David Sobel’s


The following are some of the workshops and talks offered by David Sobel. Please contact David here to inquire about booking him for an upcoming event or conference.



Place-based Education: Making School More Like a Farmer’s Market

The landscape of schooling has begun to look like the sprawl of America. Generic textbooks designed for the big markets of California and Texas provide the same homogenized, unhealthy diet as all those fast food places on the strip. Educational biodiversity falls prey to the bulldozers of standardization. What is nearby has become parochial and insignificant.

Place-based education is a response to the alienation of schools from community, and the decoupling of schools from historic sites, local landscapes, and farms. Instead, we need schools organized around the principles of the farmers' market, drawing on the resources and variety of the local community. 

Sobel lectures on Placed-Based Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Alternative Version: Place-based Education:  A Visual Field Trip across North America.  Short, provocative video examples of place-based education in K-12 settings in rural and urban sites across the country.

Place-based Education: Test Scores and More Than Test Scores

A decade ago, the Moore Foundation decided to not fund environmental education because there were no good data to support that it was effective. Now, due to a concerted evaluation and research effort, there's a solid foundation of data to suggest that environmental and place-based education can improve test scores, change teacher behavior, improve school climate, increase stewardship behavior and yes, even improve environmental quality


Wild Play:  Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors           

When David Sobel’s children, Tara and Eli, were toddlers, he set out to integrate a wide range of nature experiences into their family life, play, and storytelling. Blending his passion as a parent with his professional expertise, he created adventures tailored to their developmental stages: cultivating empathy with animals in early childhood, exploring the woods in middle childhood, and devising rites of passage in adolescence.  Sobel weaves together parenting experiences, stories he told his children and developmental theory to present a model of healthy parenting in concert with the natural world.

Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods identified the urgent problem of “nature deficit” in today’s children, sounding the alarm for parents, educators, and policymakers. Wild Play is a hopeful response.


Cultivating the Wonder of Nature in Childhood

Sobel presents “Cultivating the Wonder of Nature in Childhood” at the Thatcher Montessori School.

William Wordsworth suggested that the natural world is "appareled with celestial light" in childhood. By this he means that nature is perceived differently by children than by adults. Furthermore, I believe that there is a critical period in middle childhood when children are biologically programmed to bond with the natural world. If this bonding occurs, it sets the individual on a path of environmental values and commitment. Therefore, parents and educators should take advantage of this openness in childhood and provide frequent opportunities for children to adventurously be at-one in nature.

A bit of provocative research, a dash of theory, lots of personal parenting stories and a look at how the parent/child/nature relationship changes from early childhood to middle childhood to adolescence to early adulthood.


Global Climate Change Meets Ecophobia

“Global Climate Change Meets Ecophobia” presented at the New England Aquarium in 2011.

What happens when we lay the weight of the world’s burdensome environmental problems on the shoulders of young children? We overwhelm them, scare them and alienate them from the natural world.    Using a variety of short videos and public service announcements, we’ll examine the messages about rain forest destruction and global warming that children are awash in every day. We’ll consider why this approach, of scaring children into appropriate environmental behavior, is flawed.

Finally, we’ll look at positive examples of educational approaches that connect children to nature, engage them constructive activities, and provide the foundations for responsible environmental behavior. It is possible to cultivate ecological ethics and behaviors if we can avoid a fear-based approach. 


Childhood and Nature:  Design Principles for Educators

When children have access to free play in natural areas, they do the same things, around the country and around the world. They make special places, go on adventures, develop fantasy games, go hunting and gathering, craft small worlds. These recurrent play patterns can be used as design principles to help structure compelling outdoor activities with children. And these engagements can lead to environmental values and behaviors in adulthood. We'll recollect significant experiences from childhood, examine images of children at play, and gain insight into how parents and teachers can both bond children with the natural world while making learning more intriguing. 


Designing Natural Play Areas

A growing number of studies show that children engage in more creative forms of play in green areas, as opposed to manufactured play areas. Research shows that children playing on traditional play structures tend to establish social  hierarchy through physical competence, while children playing in natural areas use more fantasy play. When playing in natural areas, a child’s social standing becomes less based on physical abilities and more on language skills, creativity, and inventiveness. Further studies show that time spent in natural settings can relieve symptoms of attention-deficit disorders, and leave children better able to focus and concentrate.

