ECO Institute


T he ECO Institute provides week-long, nature immersion courses for teachers, assistants, and administrators.  The Institute is inquiry-based, outdoor learning through intensive experiential lessons, activities, and discussions.

Led by NBNC staff and veteran public-school teachers, participants will move beyond the classroom and engage with nature as a learning partner. Participants will develop a nature pedagogy and learn to incorporate VELS, NGSS, and Common Core into their design of nature immersion curricula.

The ECO Institute has been facilitating outdoor professional development courses for teachers and educators since the summer of 2013. We have trained and worked alongside over 100 teachers who strongly believe that nature has a place in the heart of education. Our work is inspired by the nature kindergartens found in Scandinavia, Forest Schools in the UK, the nature-based mentoring movement, and the teachers and children we work with.

In the past five years, we have seen an incredible increase in the desire to move beyond the classroom walls into natural spaces to help students develop independence, learn social and emotional skills, and cultivate caring for others and the natural world. As a result, nature-based education conferences are flourishing, teachers are blogging about their Forest Fridays, and nature-based preschools are thriving. The mission to reconnect children and adults to the natural world is valued and growing!

*Graduate credit (3 per course) offered through Castleton University and the Castleton Center for Schools.



Summer 2020 ECO Institute Offerings

COVID-19 UPDATE - IMPORTANT Program Adaptations and Expectations - Click to Open

In order to keep you, our staff, and our community safe, NBNC is adhering to strict safety protocols based on CDC and VT Department of Health guidelines. We’re in this together, so here’s what you can expect from us, and what we ask of you as a participant of an in-person NBNC program:

What you can expect of us:

  • Breathing Room: We’ve capped all our programs at 10-12 participants or fewer, and designed them to take place outdoors, with the exceptions of bathroom access, thunderstorm contingencies, and (in some cases) short-term use of the community room.
  • Cleanliness: All potential shared surfaces will have been sanitized before and after each program. No two programs will share the same indoor space (including bathrooms) on any given day. We’ll start each program with a briefing to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding behavior, expectations, masks, distancing, etc.
  • Professionalism: We have completed state-mandated safety trainings, established a staff/board safety committee and a COVID-19 Task Force, and are adhering to strict workplace guidelines to make sure we are taking appropriate measures to make NBNC a safe place to work, learn, and play.
  • Honesty: Our instructors will be following state safety guidelines, and complete health screenings prior to each program to ensure a healthy staff and a safe space for each program.
  • Respect: Our staff and instructors will wear a mask at all times (inside and outside), and maintain at least 6’ distance from all other people throughout all programs. 
  • Transparency: We want to make sure you are comfortable. If you’ve got questions or concerns about our programs and policies, please reach out to us at [email protected].

What we ask of you:

  • Honesty: Do not come to the program if you are feeling ill in any way. You’ll be asked to sign a waiver and health screening document upon arrival acknowledging that you are symptom-free and haven’t been at high risk of exposure to the coronavirus recently. If you develop COVID-like symptoms within 14 days after the program, notify NBNC immediately.
  • Respect: Wear a mask at all times (inside and outside), during NBNC programs. Maintain at least 6’ distance from all other people, including staff, during the program. Follow all safety guidelines explained by our staff.
  • Cleanliness: Sanitize bathrooms and other common surfaces before and after use, according to our guidelines posted in each space. Bring and use hand sanitizer, and wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Flexibility: Please understand that programs may be cancelled on very short notice, and that our protocols are continually adapting to best available science and expert recommendations.

Thank you for your support in keeping our community safe!

Other Important Adaptations and Expectations for our 2020 BioU Programs

  • Courses will take place largely in the field or in our event tent, but there may be 60-90 minutes of lecture per day in our large indoor space.
  • If you will be traveling from out of state, please contact us before the course to evaluate the safety of your participation.

Nature-Based Routines for
Outdoor Classrooms

For preK - 6th grade educators
NOW AUGUST 3 - 7, 2020
(Formerly June 29 - July 3, 2020)

This introductory ECO Institute course acquaints participants with the routines and protocols that structure a successful outdoor learning and play experience. Participants will:

  • Develop a knowledge base and skill set to incorporate nature immersion practices into your program in a way that meets the needs of your students.
  • 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.
  • Build upon existing strengths and opportunities within a school community to support learning with nature.

Instructors: Amy Butler & Guests



Natural History Connections for Outdoor Classrooms 

 For preK - 6th grade educators

This course is designed for educators who have an established routine of learning and exploring outdoors, and those seeking a deeper understanding of their natural landscape.  Participants will:

  •  Develop a foundation of natural history knowledge through immersive study of bird language, tree and plant identification, wild edible safety, geology, and basic forest forensics.
  • Practice techniques for achieving a deeper level of inquiry and observation in nature.
  • Learn hands-on methods for embedding this knowledge into outdoor lessons and making classroom connections.
  • Learn strategies for building equity into your practices to meet the needs of all students.

Instructors: Ken Benton & Susan Koch


Vermont Biodiversity
Institute for Educators

 For 7 - 12th grade educators
July 27 - 31, 2020

This week-long investigation of Vermont biodiversity is designed for those looking to incorporate nature-based concepts and activities across their curricula. This course will:

  • Demonstrate frameworks for understanding and explaining biodiversity in the context of Vermont’s natural resources.
  • Introduce activities, tools and routines for incorporating biodiversity curriculum at the middle and high school level.
  • Explore alignment of biodiversity and nature-based curriculum with Next Generation Science Standards and Proficiency-based Learning.
  • Learn how biodiversity and climate change intersect on the Vermont landscape.
  • Engage with a core set of species and communities that represent Vermont’s signature natural heritage.

Instructors: Sean Beckett & Ken Benton

This course is part of NBNC's Biodiversity University seminar series

Please contact us to inquire about financial aid options


** All courses qualify for 3 graduate credits through Castleton University and the Castleton Center for Schools. **


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 30 days of registration.

Other Upcoming Classes

In Bloom Conference - Vermont
June 13th, 2020 at Moretown Elementary
This is a partnership between Antioch University of New England and NBNC. More Info

Risks and Hazards in Nature Based Learning
July 13th - 17th at Antioch University 

Going to the Great Beyond with Rachel Larimore
Friday October 2nd  at NBNC

Teacher Resources

North Branch Nature Center

713 Elm Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
(802) 229-6206
[email protected]

Office Open Monday-Friday from 9 am to 4 pm
Trails Open 24/7