Almost fifty educators gathered at Durand Eastman Park for the Nature Based Learning Symposium on September 1. With waves crashing in the background, late summer temperatures in the air, and hawks soaring overhead educators in a variety of roles (classroom teacher, learning guide instructor, Great Lakes literacy specialist) participated in activities designed to immerse them in nature and build an understanding of how nature based learning could be incorporated into their practice. Based on the positive feedback from participants and the level of interest overall we plan to organize opportunities for our community to have nature based learning experiences. Please reach out if you would like to get involved.

Photo Credit: Chris Widmaier

Guiding Questions:

  • What is nature-based learning and what are the benefits?
  • How does nature-based learning happen? 
  • What practices lead to the ability to observe deeply and cultivate inquiry?
  • How do we use nature to enhance teaching within our existing educational goals?


The expansive power of nature as a source of respite, restoration, and connection is well known. Nature-based learning also provides opportunities to meet educational goals in meaningful and authentic ways. This one-day symposium will bring educators and their partners together to experience and learn about nature-based learning through engagement with the environment, relationship-building, discussion, and workshops. Participants will leave with a basic understanding of nature-based learning benefits and practices along with practical tools and resources that promote this philosophy.


8:30-9:00 Breakfast and Registration

9:00-9:10 Welcome & Setting Stage for Day

9:10-9:20 Body Systems Check-in

9:20-10:30 Nature Immersion Experience 

10:30-10:45 Break

10:45-11:25 Panel Discussion

11:25-12:00 Breakout discussions

12:00-1:00 Lunch Break

1:00-1:55 Workshop #1

1:55-2:05 Break

2:05-3:00 Workshop #2

3:00-3:15 Break

3:15-4:00 Unconferencing

4:00 – 5:00 Networking


Choice A:
Making it Happen: Hacks for Nature-Based Education
Ideas for participation, administrative approval, transportation
DJ Kitzel, ELA and Wilderness Skills Teacher, Canandaigua Academic and Career Center

Choice B:
Nature Based Learning and Divergent Thinking
Andy Webster, Program Designer and Lead Teacher, Walden Project New York

Choice C:
The Joy of Outdoor Learning
The emotional, physical and intellectual benefits of nature-based learning
Cath Law, Science Educator, New Paltz High School

Choice D:
What to do when you get outside
Activities for Engagement with Nature
Andy Corey, Regents Biology / Environmental Science Educator, Honeoye Falls-Lima High School, New York State Master Teacher

books, a bowl, and a feather on a table in the woods
Photo Credit: Sara Oliveiri

Contributing Partners 

We would like to recognize our generous partners who have contributed their time, talent, and treasure to make this event a success.

Organizations and Businesses


  • Barbara Grisley-Monsour, Certified Forest Therapy Guide
  • Cathy Law, Science Educator, New Paltz High School, 
  • Davin Reddington, Social Studies Teacher, Outdoor Club Advisor, World of Inquiry High School
  • Deborah Denome, Lead Steward, Shimmering Light Farm & Renewal Center, Certified Forest Therapy Guide, Horticultural Therapist Registered
  • DJ Kitzel, ELA and Wilderness Skills Teacher, Canandaigua Academic and Career Center
  • Leslie Knox, Board Chair, Taproot Collective
  • Lisa Barker, Food and Farm Educator
  • Teresa Keyes, Library Media Specialist, Certified Forest Therapy Guide

Organizing Committee

  • Andy Webster – Program Designer and Lead Teacher, Walden Project New York
  • Betsy Uekeritis – Inter-regional Environmental Educator (EE2), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Chris Widmaier – Executive Director, Rochester Ecology Partners
  • Kara Miller – Educator, Rochester City School District
  • Kyra Stephenson – Living Environment and Middle School Science Teacher, New York State Master Teacher 
  • Lindsay Cray – CEO and Clinician at Trybe Ecotherapy LLC
  • Michael Boller – Associate Professor of Biology, Center for Sustainability Director, Sustainability Program Director, St. John Fisher College
  • Sara Oliveiri – Educator, Rochester City School District 
Photo Credit: Sara Oliveiri

About the Rochester Ecology Partners

The Rochester Ecology Partners is recently formed non-profit organization that works to improve community connectedness through the power of nature. This symposium, organized by a working group of practitioners, is our first attempt at bringing together educators to create what we hope will become a vibrant community of people working together to improve our world through nature based learning. There is more to come and we hope you plan to join us for the next step as a participant and organizer. Please reach out if you would like to learn more about this initiative or our organization.

Learn More about the Nature Based Learning Initiative

If you’d like to learn more about the nature based learning initiative please share your contact information with us and we’ll be in touch.