Natural Play Areas encourage more frequent, longer, and richer outdoor play experiences in safe, natural settings.  They expose children to a greater range of play choices, and can provide opportunities for deeper and stronger relationships with other children and the natural world. Through design principals tested and reviewed, you will learn the history and benefits of these areas, and how to begin designing one at your park, school, or child care facility.


Look, Don’t Touch:  The Problem with Environmental Education

Somewhere along the way, much of environmental education lost its magic, its “wildly, gladly rejoicing together.” Instead, it’s become didactic and staid, restrictive and rule bound. A creeping focus on cognition has replaced the goal of exhilaration that once motivated educators to take children outside.

Much of environmental education today has taken on a museum mentality, where nature is a composed exhibit on the other side of the glass. Children can look at it and study it, but they can’t do anything with it. The message is: Nature is fragile. Look.  but don’t touch. What does research indicate about the most effective ways to help children become adults who behave in environmentally responsible ways. And how can environmental education be shaped to honor these findings?


Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens

The original kindergarten — the children’s garden —conceived by German educator Friedrich Froebel in the19th century, was a place where children learned through play, often in nature. That idea is fast eroding. Children aren’t playing in the garden anymore; instead they’re filling in bubbles on worksheets. The new movement of nature-based early childhood education can reverse that trend. There are thousands of forest kindergartens throughout Europe and new programs opening every month in North America. Let’s examine the promise of this healthy approach towards living and learning outdoors with young children.


The Universe of the Child

Bring a Russian nesting doll into your mind’s eye.  In the center is the smallest one, a tiny infant. It nests snugly within even larger dolls, five or six layers in all. The universe of the child expands similarly.  Each doll represents and incremental, outward expansion of the significant world of the child, from the close-in world of the mother in infancy to the whole wide world by the end of adolescence. 

Understanding these worlds, and developing curriculum appropriate for each world, or stage, leads us to developmental geography. We’ll look at how the children’s worlds change and appropriate geography and social studies curricula for each stage.   


Educating for Sustainability (EFS) is about helping people learn how to meet their needs without compromising future generations abilities to meet their needs.

Education for Sustainability

If we’re going to have a planet with an intact ecosystem that preserves climate, sustains people and keeps fauna and flora alive, then we need an educational system that cultivates environmentally responsible behavior and teaches systems thinking.   All forms of environmentally responsible adult behavior can be linked back to a healthy dose of nature in childhood.  Therefore, we’ll explore the relationship between childhood nature experience and how we foster that relationship in green schools, environmental charter schools, and schools with a commitment to place-based education.

Why 21st Century Children Need Nature

Children spend eight hours a day engaged with screens and one half hour a day outside in the natural world.  This leads to children’s lives are becoming more indoor-ified and digitalized.   As a result, children are more socially isolated, more depressed, less physically active, less healthy and less connected to the natural world. Not a good thing!  We’ll review some of the research on why nature is good for children and then we’ll look at examples of how families, schools and communities are re-introducing children to the nature world




Mapmaking with Children

How do children naturally come to learn their neighborhoods and communities?  Once we understand this, we can design curriculum that builds on the underlying biological patterns.

This practical and participatory workshop will include research on children’s neighborhood maps, a clear developmental model of children’s geographic understanding, examples of social studies and geography curriculum based on this developmental model and a mapmaking/treasure hunt activity that involves local exploration and a literacy challenge.


Developing a Ladder of Environmental Responsibility

A tidal wave of global climate change curriculum is crashing on schools.  Teachers and administrators are baffled about whether it’s a good idea to educate children about climate change and if yes, how they should do it. This workshop employs a research-based approach to thinking about how schools can change their own, and their students’ behavior, so that the school is reducing its carbon footprint while helping students and families do the same thing.  The solution is the creation of a ladder of environmental responsibility that creates a distinctive culture of environmental care and behavior in each school.   


