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 Rain, would 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.