Nature-Based Early Childhood Education Certificate Program

The Nature-Based Early Childhood Education Certificate program in the Department of Education at Antioch University New England trains teachers, administrators, and founders of nature preschools and forest kindergartens. The forest kindergarten movement has been thriving in Europe for the last three decades and has recently taken root in the United States.  Simultaneously, there has been a growing number of nature preschools in the United States. Both nature preschools and forest kindergartens have a uniquely different approach to curriculum than conventional indoor early childhood programs. Currently, there is a lack of professional development, training and leadership in this new field of nature-based early childhood education.


Design your own program

  • To provide training and professional development for teachers who wish to teach in nature preschools and forest kindergartens.
  • To provide training and professional development for entrepreneurs and administrators who wish to create and administer nature preschools and forest kindergartens.
  • To provide training and professional development for early childhood education professionals who would like to incorporate more nature/outdoors programming in their existing early childhood programs.
  • To create a network of nature preschools and forest kindergartens in New England to support visitation and support.
  • To create resources, (i.e. a website, policy books, parent education material) which support the development and evolution of these programs.
  • To create living examples, documentation, and research

Real World Applications

The objective of the program, especially for the Professional Development participants, is to make the courses as practical as possible. Therefore, the goal for each course will be to have each student generate a product that is tangibly useful in his/her work situation. This will include program brochures, policy development, business plans, curriculum documentation materials a la Reggio, grant proposals and parent newsletters. Program faculty will provide assistance in content and tone so that founders of new programs can be supported in developing materials to launch their programs.

An excerpt from the poem, “There was a Child went Forth”

There was a child went forth every day; And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became; And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years. The early lilacs became part of this child, And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird, And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf! ~Walt Whitman

Photography by  Bob Bailie


Congratulations to Integrated Learning Alumna Liza Lowe on being named New Hampshire Environmental Educator of the Year!


Published Articles about Nature-based Early Childhood Education

Natural Start Alliance:

Forest School in Public School: Is It Possible?

Boston Globe:

Into the woods. The growing nature school movement is dedicated to getting young kids moving and learning outside.

Keene Sentinel:

Nature-based education programs gaining popularity in area

Yes! Magazine:

The Best Way to Learn About a Tree
by David Sobel, senior faculty in the Education Department at Antioch University New England

“Nature-based education…offers us a glimpse of what childhood used to be, and still could be…:the nature preschool and the forest kindergarten. If we looked to these examples, we might be able to rescue childhood,” David Sobel writes in The Best Way to Learn About a Tree. It’s in the Spring 2014 issue of Yes! magazine.
Read the full article.

Eliza Minnucci's Forest Fridays Kindergarten classroom at the Ottauquechee School in Quechee, Vermont.Forest Fridays Blog

For more news on Forest Kindergarten initiatives in New England, see the blog of Eliza Minnucci, implementing Forest Fridays  in her Kindergarten classroom at the Ottauquechee School in Quechee, Vermont. Antioch New England graduate student Riley Hopeman is doing an internship in this classroom now. Blog is at: http://mrsminnucci.wordpress.comNature Based Kindergarten

Message from a  public school Kindergarten teacher and student in the Nature-based Early Childhood Curriculum class to faculty member Patti Bailie.

Dear Patti, I wanted to share with you what happened this morning. It was Monday, our regular “Nature Hike’ day, but it had been a few weeks since we’d been out. (Weather, vacations, sick days etc) Last week we went out, but it was icy so we turned back. Today, I explained we were going out and a cheer went up! We spent some time talking about why snowshoes work (surface area, etc). We spent some time going over the strap procedure and the importance of everyone needing to try to get the snowshoes on themselves before asking for help. Then we set off to the ‘back forty’ — the far end of the recess area. The kids were marvelous. No one complained. Many were able to get their shoes on by themselves. Everyone fell at least once and just got up again. They ran, they shouted, they maneuvered, they showed me that next week on the trail will be brilliant, (especially if we get the predicted snow on Wednesday). All I could think as they were showing their stuff, was…Wow! If I hadn’t taken that Nature Preschool class last summer, I never would have done this. So, I wanted to say, again, Thank you. Our weekly Nature Hikes have brought so much to our class. They deserve it, and I am so pleased with the results. I am very grateful. -Elizabeth Feinberg

