Walking and Learning in Place: Developing Ecological Identities by Being in Place with Others

On May 23, 2015, the York Region Nature Collaborative hosted our first professional conference, Walking in Place 2015, at the beautiful Kortright Centre for Conservation.  We were inspired to put on this event after the success of our Family Adventure Walk in the Forest at Kortright in October of 2014, which will now be an annual event (keep an eye out for the registration link but mark your calendars now – it will be on October 18, 2015).   When we were thinking of a featured speaker for our conference, we thought that Ann Pelo, author of The Goodness of Rainwould be perfect inspiration for educators.  After we saw how incredible the beauty of Kortright was for children and their families, we wanted to bring the same experience to educators.  

Ann started the day with an inspirational keynote and we followed by taking ourselves to walk through this magical place, stopping here and there to experience the clay creatures, campfire, small worlds, dens, nature mandalas, flowers, plants, magic spots and journey sticks. You can get a sense of place and our time in it through the #WIP2015 tweets from the day, storified here.


The forests, paths, flowers and creatures that inhabit this space are filled with wonders to explore. When educators experience this for themselves, we believe that it is likely that they know that this is an important experience for children and their families. As Ann suggested when we reconvened, we return to this place time and time again. Returning to place, paying attention, looking for new perspectives, taking moments of silence to feel the sense of place, and learning the names of what is before us – these are principles of walking in place that Ann taught us.  We understood as we examined the spring flowers blooming in the forest that it was about learning rather than teaching the names. The language of nature should be something that we all learn from experience.  As we learned from Ann, we are in jeopardy of losing the words of nature, we must keep them safe for our children.  How can it be that the Oxford Junior Dictionary is replacing acorn, ash, beech and bluebell for blog, celebrity and MP3 player?


Walking and being in place requires time to pause and time to slow down to see the wonders that abound.  Learning about the land is a powerful experience when walking in place. We know that the educators who shared this day will be bringing a sense of place to children, whether it be a majestic forest or a small meadow or a few trees. They will take children back to that same place many times. They will learn together with the children about that place. They will identify, name and explore in that place. They will play in that place. For these educators, walking and being in place is more than the occasional nature hike, it is a chance to develop our own and our children’s ecological identities. 


Our time with Ann has reinforced York Region Nature Collaborative's mission to bring more opportunities to empower the early learning community in York Region and beyond to engage with nature on a daily basis. We have a week long summer intensive that is both Reggio-inspired and forest school-influenced coming up on August 10th and several workshops scheduled for the fall. Check out our event/workshop page for more information. We know we will be seeing our friends from #WIP2015 at these events and hope we will see you too!

In closing, we would like to send greetings and thanks to all the participants of #WIP2015, including Ann, our conference committee, our volunteers and the amazing educators who joined us to walk in place. Please take a few minutes to listen to Ann and to give greetings and thanks to our children, our places, and ourselves.


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  • Laurel Fynes
    commented 2015-07-16 08:13:10 -0700
    Diane, this was every bit as amazing as you had invisioned. Thank you for this gift!
  • Laurel Fynes
    commented 2015-07-16 08:11:56 -0700

    I was so touched by your address at the Walking in Place event in the forest. The words and feelings of that day were with me for a long while. I was also touched that you found a meaningful connection to the little fossil stones I’d brought with me to share that day. Your stories, both those I heard you tell and those I read in your books and articles, are reaffirming. I didn’t know what I had had a name, that my way of being in the world was “an ecological identity”. Like your principle of learning the names, you have given me something to cherish – a belief that I’m not alone, and more than that, that it is an essential way of knowing that is worth sharing in our work with children. I remember having an emotional connection to the messages I first heard from/about Reffio Emiila, how I found myself so strongly connecting to something that already seemed a part of me. So it was upon hearing you, hearing your principles was like coming home. It allows for us to be wholly ourselves in our teaching and learning with children when we are fully present in nature. Thank you.

    I wrote my story of this day as it intertwines with many other threads and many friends. Thank you for a truly transformational day. http://thiskindylife.blogspot.ca/2015/07/walking-in-place-footsteps-in-forest.html

    Laurel Fynes
  • Ann Pelo
    commented 2015-06-28 21:13:31 -0700
    Jenny, I’m delighted by your story! It beautifully captures the deep belonging that comes from deep knowing. All good wishes for your joyful walking in place in “your own forest.”

  • Jenny Soehner
    followed this page 2015-06-17 18:35:08 -0700
  • Jenny Soehner
    commented 2015-06-17 18:34:47 -0700
    This workshop resonated with me as a mother, educator, and nature-lover. Thank you so much to Ann Pelo for putting into poetic words the many deeply important reasons to give children repeated opportunities spend time in nature. My Kindergarten class has returned at least weekly to a forest near the school and have seen the growth and changes of the seasons, know where to find ducklings, snails, and wild strawberries, and cheer with delight when they find out it’s a good day for a nature walk. My partner educator and I had a joyful moment today when we recognized that we have achieved that knowing of a place that Ann asks us to strive for. We headed out to explore a new part of the woods, which was great fun for the children, but when we looped back and approached our regular play spot from a different direction, we discovered through the children’s cheerful shouts of recognition and running to meet it, that they think of the spot where we have built a fort as “our own forest”. It was the high point of my month! Thank you again to Ann for your inspiration.
  • Diane Kashin
    published this page in BLOG 2015-06-15 15:06:17 -0700


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