Applying the Small Worlds Principle in Curriculum Development

In Childhood and Nature: Design Principles for Educators, David Sobel identifies seven recurrent children and nature play themes and illustrates how these themes can be used as design principles.  Some of these themes are special places, adventure, adventure and small worlds.   This workshop will give you the opportunity to understand the developmental implications of the “small worlds” principle, see examples of it in elementary and middle school curriculum and experience it yourself in the creation of a micro-park.  Literacy and numeracy content included.  


Glad Animal Movement: Supporting a Full Range of Bodily Exploration in Childhood

As childhood becomes more digitized and indoors, one of the things that disappears is a full range of movement behaviors. Childhoods are becoming sedentary and constricted. One of the challenges for elementary school teachers and environmental educators is to counteract this trend and encourage a wider, fuller, healthier range of body movements in children. Creating a full repertoire of bodily movements makes students healthier and assures the development of a fuller range of neural pathways.

In this workshop, we’ll spend time outdoors creating movement adventures for each other that encourage a full range of movements with an additional emphasis of vocabulary development. The process we used will serve as a model for doing similar activities with elementary-aged children.


Children’s Special Places:  Theory and Practice

Around the world, in diverse cultures and environments, children create huts, dens, bushhouses, forts, special places, in between the ages of about six and twelve.   What are the biological reasons for this worldwide phenomenon, what different forms does fort-building take, and why is this of interest.  

We’ll examine our own childhood special places, we’ll see slides of special places from around the world, and we’ll build some special places with indoor or outdoor loose parts.  Then we’ll think about the ways in which special place construction can become part of the curriculum or program in your educational setting.   


Storytelling and Evaluation

Karl Rove said that if he had the choice of using data or a Shakespearean quote to support a policy initiative, he’d use the Shakespearean quote. I take this to mean that the illustrative quote, or the good story, is often more persuasive that quantitative data.  Similarly, when evaluating and documenting a project, it’s often good to amplify quantitative data with qualitative impact.  Telling the stories that illustrate the success of a project are often just as effective as data about number of students impacted or number of presentations delivered. 

In this workshop, each participant will write a short story that provides “good news” about a classroom approach, project or initiative.  We’ll follow a highly scaffolded process that walks the participant through a series of steps to assemble the component parts of a story.  Then each person will write a one to two page story, complete with quotes and photos, that illustrates the positive outcomes of the project.  The process will serve as an useful model for writing projects with students.


Program Development Based on Childhood and Nature Design Principles

The seven Children and Nature Design Principles are Special Places, Adventure, Fantasy, Small Worlds, Hunting and Gathering, Animal Allies and Maps and Paths. These principles can be useful in constructing new and innovative approaches to curriculum design in schools or program design for summer and vacation camps, nature center programming and even birthday parties.

We’ll look at examples of applying the design principles in school and outside of school. Then we’ll all work on a design challenge—using the design principles to do program design in the local setting. Finally, in small groups, we’ll use the principles to innovate your approach to curriculum or a program you need to design in you personal or professional life.


Language Development, Movement and Nature Education

Early language development can be rooted in understanding the natural world. We’ll examine how language emerges in traditional cultures and how we can foster language development through scaffolded explorations in nature. We will tie vocabulary development and language differentiation to the kinesthetic and tactile sensory modes. And we’ll hearken back to old-fashioned movement education and try to revive it outdoors. Be prepared to go barefoot, and to create/enact mini adventures inspired by lots of active verbs.



Place-based Education in Public Schools


Hands-on Workshops with Jennifer Kramer and David Sobel


Jennifer Kramer


Jennifer Kramer is a 6th grade teacher at the K-6 Guilford Central School in Guilford, VT. She previously taught middle school social studies as well as a 5th /6th combination. She is a graduate of Middlebury College and Antioch University New England. She was recently awarded the Vermont VFW Teacher of the Year Award for middle school civics education. She specializes in creating real world, place-based education projects that engage students in learning about and contributing to the history, economics, politics and cultural traditions of the community.

