ECO Institute 2021: Nature-Based Routines for Outdoor Classrooms


Instructors: Amy Butler & Brenda Hartshorn
2021 Sessions:
June 21-25: Amy Butler & Brenda Hartshorn
August 16-20: Amy Butler & Guest Instructors
$1300 ($1675 with 3 graduate credits)
Class Size: 12-20 students
See below for financial aid information


his week long ECO introductory course is designed to support preK to 6th grade teachers to move their academic curriculum beyond the classroom, and participate with nature as a learning partner. We will explore nature based education practices and experiment with ECO lessons all in the context of being outdoors together as a learning community. 

 Our daily routines mirror what elementary students experience during a typical day of ECO and the routines become a framework for being safe outdoors.  The ECO model allows for students to have choices, to be respected and trusted, and to take risks. We will develop an understanding of risks vs. hazards and apply risk benefit assessments. Teachers will also practice site assessments for evaluating potential learning opportunities on their school grounds. 

By the end of the course, teachers will be able to design a weekly nature based program that supports children to learn how to care for themselves, care for one another and to be inspired to care for the natural world right outside their classroom.

Course Goals

  • Become familiar with practicing nature based routines of an outdoor classroom.
  • Engage in dialogue about the benefits of connecting children with their natural communities
  • Understand how a nature immersion program can alleviate challenges our students face on a daily basis
  • Build upon existing strengths and opportunities within a school community to support learning outdoors.

Course Objectives

  • Practice safety protocols within the context of an outdoor classroom.
  • Conduct site and risk assessments for developing safe learning spaces outdoors 
  • Address potential logistical challenges in starting a program
  • Explore seasonal themes and ECO lessons which have been aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core

About the Instructor(s)

North Branch Nature Center is a nationally recognized leader in nature-based education for children and adults. Our place-based and inquiry-based philosophy recognizes nature as our most dynamic, enriching, rigorous, and inclusive classroom. Healthy, inspired learning and development depends on immersive, curiosity-driven nature exploration, cultivated by expert teaching and mentorship. From our acclaimed Forest Preschool and Educating Children Outdoors (ECO) flagship programs, to our summer camps, community workshops, and professional institutes, NBNC offers a lifetime of learning and growth through deepened connections with the environment. This program is led by NBNC Director of Education Amy Butler, and nature-based elementary school educators including Brenda Hartshorn and other partners.

Lodging & Meals

Due to continued concerns around COVID-19, meals and beverages will not be provided. We ask that you please bring your own lunch and snacks.

We recommend the following lodging options:

Camping onsite at NBNC is available by permission.


Course runs Monday-Friday from 8 am until 4 pm each day. The course will be located at North Branch Nature Center.

Academic Credit / Professional Development Options

This course qualifies for 3 graduate-level education or science credits for an additional $375 course fee. Course is accredited by Castleton University.

For students transferring credit to another institution, it is each student’s responsibility to ensure that their home institution will accept the credit.

Participants pursuing academic credit will be required to complete a final project additional assignment focused on curriculum development. The final day of the course will include time for beginning this project.

All participants qualify for 40 hours of professional development hours and continuing education units. Certificates of completion are provided at the conclusion of the course.

Cancellation Policy

While we realize that unexpected circumstances arise that are out of our control, North Branch Nature Center cannot guarantee refunds for registrations cancelled within 30 days of the course.  If a cancellation occurs within this window, NBNC will, if possible, attempt to fill the space from our wait list and provide a full refund.

School Purchase Orders

It is the participant’s responsibility to submit a purchase order request to their school immediately upon registration, and to provide a purchase order number to NBNC in a timely manner. Participants must have either provided NBNC a purchase order number, or made arrangements to do so, within 14 days of registration.

Financial Aid

Vermont residents are encouraged to apply for a VSAC Advancement Grant. Please contact us ([email protected]) to inquire about other financial aid options.

North Branch Nature Center

713 Elm Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
(802) 229-6206

Hours: Center Open Monday-Friday 9-4
Trails Open 24/7