Here at Merry Lea, we work to support regional educators, local organizations and local school districts to deliver high quality environmental education to preschool and elementary students. We are a nature school host, but also train and encourage participating schools to utilize the outdoor spaces on their school property.

We believe nature-based early childhood education (NbECE) is a powerful tool to help children to grow, learn and develop. We want to get that tool into the hands of educators in our region through professional development opportunities.

Many of our workshops and webinars are available for participants to receive Professional Growth Points for attending and participating, and will be advertised when applicable.

Upcoming Opportunities

New Observation Series in the 2022-23 School Year

This three-session series is scaffolded to build your understanding of nature-based education with repeat visits to Merry Lea that focus on a different topic each time.

1. Introduction: Nature PreK Observation & Professional Development
See what a Nature Preschool looks like in action with this guided observation and professional development opportunity. Leave with tangible steps for your own classroom or learning setting.

When: October 10 or 27 | 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Registration for these events has passed)

2. Risky Play: Nature PreK Observation & Professional Development
Common risks like using tools, balancing on logs or building campfires allow students to assess risk, build confidence, and develop socially and physically. Learn about appropriate risk, how to do a risk-benefit analysis and various facilitation tips.

When: January 24 or 30 | 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.

3. Excursions: Nature PreK Observation & Professional Development
Regular time in a familiar outdoor place is important, but visiting novel spots is valuable too! Unexpected discoveries, child-directed exploration and more can result from facilitated excursions. Learn and observe how these are planned and implemented.

When: April 19 or 27 | 11:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.

  • Custom dates are available for groups of 4 or more. Contact Marcos Stoltzfus at to schedule a visit.

Join the ECHO Network

The Early Childhood Hoosiers Outdoors (ECHO) Network connects teachers, administrators, and educators to each other! Interested in learning more about getting students outside? Join our monthly virtual meetings for exchanging ideas, resources, expertise and experiments, facilitated by Merry Lea. Click the ECHO Network button below to sign up!

Past Opportunities

  1. Taking School Outside: A Teacher Workshop on Forest Kindergartens and Nature Preschools
    Forest Kindergartens and Nature Preschools are a growing movement nationally and right here in our state. This four-day virtual workshop was open to educators interested in understanding the research, pedagogy and approach within these programs.
  2. Social Emotional Learning in Outdoor Education
    Merry Lea hosted a virtual professional development workshop focused on social emotional learning in outdoor education. This opportunity was for educators who are familiar with nature-based education and were looking for ways to better support their students.
  3. Forest Schools 101: Indiana Webinar
    You’ve heard of Forest Schools and Nature Preschools, but have you ever wondered what actually happens in these programs? This introductory webinar dug into buzzwords like ‘risky play’ and ‘emergent curriculum’ and offered insights into the pedagogy and philosophy behind this movement, especially for programs in northern Indiana. Watch the webinar here. 
  4. Incorporating Emergent Curriculum Virtual Workshop
    Learning in the outdoors inevitably brings along unexpected surprises and discoveries! Encountering ice on a wetland or stumbling across animal bones can capture a child’s curiosity and spark a whole new line of classroom inquiry into weather, decomposition and more. This virtual workshop addressed how to incorporate student’s shifting interests into lessons through the use of emergent curriculum (a common theme in many nature-based programs) for any classroom.
  5. Risky Play Webinar
    Risky play is often a central component of nature-based programs…But what does it mean and how do you do it? Encounters with risk offer many beneficial opportunities for students to assess risk, build confidence, and develop socially and physically. This webinar reviewed appropriate risk, how to do a risk-benefit analysis and various facilitation tips. Participants left with an understanding of risky play terms and strategies for incorporating risky play into your setting. Watch the webinar here.
  6. Cold Weather Clothing Management Webinar
    “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” – Alfred Wainwright
    While there might be a few exceptions to that statement, 95% of the time Merry Lea’s nature preschoolers are outside exploring in rain, snow, cold, sunshine and warmth. How do educators successfully keep children outside and prepared in all sorts of weather? Merry Lea’s nature preschool teachers shared their tips on suitable, accessible, and affordable clothing and layering. Watch the webinar here.
  7. Cold Weather Play Webinar
    There are SO many ways to enjoy playing outdoors even when the temperature drops. Participants heard about our all-weather play with preschoolers and kindergartners, including many different ways children have engaged in playing outdoors regardless of the temperature. This webinar focused on activity ideas as well as strategies we have used during cold-weather play. Watch the webinar here.
  8. Sit Spot Webinar
    Sit spots are often included in nature-based programming as a way to promote place-based education. But what exactly are sit spots and why are they important? In this webinar, participants learned about this unique activity and discussed the importance of developing a sit spot routine, and then practiced this technique themselves! Watch the webinar here.
  9. Academic Standards and Connections to Curriculum in Outdoor Programs Webinar
    How do nature-based learning experiences support academic learning? Hear from guest speakers, Indiana teachers Jenna Labash and Erika Meyer, who will share their experiences in facilitating outdoor programming within school settings.Learn how elements of outdoor learning such as sit spots, risky play and place-based learning tie to academic standards in language arts and science, and to school curriculum broadly. Watch the webinar here.
  10. Occupational Therapy in Nature-Based Programs: ECHO Network recording
    A recording of Merry Lea’s ECHO Network from March 2023. Hear from Gretchen Shissler, a pediatric occupational therapist who has worked in traditional schools for 8 years. She founded Forest Academy in Lafayette in response to the significant challenges that she saw in meeting students’ sensory needs within the walls of a traditional classroom. Gretchen presented on the sensory benefits of forest schools, as well as her plans on how best to integrate therapy services into the forest school model. Watch the webinar here.