Nature-Based Early Childhood Education Certificate Program


Photo credit: Bob Bailie

This is a teacher/administrator professional development option for current early childhood education professionals. The program takes 13 months and starts in the summer. The courses are offered as continuing education credits or for graduate school credits. The program requires 6 to 8 courses and 12 to 15 credits. If taken for credit, these courses will bear in the range of 12-15 credits. Participants who take these courses for credit will be able to transfer these credits into the Elementary & Early Childhood Teacher Certification/Integrated Learning Program within five years if they are interested in a master’s degree.



Download Course Offerings (PDF)

1. Nature-based Early Childhood Curriculum EDC 509 (2 credits )

Patti Bailie

Patti Bailie

Offered July, faculty: Patti Bailie. Nature preschools and forest kindergartens have a uniquely different approach to curriculum than conventional indoor early childhood centers. This course will focus on the distinctive elements for outdoor programming for children aged three to six. Some topics will include the value of unstructured play, fostering independence, nature and language development, the balance of indoors and outdoors experience, interfacing with the conventional elementary curriculum in literacy, math and science, and connections to the community.

2. Childhood and Nature EDT 536 A (3 credits)

David Sobel

David Sobel

Offered July, faculty: David Sobel. When children have access to free play in natural areas, they do the same things, around the country and around the world. They make special places, go on adventures, develop fantasy games, go hunting and gathering, craft small worlds. These recurrent play patterns can be used as design principles to help structure engaging outdoor activities with children. During our days together, we’ll recollect our own favorite childhood experiences and we’ll spend time outside exploring some of these recurrent play patterns. We’ll discuss the research on the relationship between childhood play in nature and environmental behavior in adults. Then we’ll use these experiences to design new approaches to nature programming in early childhood programs, at schools, nature centers, and environmental programs.

3. Landscape Analysis & Design for Nature Play and Learning EDT 510 (1 credit)

Ginny Sullivan

Ginny Sullivan

Offered October, faculty: Ginny Sullivan. Examining how experience in nature promotes engagement with the early childhood education standards. Understanding the roles of the teacher, the child, and the environment. Using and modifying the existing landscape. Site assessment, analysis and schematic design as tools to study the strengths and weaknesses of your location for a nature-based early childhood education program. Establishing boundaries, pathways, and destinations to support play and learning.

4. Natural History for Early Childhood EDC 503 (1 credit)

Suzie Spikol

Suzie Spikol

Offered September, faculty: Susie Spikol Faber and Janet Altobello. The best forest kindergarten teachers are both knowledgeable about early childhood education and knowledgeable about local natural history. This course will focus on learning the natural history of northern New England that most directly relates to being outdoors with children. Participants will learn the flora, fauna and natural phenomena and skills that effectively engage young children. Fire-building, basket-making, nature art, tracking, children’s literature as a vehicle to nature exploration, and wild edibles will be some of the topics considered. We’ll discuss both winter and spring natural history with a focus on how to keep children engaged under cold and/or wet conditions.

5. Movement and Storytelling in the Pre-K Classroom EDC 665 (1 credit)

Offered November, faculty: Valerie Kosednar. Movement and stories lay a healthy and joyful foundation for physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development in young children. This course will explore the importance of storytelling and movement in the daily life of children and in the classroom environment. Students will experience a variety of ways to use storytelling, puppetry, singing games, and practical activities to enrich the early childhood classroom.

