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


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