Bright Ideas

Irvine Nature Preschool Conference, Inside and Out

Lesley Romanoff

This post about the Nature Preschool Conference recently held at Irvine Nature Center originally appeared on Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School's Growing Together Blog. If you have content you think the Natural Start community would like to read, let us know!


It was a beautiful day, sunny and cool and it felt like every bit of the outside was just a few steps away from any one place inside of the Irvine Nature Center. The attendees at Emily Stanley’s Biodiversity and Nature Photography for Early Learners scrambled out to document a nature discovery with phones or cameras as per Emily’s instructions.

This wasn’t going to be your regular early childhood conference — all cooped up and drifty-minded. No, we were engaged all senses, body and soul.

Earlier in the morning I had messaged friends, Kierna Corr in Northern Ireland and Martin Besford in Cornwall, England letting them know that I had found “our people” and now I was out in the sun, looking for stuff feeling energized and connected with these people I had only met an hour before. Magic ensues when you fox walk around and sing together in the early morning hours. All of them were friendly, smart, and welcoming. Like-minded, but still diverse, coming from all kinds of different backgrounds, knowledge sets, and work, we looked up, down, and around alternating talking, listening, reflecting, and playing. It was a perfect early childhood conference and now it is the only one I want to go to.

I found a spittlebug (Cercopidae Family) bubble wrap on my discovery route — look at that, all officially labelled like I know what I am talking about! But see, I didn’t know anything at the time. I mean, I knew it was SOMETHING, but that was about it — I turned to Sandy Dixon from New York to point out what I had found. It took her no time at all to tell me what it was with all the ease and wisdom she shares regularly with the young children visiting Hudson Highlands Nature Museum where she works as the director of their Young Naturalist program.

Of course it is a spittlebug bubbly thingy. Obviously. I found more as I looked around the grasses and just as Emily promised, the moment taken to document the sighting led me to research spittlebugs and I discovered that had I poked around in the spit, I would have found the actual spittlebug inside! As a rule, I avoid spit. If you work with young children, you know that spit, their own and sometimes others’, is viewed as just another thing to play with — sorry, but you know it is true. Every moment reveals some kind of discovery for children and for us, the adults, it takes that extra something special to bring us to a new discovery.

Each session I attended was, and there is no other way to say this, thrilling. I kept thinking, “Oh! This is where everyone has been this whole time!” It made such a difference to actually meet these people face-to-face rather than following them on the internet and by placing them in a beautiful setting like the Irvine Nature Center it was simply inspirational.

I was honored to be included with the other presenters. My workshop was called, Risk-taking and Action Research. Just before my workshop, we had gathered in a meadow to play games with Amy Beam. I had to stop short in order to run up to the Center to set out my displays and cue up my powerpoint, boo hiss. I was so filled with ideas I only wanted to stay in the meadow to finish my thoughts, but there I was, inside, waiting to talk about . . . research! Any nervousness I felt about presenting was cast aside as I felt like I was talking with friends. We were in this together, this idea that going outside would hold the answer we need, when we need it.

Since the conference ended, Jessica Clayton started a Facebook group so we could stay connected. It is called Nature Preschool Ideas & Community if you want to search for it and also follow her page, Riverside Rhymes Nature Play School.

If you want more information about the workshops offered at this last conference, visit the Nature Preschool Conference and bookmark it! You will find a list of the workshops and keynote and looking through this will surely daisy chain you through to many other resources.

Let’s all meet up next year at the conference! You will, most assuredly, find friends and make new and lovely discoveries.


Lesley Romanoff is the Director of the Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School in Takoma Park, Maryland. 


nature preschool conference, Nature Preschools