Natural Wonder Summit, June 2021
Ashland Nature Center, Hockessin, DE


About the Summit

The Natural Wonder Summit is a very special gathering for nature-based educators, administrators, and childcare providers. This three-day event is a joyful way to explore nature-based early childhood education and personal natural connection. We recharge with old friends and new as we celebrate outdoor play and learning! 

Each year the Natural Wonder Summit features a Friday night keynote session that highlights important topics in nature-based education. Saturday is full of engaging presentations and experiential outdoor workshops, and a campfire gathering and/or outdoor happy hour helps attendees continue important conversations with colleagues. On Sunday, we provide tours of area nature-based programs/schools and offer an option to explore a local natural wonder to deepen your personal nature connection.

Situated in the beautiful Delaware Valley, Ashland Nature Center is the backdrop for our three-day gathering from June 5-7, 2020. Our summit features sessions for educators working with children ages three through eight years old (preschool - 3rd grade).  We are grateful to our partners at Delaware Nature Society and the University of Delaware for helping organizing this incredible training event!

About Our Keynote Presenters

Caylin Gans, Forest Schooled and
Seth Mbanzare, Outdoor Playworker, Ottawa, Canada

Caylin Gans and Seth Mbanzare hail from Ottawa, Canada. They met while delivering a “Play in Parks” program for the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada, which brought outdoor, unstructured, play opportunities to children in their local community parks. Seth is currently a student and works at achildren's centre where she incorporates outdoor playwork. She has a talent for storytelling and inspiring imaginative play. Caylin has a background in environmental education and has delivered Forest and Nature School programs with a variety of age groups while living in the UK, USA, and now Canada. She is also the author of the blog and book, both titled Forest Schooled, and has an unusual love of rainy weather.  

Keynote Description
Children Can Play Anywhere:
Creating Inclusive Community Spaces through Outdoor Play

The terms “Forest and Nature School” can lead some to imagine children playing and learning in expansive outdoor spaces, like forests, meadows, or beaches where “nature” abounds. But what if we took the perspective that children can play anywhere? And that nature is everywhere? How might this change the way we think about nature-based education and those who can access it? In their keynote, Seth and Caylin will share what they’ve learned about developing programs that bring forest and nature School pedagogy to the grass patches and rain puddles of urban neighborhoods, where Nature is not always obvious, and how this helps create more accessible and inclusive opportunities for outdoor play and learning.


On Friday evening, registration begins at 6:30 p.m. with the keynote at 7 p.m. Afterwards, gather round the fire during an icecream social. 

Registration and lite breakfast begin at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, followed by our opening gathering at 9 a.m. Concurrent workshops continue throughout the day with a break for lunch at 12 p.m. The sessions conclude at 4 p.m., but you can join us for a sunset happy hour with outdoor games around the campfire from 5-7 p.m., just perfect for networking with fellow conference-goers.  

On Sunday, there are two tour options. Choose from a tour of the University of Delaware Lab School and Coverdale Farm Preserve, or discover Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs of the Delaware Bayshore.

Workshop Descriptions

Bringing Forest and Nature School Pedagogy to the CityCaylin Gans, Forest Schooled and Seth Mbanzare
This workshop will take a deeper dive into the theme of creating inclusive community spaces through outdoor play. We’ll explore practical ways of delivering Forest and Nature School pedagogy in urban settings (or places often overlooked when we think of “Nature”) and the challenges and triumphs of trying. We’ll consider ways of engaging communities to enable children to access outdoor, unstructured, play in the places where they live.

Connected Through Nature: The College School & UD Lab School Science Buddies 
Katie Pollock and Stacy Poplos, University of Delaware Lab School

Katie and Stacy paint a picture of their long running peer mentoring program.  Through pairing middle schoolers and preschoolers up for weekly Forest Friday adventures, beautiful relationships ensue. Not only are the children connecting to one another, but they are connecting to nature in deep and meaningful ways. We will share about the impact of this program on children, families, staff, and community. Let us warm your heart as these friendships have warmed ours! 

Shaping Little Ecological Worldviews: A Case Study of Ecological Identity Indicators in Forest Preschool
Rose Brusaferro, Wild Haven Forest Preschool & Childcare, Baltimore City Recreation and Parks

Early childhood environmental education can influence the development of a child's ecological worldview by helping them subtly explore their own ecological identity. To explore the influence of nature play on children's ecological identity development, a forest preschool in Baltimore city was studied for three months. The findings shared in this presentation illustrate the application of an ecologically-centered assessment that features indicators of ecological identity development in children, and their adoption of biophilic values. 

Business 101: Starting Your Forest Kindergarten
Stacey Gummy and Jessica Ladin, Hickory Hill Nature School, Kennett Square, DE

Are you interested in starting your own Forest Kindergarten or children's nature program? Do you even know where to begin? Stacey Gummey of Hickory Hill Nature School, the first forest K to be both State licensed and Cedarsong Accredited in the US! Stacey will take you step by step on how to begin your own Forest Kindergarten or program.  She will explain in detail the processes of finding the right location, zoning, The Cedar Song Way accreditation, state licensing, outreach and the and all the in-between stages.