6. Business Planning for Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens (2 credits) EDP 560

Ken Finch

Ken Finch

Offered January, faculty: Ken Finch. Starting a nature-based early childhood education program requires business savvy and financial planning. This course will address the nitty-gritty planning necessary to get a program up and running. We’ll focus on the creation of business plans, including: simple market analyses, promotion, site and facility needs, staffing requirements and options, the crucial income and expense projections, fundraising options and basic risk management issues. Participants will draft a three-year budget for their operation, rough out a promotional flyer and/or website, and prepare and practice persuasive verbal descriptions and sales pitches for their school. We’ll allocate plenty of time to share your own experiences and ideas, and will take a close look at existing models that have proven successful in the U.S.

7. Working with Parents and Community EDP 558 (1 credit)

Ellen Doris

Regina Wolf Fritz

Regina Wolf Fritz

Offered February, 2015, faculty: Ellen Doris and Regina Wolf Fritz. Nature pre-schools and forest kindergartens are different kinds of places and therefore parents and community members need to be educated about the mission and practices of the school. Parents need to be prepared to provide appropriate clothes, do regular tick checks, be prepared for bee stings. And parents need to volunteer in the school and with fund-raising. In this course we’ll participate in mock parent conferences, write letters to parents to explain nature school programs, and practice working with parents who are upset about their children always coming home wet and dirty.

8. Early Childhood Education Pre-K to 3rd EDC 648 (existing, 2 credits)

Offered February to April, 2015, faculty: Deb Kardane. This course will focus on teaching and learning in the early childhood classroom (Pre-K to 3rd Grade). Throughout the years that children spend in educational settings, their successful learning is dependent not just on instruction, but on personal connections with important adults who support and facilitate their learning. It is through these connections that children develop not only academic skills but also positive learning dispositions and confidence in themselves as learners. Warmth and responsiveness in care-giving creates the conditions within which young children can explore and learn about their world. Good early childhood curriculum does not come out of a box or a teacher-proof manual. Teachers need to know, understand, and use a wide array of effective approaches, strategies, and tools to positively influence young children’s development and learning and need to recognize that every child constructs knowledge in personally and culturally familiar ways. Students will consider the preceding in the design, implementation, and evaluation of meaningful, challenging curriculum.

9. Risk Management for Nature-based Early Childhood EDP 562 (2 credits)

Anne StiresOffered May, 2014 & 2015, faculty: Anne Stires. Being outdoors with children in all weather requires another level of risk management beyond fire drills and correct sneezing instructions. Topics that will be considered include: hazard identification, appropriate planning for risk. What kinds of risky play to allow, (ie. tree climbing, skating) versus which to discourage, research on the relationship between nature play and health. This course will include opportunities to observe the program at the Juniper Hill School in Alna, Maine and conversation with the teachers about daily risk management decisions.

10. Advanced Topics in Nature-based Early Childhood EDT 650

Offered fall, spring and summer semesters. This course provides a crediting vehicle for students who participate in a variety of workshops and conferences at Antioch New England and other nature-based early childhood education workshops and conferences around the country. Students can participate in the Starting Out Right and In Bloom annual seminars and conferences and receive credit for participation plus additional work. Similarly, students could participate in similar experiences, such as the Irvine Nature Center conference in Maryland or the Nature Preschool Conference that is held at a different nature preschool site each year.

11. Internship in Nature Preschool or Forest Kindergarten ED 590 (3 credits)

Offered fall, spring and summer semesters. 300 hour internship in a recommended nature pre-school or forest kindergarten. This internship is for full-time matriculated students who are candidates for early childhood education certification in the Integrated Learning/Elementary and Early Childhood programs in the Education Department. Internships sites are chosen and or approved by Education faculty.

12. School Change Practicum in Nature Preschool/Forest Kindergarten EDC 516 (3 credits)

Offered fall, spring and summer semesters. 300 hour practicum in existing early childhood center or elementary school. This practicum is for public school teachers or early childhood education professionals who wish to initiate change in their home settings. These changes will focus on increasing the depth and extent of nature and outdoor time programming occurring in the natural world. Practica sites will be approved by the Education faculty. Practica participants will be visited by Education faculty in person when possible and via on-line vehicles when practica are geographically distant from the Keene campus. This would include, where feasible, visits from faculty and regular on-line consultation.