David Sobel

David Sobel-Author.jpg

David Sobel is Senior Faculty in the Education Department at Antioch University New England in Keene, NH and he consults and speaks widely on child development and place-based education. He has authored eight books and more than 70 articles focused on children and nature for educators, parents, environmentalists and school administrators in the last 30 years. His most recent books are Wild Play: Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors published by Green Writers Press and Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoors Learning published by Redleaf Press.  


Jen has initiated a wide variety of groundbreaking place-based education classes in her school and community. She is available, with her able assistant David Sobel, to conduct teacher professional development workshops based on a variety of integrated projects. She has conducted workshops for the Flow of History in Vermont, Teaching the Hudson in New York, the University of Toronto Ontario Institute of Educational Studies, at the Burrenbeo Institute in Ireland and lots of places in between. Two hour to two day (or longer) workshops are available. Most workshops lead to the creation of a refined artistic project that integrates writing, science the arts and social studies. And math too if you want.


Workshops Available for Your School or Conference

Preserving Community and Teaching the Core Curriculum: A Case Study of the Guilford Country Store.

Good place-based curriculum develops academic skills, preserves community heritage, and contributes to community economic revitalization. When a community economic redevelopment organization needed help to preserve a country store, 7th and 8th graders at Guilford Central School stepped up to the plate. They developed storyboards, photo-shopped historic photos, interviewed seniors and past store owners, learned camera technology and audio recording, and mastered editing software to create a short documentary about the value of turning the store into a community center.


Exploding Neighborhood Maps: Mapmaking and Children’s Literature

Using the children's book Marshfield Dreams by Ralph Fletcher as a master text, this workshop combines the power of map-making integrated with the writing of personal narratives. Children create neighborhood maps, follow a set of scaffolded steps to write a story based on a personal experience, and then bring them together into a very cool exploding map. Teachers will follow all the same steps.


Florilegium: Learning and Illustrating the Flora of a Town Conservation Area

There’s a natural area behind your school or on the edge of the playground or within a 10- minute walk of your school. Visit it over and over, learn its common and intriguing plants, map their locations and become an expert in on plant. Then follow a set of well-guided steps to create one page of a beautiful, illustrated medieval style florilegium.  


At One in a Place Called Guilford

Based on a book by Lynne Plourde, At One in a Place Called Maine, children create a book about their hometown. They take a field trip to visit unique natural and cultural places, they review local historical photos, identify one place they want to illustrate, learn collage technique and write masterpiece sentences. The result is a beautiful published book like this one viewable here.


Watershed Accordion Books: Exploring and Mapping a Local Watershed

There’s no better way to understand a watershed than to get out and visit it, from beginning springs down though meanders and gorges till it flows into the Connecticut River. Learn how to investigate your stream using topographic maps and Google earth, and then illustrate the different sections of the stream while learning river geology and cultural history. The result is a beautiful accordion book.


Creating a Social History Interpretive Guide: The Latchis Theater

“How am I going to teach about ancient Greece in a place-based fashion in a rural town in southern Vermont?“ Jen wondered. As she looked around her in the downtown movie theater she saw a history of Greek heritage, artifacts, myths in the interior design of the theater created by a Greek immigrant grocery store impresario turned theater designer. Her students went on to learn Greek culture through designing an interpretive brochure for the arts organization that owned the movie theater.


Guilford from 1760 to 2017: Writing Social History

The history of New England, or the United States, can be understood through a local lens. Explore the historical artifacts that capture local history from native peoples’ settlement, to early colonization to the industrial revolution to the townsfolk who left to fight in the Civil War and into the 21st century. Learn how to help each student develop an illustrated book of the history of your town and of the United States. 


Pourquoi Stories: Explaining How the Coyote Got Its Howl

Building forts, becoming a member of a clan, foraging for wild foods, and writing survival journals led to students’ deep understanding of local fauna. From saw whet owls to deer mice to turkey vultures to black bears and coyotes, children both became those animals and learned the natural history of their lifestyles. Reading Just So and Pourquoi stories, they then fabricated fanciful stories about how the moose got its antlers, how the jumping mouse got it’s long tail, how the coyote got its howl. Learn about local fauna and write (and of course tell and perform) your own pourquoi story.


Interested in a workshop with Jennifer and David? Please contact us here.