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Living more lightly, joyously, and thoughtfully


Earth Guides

Planet Earth is in serious ecological trouble. If you are reading this, you probably know that already, so there is no need to list all the evidence. The problem is we don't have a comprehensive educational response for the reasons underlying the planet's suffering. 


Instead, we tend to focus on the symptoms when they become so pervasive that they can no longer be ignored. There is a long list of those as well. They seem to come and go in our perception as the media chooses to address them. Meanwhile, most people do not fully grasp the intertwined natural systems and communities that support all life here, including their own, and thus any concern they have becomes hostage to whatever "symptom" captures the most attention at the moment. 

"Solutions" offered up for such "symptoms" follow the same pattern: awareness of the problem stimulates structural, technological fixes for it while the planet continues deteriorating (add another long list of proffered solutions, very few of which address our own lifestyles). 

The Institute for Earth Education and its training arm is launching an effort to prepare and certify a new kind of environmental leader. Earth Guides aim to illustrate life's intertwined systems and communities in easy to understand ways and how the human species is an integral part of them - not separate, nor their master, but wholly dependent upon them in the here and now. 

Earth Guides illustrate underlying realities that are often pushed to the dark corners of public discourse about this planet's environmental peril.

Earth Guides


An initial training session will take place in Cedar Cove on June 23-25, 2023 in Greenville, West Virginia. 

This training will be conducted by Steve Van Matre, international chair of The Institute for Earth Education. Professor Van Matre has circled the planet 30+ times conducting over 1000 sessions on six continents about the institute's work. He has over two dozen publications in the field, making him one of the world's most prolific educators in outdoor environmental learning. The institute's carefully crafted educational programs, such as "Earthkeepers," are underway now in 15 countries and 10 languages.

Professor Van Matre's revealing talks have touched the lives of thousands of people around the world for five decades. As an ecologist in England put it: "Thanks for reminding me of why I got into my field in the beginning."

Participants should plan on arriving Friday afternoon, and departing Sunday afternoon. The best airport locations are in Lewisburg, West Virginia (about one hour away) and Roanoke, Virginia (about two hours away). Depending on the need, we can arrange shuttle service from both and/or ask participants to share rides. 

Lodging will be available in nearby group houses shared with other participants (again with shuttle service or shared rides). For those arriving in their own vehicles, there are also a number of B&Bs and hotels in the region (we will provide a list of recommendations upon registering), plus a camping option in Cedar Cove. 

Cedar Cove, the international home of The Institute for Earth Education, is located in a secluded hollow of the eastern mountains, and adjacent to one of America's National Natural Monuments. 

For those wanting to explore more widely while they are in the area, America's newest national park, the New River Gorge, is less than an hour away. 

Registration will open in March 2023. There will be a limited number of places available. To be put on an information mailing list, contact our training hosts Francis and Nancy Bires via 

Training Opportunities
Training Sessions
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Training Sessions

Introducing a new "eco-language" for the planet and how to use it in working with others... 

Most educators teach the "language" of a particular subject - biology, history, mathematics, etc. - instead of using that language sparingly to reveal the underlying structure of a subject in a useable and practical way. It is a great loss. People come away with an accumulation of names and numbers, theories and terms, but very little they can do with those in their own lives. The argument is that this approach teaches people how to think; the problem is it doesn't teach them how to act.


Given all of our scientific and technological skills, we have lost a basic grasp of what makes life possible here, and the planet is dying ecologically as a result. Instead of embedding ourselves harmoniously in the natural systems and communities that support us, we have walled ourselves off from them. Today, we look upon nature as a place to extract materials for our use, as a place for escape or recreation, as a place to acquire trophies or decorations, as a place to discard our waste. Nature is "without" instead of "within." 


The reality is that people teach what they know and what many outdoor leaders know is a reductionist form of biology. Earth Speak is a new way of explaining how life functions from a broader perspective using terms and expressions that reveal instead of conceal. If we can change the language, we can change the perception and thus the actions that are so devastating. For example, in Earth Speak, we don't refer to trash cans, waste baskets, or rubbish bins. These are all "cycle containers," for everything 

placed in them ends up in the planet's cycles of the air, water, and soil. We cannot throw things away, even if we try. There is no away here. 


Learning any language takes time and practice; learning Earth Speak is much easier because it deals with our daily lives. We can immerse ourselves in it regardless of where we live. 

Come, participate in compiling and imparting a new perceptual language...


Creating stimulating activities for conveying the essential processes of life...


Unfortunately, people grow up in our societies today primarily learning the language for the pieces of life, not its processes. Take tree leaves as an example. In traditional nature education participants learn. how to use an identification guide and its key to name the trees. They learn the parts of a leaf (vein, petiole, node, margin). They learn what people make with the wood of a particular tree. In other words, they learn something about those pieces, but often miss the fundamental process that leaves provide in capturing and using the sun's light energy to support life here. Multitudes of young people collected, identified, and preserved those pieces of life without grasping their vital role. Earth Guides strive to convey in a fun and participatory way that a sunlight “catcher and converter” embodies the largest chemical process on the planet. This session will serve as a template for producing alternative activities. 

