Resources and Research

Here at Merry Lea, we work to support regional educators, local organizations and local school districts to deliver high quality environmental education to preschoolers and kindergarteners. 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.

We support teachers and administrators on their own journey of discovery and implementation in the following ways:

Professional Development: trainings and observations

Program design and implementation

Written program resources

A curated list of research

Professional Development

Upcoming Opportunities:

  • Taking School Outside: A Teacher Workshop on Forest Kindergartens and Nature Preschools 
    • Due to COVID-19, this seminar is revamped as a virtual series. This is a free, beginner-level series with four sessions over four days. See below for more information.
    • Overview: Forest Kindergartens and Nature Preschools are a growing movement nationally and right here in our state! Join us for an introductory-level conference and build your understanding of the research, pedagogy and approach within these programs. Learn about how they relate to play-based learning, and get the chance to network with local educators in the field. Engage in modeled activities, see some outdoor classroom spaces and start outlining how your organization may implement forest school pedagogies. This series will focus on working with younger students, although the principles and ideas are applicable to older grades as well.
    • Cost: Free
    • Dates and times:
      Session 1 – Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 10:00-11:30 am
      Session 2 – Thursday, July 16, 2020 at 10:00-11:30 am
      Session 3 – Tuesday, July 21, 2020 at 10:00-11:30 am
      Session 4 – Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 10:00-11:30 am
    • For more information on registration, individual sessions, speakers and topics, click the button.

Observations Opportunities:

  • Due to COVID-19 we are not scheduling outside visitations currently. However, if you would like to be notified when our outdoor classroom is open for in-person observations, email Marcos Stoltzfus at

Program Design and Implementation

We work with schools to adapt, create and implement nature-based practices or programs that get their students learning outside! We encourage schools we work with to consider:

  1. How families and the community can be involved as critical stakeholders. Families and community partners can be engaged in supporting student success through regular updates, engagement as active participants and many other contributions.
  2. How their NbECE program should be structured to meet its stated goals. This may influence the location of the program, its frequency or program elements.

Recognizing that each school’s needs and settings are unique, our partnership models are flexible and individualized. We provide varying degrees of implementation, from a 3-year track model to a consultation model. No matter the type of partnership, we want to support educators in adapting and designing NbECE into their settings. We are a resource for training, philosophy development, classroom connections and other support as needed.

Reach out to Marcos Stoltzfus at to learn more about partnering with us.

Written Program Resources

If you seek specific resources regarding standards correlations, sit spot pedagogy, safety guidelines or best practices for creating outdoor activities, email Marcos Stoltzfus at

Regional and National Research on NbECE programs

Programs in Indiana and Michigan

  • National survey (NAAEE, 2017) listed less than 5 recognized NbECE programs in the state of Indiana.
  • Regional survey (Proctor, 2020) identified only 10 programs in the Northern IN/Southern MI region that self-identified as being a NbECE program, or having elements of NbECE as part of their program.

Benefits of NbECE: Children benefit when given access to the outdoors. 

Benefits of NbECE: NbECE provides high-quality, developmentally-appropriate nature-based programs. 

Contact Us

Marcos Stoltzfus

Director of Environmental Education Outreach

Office: The Learning Center Building at Merry Lea

Marcos joined the Merry Lea team in 2016, and brings more than 10 years of experience in informal and environmental education settings. He graduated from Goshen College with majors in Biology and Environmental Studies, and has worked at nature centers and museums in Colorado, New York, and Minnesota. He completed a Masters in Nonprofit Management, where his thesis focused on nonprofits engaging in urban farming practices. Marcos oversees the Public & PreK-12 Environmental Education programs at Merry Lea, and works with MAEE students in their practicum experience. Read more »