By: Elissa Mallory
It was an idyllic autumn day when fellow MAEE board member, River Ostrow, and I set off from St. Paul, MN to the regional Midwest Environmental Education Conference in St. Charles, IL. Hosted by the Environmental Education Association of Illinois (www.eeai.net), this year’s conference theme was “Live in the Now, Focus on the Future”. We saw that theme in action through workshops, education sessions, field trips, and featured speakers.
Dr. Bob Carter, a long-time environmental educator, and owner of Heartland Interpretation and Education opened up the conference with a late-evening keynote on Wednesday. Thursday was filled with workshops, exhibitors, and meet-and-greets. We staffed the MAEE exhibit table and met local and regional educators and vendors. While meeting educators from across the region, I also got advice on planting a perennial pollinator garden, backyard composting, and how to account for climate change when choosing new trees to plant in midwestern cities.
During our time in St. Charles we met countless interesting people and learned about the many ways educators incorporate the environment into their daily practice. We attended sessions on topics from agriculture to audience engagement. Field trips led participants off to the Chicago Botanical Gardens and Crabtree Nature Center. During our Crabtree Nature Center tour, I learned how and why their director transformed some of his natural lands into a nature play area for children. His simple updates, from a spider web to a “loose parts” play area, transformed a hiking trail into a place where people can engage with nature in a hands-on way.We were also privileged to speak with Sal Redhawk Camacho as he shared Ojibwe artifacts and history with us.
We made time for a hike along the Fox River and took advantage of meal times to catch up on what we learned and network with other educators. Another great social event was the costume ball. Many conference attendees showed up in nature-themed costumes, including a rainstorm, a cactus, and the Lorax!
The conference finished up with a keynote by Rachel Larimore, a major supporter of the nature preschool movement. I left the conference feeling invigorated and ready to tackle new challenges in the field of environmental education. We’re looking forward to hosting MEEC in Minnesota in 2019! You can look forward to a conference focused on urban access to environmental education with an emphasis on expanding our audience.