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Clare Nugent Rietz


Founder and director of Ferntop Nature School (2013) - the first licensed nature preschool in the Southeast 


  • Early Childhood Education

  • Nashville State Community College Certified Tennessee Naturalist  

  • Trained in Early Childhood Music and Movement from Musikgarten

  • Nature/Forest teacher training under Dr. Claire Warden and Mindstretchers in  Scotland 

  • Nature/Forest training with Erin Kenny of Cedarsong Forest School on Vashon Island,  Washington State 

  • Trainer/Speaker on nature education and child development at numerous local, state,  and regional conferences 

  • Member of Tennessee Reggio Study group 

  • Member of Natural Start Alliance. 

My earliest memory of nature is gardening with my grandmother. As a child, this garden  seemed massive, with many paths and places to ramble. In reality, it was a 10 x 5  rectangle with a central path down the middle. Regardless, it was a magical space that  forged relationships to nature that has lasted a lifetime.  

Home educating my own children provided hours of outdoor exploration, and it was  during this time that I realized the power of nature in a child’s life to inspire their play  and imagination. I began developing programming for groups, schools and museums that  combined music, movement, stories, and learning that revolved around the natural  world and the seasons. I was trained in New York with Musikgarten, a rich music and  movement curriculum that uses elements of nature in their music, and began my  education in child development and early childhood education.  

Widowed in 2010, I moved my family back to Tennessee, where I was born and raised,  and opened up the first licensed nature preschool in the Southeast. I bought a farm and  turned the barn into a school. I took classes to become a Tennessee naturalist so I  could better understand the flora and fauna of my area. The areas around the farm  became our classroom. At that time, the field of nature/forest education in American was  in its infancy, so I traveled to Scotland and England, where outdoor schools are  common and thriving, for intensive study in outdoor education. I began training and  speaking at conferences around the Southeast about nature education, and the  possibilities it holds for children and families. Ferntop Nature School is currently in  it’s 9th year of operation, and provides programing to children ages 3-10 years, and hosts events/trainings for educators, parents, therapists, and anyone seeking to  understand deeper how to learn WITH nature, not just IN nature. 

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief...For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

- Wendell Berry

I lift up my eyes to the mountains-where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

-Psalm 121:1-2
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