Photography by  Bob Bailie


Required and Elective Courses

For Professional Development Certificate Programs (12-15 credits)

1. Required Courses (7 credits)

Faculty of Nature based kindergarten program

Left to right, front row: Janet Altobello, Patti Bailie, Anne Stires, Susie Spikol Faber, Deb Kardane
Left to right, back row: Ginny Sullivan, Regina Wolf Fritz, Ken Finch, David Sobel, Susan Weber, Tom Julius

Nature-based Early Childhood Curriculum (2 credits)

Business Planning for Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens (2 credits)

Risk Management for Nature-based Early Childhood Education (2 credits)

Working with Parents and Community (1 credit)

2.  Elective Courses (at least 5 credits required, 3 could be internship or practicum)

a.  Early Childhood Education Pre-K to 3rd (2 credits)

b.  Childhood and Nature (3 credits)

c.  Landscape Analysis and Design for Nature Play and Learning (1 credit)

d.  Natural History for Early Childhood (1 credit)

e.  Movement and Storytelling in the Pre-K Classroom (1 credit)

f.  Advanced Topics in Nature-based Early Childhood (credits variable)

g.  Other Integrated Learning courses in Elementary/Early Childhood program

3.  Internship/Practica (optional, not required, for certificate students)

a.  Internship in Nature Preschool or Forest Kindergarten (3 credits)

b.  School Change Practicum in Nature Preschool or Forest Kindergarten (3 credits)

Program Sequence

First Summer (Intensive, week-long courses.)

  • Nature-based Early Childhood Curriculum (2 credits)
  • Childhood and Nature (3 credits)

(Residential options at Keene State College or local Bed and Breakfasts. Nature-based Early Childhood Curriculum will be scheduled so it can be taken sequentially with Childhood and Nature.)

Fall (Weekend courses)

  • Landscape Analysis and Design for Nature Play and Learning (1 credit)
  • Natural History for Early Childhood (1 credit)
  • Movement and Storytelling in the Pre-K Classroom (1 credit)
  • Internship in Nature Preschool/Forest Kindergarten or Fellowship in Naturalizing Urban Early Childhood Education Program (3 credits)

Winter/Spring (Intensive week-long course and weekend courses)

  • Business Planning for Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens (2 credits) (Intensive week program in Keene will include some winter recreation optionsx-country skiing, skating, sledding, snowshoeing, snow fort-building, tracking.)
  • Early Childhood Education Pre-K to 3rd (2 credits)
  • Working with Parents and Community (1 credit)
  • Internship in Nature Preschool/ Forest Kindergarten or Fellowship in Naturalizing Urban Early Childhood Education Program (3 credits)

Second Summer (Intensive week-long courses)

  • Risk Management for Nature-based Early Childhood Education (2 credits) (Residential at Juniper Hill School and Chewonki Foundation in Maine in May between spring and summer semesters while Juniper Hill School is still in session.)
  • Nature-based Early Childhood Curriculum (2 credits)
  • Childhood and Nature (3 credits)

Any Semester

Advanced Topics in Nature-based Early Childhood (credits variable)


Photography by  Bob Bailie


Tuition and Fees

View current program tuition and fees here.


Students should anticipate the cost of residencies in Keene and Maine for the duration of the program. There will be approximately four weeks of residency during the program at the cost of approximately $400 per week for room and board. In addition, there will be perhaps five weekends of residency during the program at the cost of approximately $200 per weekend.

Education staff will provide lists of accommodations to assist students in finding appropriate, economical accommodations.

Tuition Assistance

Tuition Assistance for Matriculated Students
Tuition assistance will be available for the first 10 accepted applicants who matriculate into the Nature-Based Education Certificate program. There will be a 25% tuition reduction for the first 12 credits taken between 7/1/2015 and 8/1/2016. Credits taken as a non-matriculated student will count toward the maximum of 12.  To apply or get more information, please contact Ellen Keech at or 603-283-2132.

