by Olivia “Newt” Longstaff, Lead Teacher Naturalist
Westminster Woods will be hosting the Spring AEOE Conference this year! What is AEOE? The fun-to-say-quickly acronym stands for: the Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education. It is a volunteer-run nonprofit whose goal is to serve outdoor and environmental educators in California. I am super psyched that we are hosting AEOE Spring Conference here at Westminster Woods: with our outstanding challenge course, our delicious food, and our beautiful creek and forest, there is something here for everyone to enjoy.
I’ve been to four AEOE Conferences so far, and this year I am excited to step it up and present my first workshop. I love this conference because I get to reconnect and create new friendships with unique and passionate people who share my interests in nature and teaching. The feeling of being surrounded by those who share the same mission, outside of one's own organization, is powerful. I leave inspired and energized after a weekend attending workshops, sharing stories, and dancing the night away at the Saturday night event. I highly encourage anyone interested in teaching outdoors to attend so that you can take in the positive vibes of AEOE and walk away with concrete new lesson ideas and useful skills to use in the field.
AEOE puts on three conferences a year, two that happen regionally in the fall (north and south), and one that is statewide in the spring. The spring conference is a place for creating bonds and sharing skills with other outdoor educators in California and beyond. It provides a variety of professional development opportunities for newly emerging naturalists and skilled program administrators through daytime workshops, an inspirational keynote speaker, and open space to build up community values. It is a jam-packed weekend dedicated to training educators with the knowledge and skills required for educating today's youth about the natural world.
I love all the spontaneous things that happen at the conference and the way that the people who attend are up for anything. From early morning bird-watching to games of human-foosball, so many unscheduled and last-minute experiences make attending worth it for me. For example, at one conference there was a jam-session on Saturday night where we opened the doors to a patio and danced to the funky beat in the pouring rain. Afterwards, a group of us went on a barefoot night hike to the nearby pond where we jumped in for a midnight swim. We were a random group of new friends, who shared a unique experience that felt so right in that moment. I am so looking forward to making new memories this year.
Olivia Longstaff, also known as Newt, is a Lead Teacher Naturalist here at Westminster Woods. This is her third year as an outdoor educator and her 24th year on this planet. She enjoys birdwatching, exploring the forest floor, and dancing in the moonlight.