Spiders: Good Guys or Bad Guys?
Kerry Wilson, Saint Anne’s Episcopal School, Middletown, DE

Join Kerry Wilson to explore all things spider related.  Discuss key components to cross curricular, project-based learning about spiders. Become the student as we explore spider habitat and imagine all the ways we can embrace the study of spiders in a developmentally appropriate way.  This unit will be shared at the kindergarten level but can be adapted to suit many ages.

Discovering Insects
Sheila Vincent, Delaware Nature Society

Go on an insect investigation to find and identify insects in meadows, woodlands and marsh at Ashland Nature Center.  Learn about the equipment that is used, how we approach educating young people about our six-legged friends, and take back some ideas on how you can open up the world of insects to your students. 

Delaware Master Naturalist Program
R. Blake Moore, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension

The Delaware Master Naturalist Program kicked off its first core training on March 11, 2020 with the goal of training volunteers to become naturalists. Delaware Master Naturalists will provide a continued commitment to nature through volunteer service activities. The statewide training program is administered by the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and the Delaware Nature Society. The Delaware Master Naturalist Program partners with environmental and natural resource organizations throughout Delaware to create a network of committed volunteers to help accomplish and expand their environmental missions. This workshop will provide an overview of the program, tell the story of how the program came to be, and talk about program goals for the future.

Green By Nature
Erynn DeGennaro and Judi VanderWerff, Delaware Nature Society

Delaware Nature Society’s Green by Nature program is a hands on learning experience for children ages 2-5 years old. We encourage preschoolers to gain confidence outdoors through discovery and play in nature.  Join Delaware Nature Society staff as we discuss the ins and outs of leading little one’s outdoors and take home some tips on engaging children with nature.

Sunday Field Trip Excursions

Trip option 1:
Coverdale Farm Preserve and University of Delaware Laboratory Preschool

Sunday, June 7; 9am -3pm
Meet at Coverdale Farm Preserve, 543 Way Road, Wilmington, DE  (9am-11am)
Laboratory Preschool, 459 Wyoming Road, Newark, DE (1pm-3pm)
Led by Coverdale Farm Preserve Staff and Katie Pollock
Fee: $25 per person
Notes: Participants should bring lunch and provide own transportation between sites. Please carpool!
Register for this trip here

Coverdale Farm is a dynamic living ecosystem that rebuilds, replenishes, and respects its natural resources while raising nutrient-dense food for our community.  Our unique product of farm-based education engages all ages in the wonder of regenerative agriculture from soil to stomach. During this delicious adventure you will step into the boots of a farmer.  Move 200 hens across their pasture without lifting a finger. Collect their beautiful and nutritious eggs in rainbow shades of cream to green to blue. Hike to hives to see thousands of honeybees pollinating our gardens.  Crawl through a caterpillar tunnel to see the growing summer’s bounty. Find our furry four-legged land management staff to find out how their work enriches the soil and keeps invasive plant species at bay. Along the way we will share our favorite teachable moments with you from farm to classroom.

Three years ago, the University of Delaware Lab School expanded its programming to include a Nature Preschool program. We developed several outdoor learning areas, trails, a creek beach entrance, a bird blind, and many other areas for children to connect to nature. All of our programs encourage children to explore, take healthy risks, and create a love for the great outdoors. In addition to working with young children and families, we work with pre-service undergraduate and graduate students as well as in-service teachers. We would love for you to come and see for yourself all that the UD Lab School has to offer. We are certain you will take things away that you can absolutely apply to your own programs.

Trip option 2:
Shorebirds and Horseshoe Crabs of the Delaware Bayshore

Sunday, June 7, 9am – 3pm
Tour departs from Ashland Nature Center, 3511 Barley Mill Road, Hockessin, DE
Led by: Joe Sebastiani, Ashland Nature Center Manager and Judy Montgomery
Fee: $35 per person
Notes: Participants should bring lunch and binoculars if you have them (you can borrow ours if you need to); transportation from Ashland provided in vans
Register for this trip here

One of nature’s greatest spectacles takes place on the Delaware Bay in Spring…the world’s largest concentration of breeding horseshoe crabs, and the migratory birds that feed on them.  Hundreds of thousands of ancient horseshoe crabs haul themselves on Bay beaches, literally covering the sand as they bury their clutches of tiny green eggs. Shorebirds migrate to the Bay from points south on their way to their arctic breeding grounds for a feeding frenzy of this nutrient-rich bonanza.  This crab-bird phenomenon is a spectacular sight to see and has been taking place for millennia. We’ll get hands-on with the horseshoe crabs and conduct a “crab flipping activity” to save the ones that are stuck on the beach. Look for shorebirds, gulls, herons, eagles, and the wonderful birds of this protected area. 


Let's stay together! The Delaware Nature Society has rustic communal cabins available for your stay. at an extremely reasonable cost of $25/night.  Book your accomodations here. If you prefer to stay at an area hotel, visit the Holiday Inn Express-Wilmington North-Brandywine and ask for the Natural Wonder Summit block of discounted rooms.

Ready to join us? 

And don't forget to nominate a nature-based teacher you admire for the Wonder Award!  

Learn more about our payment and refund policies here or read our waiver for program participation. Thank you for joining us!

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