Tuition Assistance for Non-Matriculated Students
Non-matriculated students can receive a 50% tuition reduction on their first 3 credits. Tuition assistance will be applied to those non-matriculated students registering for graduate credit only. No tuition assistance is available for students registering to audit courses. To get more information, please contact Krishni Pahl at or 603-283-2314. To apply, please mail, fax or email the NB NonmatricTuitionAssistanceForm and the Non-Matriculated Enrollment Form to: Krishni Pahl, Antioch University New England (Education Department), 40 Avon Street, Keene, NH 03431, Fax: 603-357-0718.

Inner City Fellowships for Matriculated Students
A grant from the Storer Foundation allows us to provide tuition assistance and/or living support fellowships for up to eight matriculated students.  This offering is designed for students in the Elementary Teacher Certification, Experienced Educator or the Nature-based Early Childhood Certificate programs.      Students will either simultaneously register for an internship or practicum in an urban or low-income early childhood center while engaged in the fellowship or they may conduct fellowship activities separate from being registered for an internship. The intern/fellow must commit to leading efforts in helping to “naturalize” the program, curriculum and outdoor settings at the center. For more information, please contact David Sobel at

First Steps

In May 2012, the Antioch Center for School Renewal (ASCR) and Education faculty organized the first nature-based early childhood education gathering at Antioch University New England.  Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens:  What’s Going On Out There?  was organized to provide a forum for early childhood educators, environmental educators, home-schooling parents, public school kindergarten teachers, and child center administrators who have founded or want to initiate nature-based programs for young children in New England.   The conference featured keynote speakers David Sobel and Ginny Sullivan, workshop leaders Anne Stires and Zoe Foster from the Juniper Hill School in Maine, Susan Weber from Sophia’s Hearth in Keene, and Susie Spikol Faber from the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, New Hampshire. More than 80 participants from throughout New England attended. One said, I’m so excited Antioch New England is offering this eventthis is exactly what I’ve been looking for and I need.    Evaluation of the event indicated that participants were enthusiastic about the offerings and interested in future offerings.   Another participant said, I rarely go to a workshop or conference where every single component of the event is valuable and well done.   That was true today.  The Education faculty organized two follow-up events in spring 2013.   In March, Starting Off Right:  Creating Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartenswith Ken Finch, focused on the business planning aspects of starting programs.  In May, In Bloom: Promising Practices in Nature-based Early Childhood, with keynote speakers Patti Bailie and Regina Fritz, attracted 100 early-childhood practitioners.   We will continue to offer one-day professional development opportunities, as well as the more in-depth courses described below, in the following years.

Conferences & Workshops

You’re invited to attend AUNE’s In Bloom conferences. The Spring 2016 conferences will take place in Kittery, Maine, Keene at AUNE,  and at Shelburne Farms, Vermont. Each conference will have unique nationally recognized keynote speakers and unique workshops by local practitioners. All events will focus on the educational and health benefits of being outside with children.

Amy-fireNature preschools and forest kindergartens have flourished in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and Europe since the 1960s. In the last few decades they’ve started to take root throughout New England. Public school kindergartens in Vermont are spending one full day a week in the deep woods on Forest Fridays. Children climb trees, make mudpies, whittle sticks, take care of animals AND expand their vocabularies, do real math, conduct investigations and develop resilience in nature-based programs. Come to one of the In Bloom conferences and learn from cutting edge educators who are redefining what’s possible in early childhood education.


In Bloom in Maine, Saturday, March 26, 2016

Eyes of the World Discover Center,

Kittery Community Center, Kittery, ME


In Bloom in Keene, Thursday, May 12, 2016

Antioch University New England, Keene, NH


In Bloom in Vermont, Monday, June 13, 2016

Shelburne Farms, Shelburne, VT


Register Here


Check back soon for links to other Nature-based Early Childhood Education institutions, programs and organizations