Come, take home some samples to try out with your learners ... 

Visual Tools

Sharing motivating visualizations of how life functions... 


Most people are visual learners; they need to see something to help them make the abstract more concrete. Earth Guides use four symbolic illustrations in explaining how life works on this small planet, while helping their participants develop four special senses through using them to create a more harmonious relationship with the systems that sustain all life here. This is the visual language that underpins Earth Speak. 


Come, experience using more images and less words for our multi-cultural world...

Poetry in Process

Practicing a way to capture the essence of life with both the head and the heart... 


It is common in the field of outdoor learning to ask people to write poems about the pieces and places of life. Earth Guides ask them to write and share lyric poems about the processes of life. Poetry is the art of capturing and sharing essence. 

Today, people need to feel the processes and process the feelings. 

Come, "catch the flow"...

Premises & Precepts 

Maximizing leadership through maxims ... 

Earth Guides create their own paths in helping others live more lightly and joyously within the planet's natural systems and communities, but they follow important signposts along the way. Several of them are crucial for not getting lost. Even more important, if the path chosen does not run through your own home at some point, then it will become a dead-end for the planet. 


Come, find the answer for tomorrow in your work today ...

Ode to the Earth

Celebrating our place in space .... 

This Earth Guide ceremony illustrates and highlights how life functions on this small planet. A ceremony provides formal structure for something that is considered to be of the most profound importance, and this one is not only a reminder but a joyous affirmation. We need to celebrate life's natural systems more than its human technocrats. 

Come, join others in lighting a candle for this precious oasis ... 

The Greatest Show in The Solar System

Presenting a theatrical experience for boys and girls of all ages ... 

(a participatory play in four acts) 

Educators in general, and outdoor leaders in particular, represent the primary hope for a biotically rich planet in the future. We have passed the proverbial "tipping point" of human impact and entered a new epoch of life on the third planet from the sun. Helping people deal with that reality while continuing to serve all life will require a new kind of educator and outdoor leader. 

In this experience the audience is the cast. Just as in life on this small planet, everyone has a role to play (using Earth Speak in a theater-in-the-round setting with three-dimensional models).

In the future, Certified Earth Guides will be able to purchase and produce this play in their own settings and situations. During this event, we will be seeking several sites to pilot it for us free of charge. If you think your site might be interested, please note that when you register for this special training opportunity. 

Come, learn how to be a "ringmaster" for this revealing three ring show...



Participants in this training opportunity can ... 

Enjoy an introductory Earth Guides session highlighting new methods and activities for helping people develop a deeper relationship with this planet and its life. 

Complete the necessary steps afterwards to become certified by the School of the Earth. 

Apply, as a certified Earth Guide (CEG), to become a trainer and conduct introductory Earth Guides sessions for the School of the Earth. 

The institute's training arm, the School of the Earth, will administer the process for those who want to continue and become Certified Earth Guides (CEG). Please be advised: this is not one of those programs where you go to a brief workshop and then merely pay another fee to become credentialed. For those choosing to become Certified Earth Guides, there will be additional requirements. 

School of the Earth


If some of the following viewpoints already resonate with you, then please consider becoming an International Earth Guide …  possibly certified, perhaps a trainer.

     All life is precious beyond our knowing and all its myriad forms deserve our respect.

      For humans, there is no such thing as “clean” energy, while “net zero” and the “circular economy” are misleading illusions, not defining solutions.


     Climate change is a symptom of global warming, and global warming is a symptom of human myopia.


     This small planet cannot sustain all of us in the way we live now and remain a prosperous biosphere.

     Traditional nature study has focused primarily on the pieces of life rather than the underlying processes of life that produce and support those pieces.

     The task before us is not to connect people with nature; the task is to help them understand how they are already connected and what that means in their daily lives.

     Education is the key to unlocking new ways of thinking and doing for living more lightly, joyously, and thoughtfully on this small planet.

A “guide” is someone who points the way and sometimes leads. An Earth Guide illuminates pivotal points of understanding for a beneficial human relationship with this planet.

A Natural Candidate
The Institute for Earth Education

The Institute for Earth Education was formed out of the environmental interest generated by the first Earth Day in 1970 and the National Geographic article on the Acclimatization program in 1974. Today, its carefully crafted earth education programs are offered in 15 countries and 10 languages. It is a grass roots volunteer organization without government support, corporate sponsors, or foundation grants. 

The institute has been active in this area of education for a long time. As E Magazine expressed the work years ago before the institute set off on an alternative path outlined in Earth Education...A New Beginning: "Perhaps the most creative force in environmental education curriculum design is Steve Van Matre, the charismatic leader of The Institute for Earth Education. Earth Education immerses learners in ecological systems as the "deep ecology" wing of environmental education. Van Matre's work has been replicated planet wide..." We are still at it. 

Today, the institute's publications, including Sunship Earth, The Earth Speaks, and Earthwalks, can be found in outdoor centers around the world. For a closer look at its work, visit 

Institue for Earth Educatio


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