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Outdoor Spaces and Nature-based Programming in Public Gardens: Building the Evidence Base for Early STEM learning

Schedule and Location

Wednesday, May 2, 2018, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and  Thursday, May 3, 2018, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle, IL 60532



Fees and Registration

$55.00 member
$55.00 nonmember

Nonmembers: Fees include admission to the Arboretum.

Course Description

Join The Morton Arboretum and NORC at The University of Chicago at a summit for nature-based education practitioners, early childhood researchers, and evaluators to examine how outdoor spaces and nature play support young children’s science learning. Participants will share insights from their experience and their understanding of the scientific evidence about children’s learning outdoors. We will collaboratively identify research priorities and success factors for early childhood learning through nature-based education and shape a new collaborative network for outdoor learning research and practice.

This initial working group will be held May 2-3, 2018, at The Morton Arboretum, located just outside of Chicago, IL. We are looking for insights and innovations about:

  • Children’s gardens and nature play spaces
  • Nature preschools and forest kindergartens
  • Environmental education programming
  • Research on learning in early childhood

Participants will work to create common evaluation tools and resources and to set the direction for a new professional learning network.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Welcome Reception, Children's Garden, The Morton Arboretum
Rain location: Visitor Center, Ginkgo Restaurant

Thursday, May 3, 2018  

8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Working Sessions, Sycamore Room, The Morton Arboretum
8:30 to 9:00 a.m. Welcome, introductory exercises, light morning refreshments, and networking. 
9:00 to 9:30 a.m. Introduction
9:15 to 10:45 a.m.  Case Studies Discussion 
Claude Stephens and Whitney Wurzel, Bernheim Forest Arboretum, Tracy McClendon, Atlanta Botanic Garden, James Boyer, New York Botanic Garden, Catherine Koons-Hubbard, Schlitz-Audubon Nature Center
10:45 to 11:00 a.m.  Break
11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Research Discussion
Cathy Jordan, University of Minnesota and Children and Nature Network; Louise Chawla, University of Colorado; David Sobel, Antioch University
12:15 to 12:45 p.m. Lunch
12:45 to 1:45 p.m. Program Evaluation Discussion
1:45 to 2:00 p.m. Break
2:00 to 3:00 p.m. Building the Knowledge Base Discussion
3:00 to 3:45 p.m.  Network Discussion
3:45 to 4:00 p.m.  Closing thoughts, evaluations
4:15 to 5:30 p.m.  Tram Tour of the Arboretum (Weather permitting)

Hotel and Travel Information

The summit hotel is:

3003 Corporate West Drive
Lisle, IL 60532
Phone: +1 630-505-0900 
Please click here or mention the group name Morton Outdoor Spaces Summit to reserve a room in the event block. 


Course number


Course Details

BY PHONE: 630-719-2468 (or to be waitlisted, M-F, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)
IN PERSON: Stop by Visitor Center during open hours.

Weather Cancellation Hotline
Classes run rain or shine unless there is a threat of server weather. If severe weather is forecast please call 630-719-7979 for updates on weather related cancellations.