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ELC Institute

The Early Learning Institute kicked off on Friday, June 5th at the L&N STEM Academy. Friday brought over one hundred participants to the Institute where they attended morning sessions and workshops on a variety of topics rooted in nature-based learning. Topics included building communities, discovering birds with children, the importance of scientific inquiry, lesson planning, and documentation of children’s experiences outdoors.

Presenters from many backgrounds and organizations shared their expertise with attendees in a variety of formats. The positive energy from the morning sessions carried into the afternoon with a lunch time session featuring Karen Worth. She shared about the importance of science experiences for young children. The day ended with the keynote address by Richard Louv, author of The Last Child in the Woods. Louv spoke about the importance of children as well as adults connecting with the natural world. After the address, Mr. Louv took questions and signed books for attendees.

Saturday began with tours of the UT Gardens and Early Learning Center school buildings, which continued throughout the day. ELC teachers were onsite to answer questions, share documentation, and collaborate with participants. Institute attendees also participated in sessions with topics such as gardening with infants and toddlers, project work with preschoolers, the importance of mud play, and gardening opportunities for children with all ability levels. Jeanne Goldhaber and Dee Smith lead the lunch time general session and shared the experiences of children, teachers and parents as a toddler classroom embarked on the adventure of spending a significant time in the woods for a summer.

Overall the weekend inspired, encouraged, and connected educators from across the United States in an intimate professional development setting. The Early Learning Center is looking forward to next year’s Early Learning Institute (June 3-4, 2016), which will continue to focus on natural learning initiatives. More information can be found at

Photos can be found here.