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2017 Early Learning Institute

The Early Learning Center was proud to host the third annual Early Learning Institute June 2-3, 2017 at the L&N Stem Academy. The ELI’s third year brought some changes in the structure of the days, but the goal of creating an intimate, engaging conference was the same. This year, we welcomed Claire Warden, a leader in the field of nature pedagogy, as this year’s keynote speaker. We wanted to highlight Claire’s work as it has influenced our own practice so much since we began studying her work. Claire’s warm nature and lively presentation style was well received by all in attendance- she was a hit! She talked to the group about learning with and in nature and developing nature pedagogy.

While half of our participants were engaged in the keynote and featured sessions at the L&N building, the other half was visiting the two ELC centers and participating in on-site sessions in classrooms. Welcoming visitors into our classrooms helps attendees get an idea of the environments at the ELC and gives them the context that many of the projects that we share about took place. Visitors checked out classroom materials, pedagogical documentation, had conversations with ELC educators and investigated (and maybe played on!) the natural playscape. Participants got to spend time at both locations for the morning and then headed back to the L&N Stem Academy to join the rest of the group for a delicious lunch and time to network. Participants also had the option of joining in on a Lunch & Learn Session, which was a new feature this year. It was a great time to learn more about specific topics in a small group setting. Topics included pedagogical coaching, project work with toddlers, gardening, and Writer’s Workshop, among others.

Here is a sampling of sessions from this year’s Institute:

Age Group Title Description
Infants Relationship as a Leading Activity: The Role of Rich Materials and Interactions in the Construction of an Infant Classroom Community This session will focus on the importance of infants building relationships within their community. Offering infants rich sensory experiences was one way the teachers fostered relationship between the infants and the natural environment, and this session will focus on the meaningful work the infants engaged in with intentional offerings of natural materials.


Risky Places, Competent Toddlers: Using the Outdoor Environment as a Catalyst for Exploring the Development of Young Toddlers’ Risk Assessment Combining their own personal connections with nature and challenging physical activity with their shared belief in young children’s competence and right to assess risk in their daily contexts, two teaching partners evaluate and evolve their own pedagogy to support extended outdoor experiences and risk assessment opportunities for their young toddlers. Join Jessie and Ria as they share their path—identifying inspirations, deepening their image of the child, and reimagining their roles as teachers in the outdoor environment.
Toddlers Living in the Triangle: Using the Hawkins Lens to Understand the Relationship Among Teachers, Children, and Materials The children and teachers in the Hickory toddler class explored the interconnectedness of teacher and child relationships through their work with natural materials. As Sharee traveled one path of curriculum development and Lizzie traversed another—both complimented the children’s interests and inquiries—they soon recognized the intersecting nature of their work. David Hawkins’ essay “I, Thou, It” offered insight into the children’s motivations and illuminated the teachers’ curriculum planning path.
Preschool Making Learning Visible: Children’s Experiences, Voices, and Ideas Shape the Curriculum We will look at how the Talking and Thinking Floorbook™ approach (Warden, 1994) keeps children’s voices present and central in classroom projects. We will also explore how children shaped the curriculum in the context of a long-term project, via “messing about” with ramp building materials, theory building and testing throughout the project, and consistently revisiting their work. We will share how our team discovered a way to utilize a Floorbook™ in the classroom alongside the children and were reminded of the value of long-term project work.
Kindergarten “The Map is Where We Go. The Book is What We Meant”: Using Children’s Personal Connections and Map-Making to Develop a Sense of Place and Citizenship What began as a map study turned into so much more! Teachers and children discover together the importance of personal connections to space as they investigate and find meaningful roles within their community. Join Hannah and Travis as they share their process of supporting children in the construction of a meaning map, helping the children document and give voice to their experiences and understanding on a large canvas map, and building on their ideas of space and place in their collaborative Community Explore Book.

Click here to see our full conference program and session offerings! 

After two years of a heavy emphasis on nature-based learning, the ELC team wanted to be sure to highlight their additional interest in exploring inquiry learning with conference participants. Last year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Lilian Katz, informed much of the ELC educator’s work this year, so teachers were anxious to share about project work, deep inquiry, and prioritizing children’s unique interests and quandaries when planning curriculum. Featured and breakout sessions were varied in topic and focus. ELI participants reported that sessions were thought-provoking, engaging, and far deeper than simply the surface of the projects that were shared. One participant said, “The excitement and deep dedication of presenters were especially beneficial to me”. One quote from the conference evaluations summed up exactly how the team at the ELC hopes people will feel about our Institute, “I love that it is small in size and scope but deep in content”.

Another Early Learning Institute has come to a close and we have much to think about as we plan for the 2018 Early Learning Institute (June 1-2, 2018). If you can’t wait until next summer to see us, join us for a study tour! Read more about our study tour program here. We hope to see you next summer!