knowledge shared.

Evergreen Brickworks Play GardenFor the last three years, we have established a tradition at Rhythm that I hope will continue. Thanks to the Kortright Centre we have a forest school camp on site! This gives us an opportunity to observe how children experience nature. We love visiting the meadow to see what the children are up to and always welcome the forest school teachers and children when they come up to the mansion to play!

FOREST SCHOOL KIDSThe experience of Rhythm could not work if not for the participants and the facilitators. I thank every attendee who has attended this year and in past years. I am profoundly grateful to all of the facilitators who devote and donate their time. It is because of their contribution that the York Region Nature Collaborative is able to subsidize events for children, families and educators all year. To Laurel Fynes whose joy for being in nature is infectious, I thank you for helping me name and notice the flora, fauna and creatures we encounter. To Cindy Green I thank you for your organizational abilities, generous spirit and for all the amazing materials that you brought for us to play with for the week. To Rosalba Bortolotti, thank you for the food and for sharing your knowledge of the principles and practices of the Reggio Emilia approach, books and documentation and experience. To Tanya Farzaneh thank you for enabling our group to once again visit the inspiring labschool at Seneca College where you work your magic everyday.

Labschool during RhythmMy final thank you goes out to Nancy McGee for bringing me to Swan Lake all those years ago when it was the shabbiest most magnificent mansion I had ever seen. Thank you for having a vision for Swan that has unfolded into the York Region Nature Collaborative and changed my life. How lucky was I when I came to a meeting four years ago to see a sign advertising a new townhouse development minutes from the mansion. Now when I have Rhythm withdrawal, I go to the path behind my house and I look to the sun rising in the east to know that it is coming up over Swan, the place where relationships and knowledge abounds.

Sun rising over Swan


4 thoughts on “The Rhythm of Learning in Nature: A Knowledge Retreat

  1. A great read Diane,
    I began my sabbatical by reading the Coyote’s guide and what a fabulous read. My work with the Environment Center at Camp Kawartha was immersed in this philosophy each week as we lived with children in the “Coyote” way. Cheers!!
    Mary Lou


  2. Pingback: Story Tables: Supporting Literacy and Professional Learning in Early Childhood Education | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  3. Pingback: Building Nature Connections in the Early Years | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  4. Pingback: Learning in and with Nature: The Pedagogy of Place | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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