ECO Institute 2024: Nature-Based Routines for Outdoor Classrooms


Instructors: Ken Benton & Guests
July 8-12 2024 | $1300
($1750 with 3 graduate credits)
Class Size: 12-20 students
See below for financial support info



he purpose of this ECO introductory course for elementary and middle school educators is to apply integrated academic curricula beyond the classroom, while immersing in and participating with nature as a learning partner. The course provides inquiry-based learning through intensive experiential lessons, activities, and discussions held entirely outdoors. Participants will explore, create and experiment with specific ECO (Educating Children Outdoors) lessons catered to the daily topic. Daily reflection and mindfulness practices are an integral part of the nature immersion learning model and will be practiced throughout  the course. A successful nature immersion model allows for students to have choices, to be respected and trusted, and to take risks. Students will develop an understanding of risks vs. hazards as to prepare for and encourage safe risk taking in the outdoor classroom.  

During this course, we will experience a place-based curriculum which supports the daily rhythm of the core routines. This daily rhythm mirrors the experience of elementary students during a typical day of ECO. Participants will close the week envisioning integration of the philosophies and practices that are built into a nature immersion experience. All lessons given to participants to use in their own classroom will be aligned to Vermont State Standards, Common Core and NGSS when applicable.

Course Goals 

  • Instill in teachers the core routines of an outdoor classroom so they feel competent managing their own nature immersion curriculum outdoors.
  • Learn how to conduct site assessments and how to manage hazards and risks within an outdoor classroom space.
  • Explore foundational math and literacy skills  in nature with nature. Learn how to partner with the natural world to bring the curriculum outdoors and nature indoors while meeting NGSS, Common Core and Vermont Early Learning Standards.

Course Objectives

  • Address potential logistical challenges in starting a program.
  • Build upon existing strengths and opportunities within a school community to support learning outdoors.
  • Share games, stories, classroom extensions and technology integration to support the nature immersion curriculum.
  • Provide time for collaboration among participants in creating a project/program of their own.

About the Instructor(s)

Ken Benton is the Director of Education with North Branch Nature Center, where he has been working for 10 years. Other members of NBNC’s highly skilled staff will join us throughout the week.

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.

Recommended Readings

  • Butler, Amy. Educating Children Outdoors: Lessons in Nature-Based Learning. Order for Shipping or Pickup at NBNC.
  • Sobel, David. Childhood and Nature, Design Principles for Educators.
  • Young, Jon. Coyotes Guide to Nature Awareness.
  • Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.
  • Robertson, Juliet. Dirty Teaching and/or Messy Maths.
  • Hanscomb, Angela. Barefoot & Balanced.
  • Powers, Julie and Ridge, Sheila Williams. Nature Based Learning for Young Children: Anywhere, Anytime, on Any Budget.
  • Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.

Lodging & Meals

Meals and beverages will not be provided. We ask that you please bring your own lunch and snacks. There are many hotels and AirBnB options within 20 minutes of North Branch Nature Center. Camping onsite at NBNC is available by permission.


Course runs Monday-Friday from roughly 8 am until 4 pm each day. Exact timing will be communicated as the course approaches. 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 $450 course fee. Course is accredited by Vermont State University Center for Schools.

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 and invoicing contact information 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 Support

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