is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, as vital to our lives as water and good bread.
Outdoor Life Learners was founded by a group of nature-loving moms who got together for weekly hikes with their kids, and realized this experience was something that should be available to all children. Outdoor Life Learners was born from our time spent together outdoors, watching our children thrive, pretend play, imagine, create and learn. Our diverse backgrounds include degrees and certifications in Elementary Education, Special Education, Music Education, Neuroscience, Marketing and Communications, Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, Blomberg Rhythmic Movement Level 1 and Yoga. The educators-by-training among us bring a combined 45+ years of experience to the mix. And all together we boast several decades of mothering experience. All this added to a shared passion for nature and our deep desire to expose our kids to free, unadulterated learning makes for a core group that is capable and committed to raising forever-curious, lifelong learners
AMANDA CONTA STEENCKEN, PHD
Amanda graduated from the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, Argentina in 2000 with a degree
in Music Composition, and from SUNY Upstate Medical University in 2006 with a PhD in
Neuroscience. Recently, she received Blomberg Rhythmic Movement Training Level 1 certification.
Amanda is originally from Argentina and relocated to the Syracuse NY area in 2000
to pursue her passion: gaining a deeper understanding of the human body and how our brain
works. Amanda is a firm believer in the fact that all humans learn differently and at different
rates, as confirmed by her experiences teaching piano and music theory to kids, and later on
gross anatomy and neuroscience to first year medical students. Growing up camping and
exploring the creek and wooded hills around her childhood home, Amanda’s other passion is
the outdoors. She enjoys hiking and exploring area nature spots each week with her 2 kids.
Amanda has several mottos she lives by. Some of them are:
- “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist
adjusts the sails” - William Arthur Ward
- “Not all classrooms have 4 walls” - Erin Kenny (Cedarsong Nature School)
- “Education isn’t something you can finish” - Isaac Asimov
LORI KIEFER HARPER
A native of Skaneateles, Lori grew up in the idyllic countryside spending countless hours of
unstructured play and exploration in the nearby creeks, trees, fields and ponds. As a youth, Lori
worked as a Camp Counselor and Horseback Instructor at Lourdes Camp and Camp Nazareth
in Woodgate, NY. Her childhood experiences ignited a forever love of nature and all it's
creatures. She graduated from Syracuse University S.I. Newhouse with a degree in Marketing
and Communications and a Minor in Psychology. Recently, Lori earned her Master Gardener
and Master Naturalist certifications. Lori has taught children from all over Upstate NY about
animals, farms, forests and ponds at the Discovery Center in Spafford, and Lime Hollow Nature
Center in Cortland, NY. She helped spearhead, build and teach the Learning Garden at
Skaneateles State Street School. She is currently homeschooling her son and using nature as
her focus for curriculum. When Lori isn't attending nature workshops or watching too many
bushcraft videos, she can be found outdoors hiking, camping, practicing bushcraft skills,
foraging, geocaching, vegetable gardening and chicken rearing. Lori’s life mottos are:
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”- Lao Tzu
“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” - Vincent Van Gogh
Carrie graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a Bachelors of Science in Special Education and Elementary Education in 2002. She returned to SUNY Geneseo after a year of teaching to earn her Masters of Science in Elementary Education in 2004. Carrie has since spent 10 years in various public schools in NY and also Virginia teaching kindergarten, first, fifth and sixth grades. Her experience teaching both in the general and special education settings in rural and inner-city areas deepened her understanding of how all children learn no matter their background. Children are naturally curious and inventive and even more so when given the space to explore their inquiries freely and outside. One major breakthrough moment in Carrie’s career happened when she played tag on the playground with a student who was a selective mute. She was shocked when after three days of playing tag on the playground the child broke his silence after months of not speaking. Now a mother of two, Carrie’s new role has proved to be the ultimate teacher of childhood development. Her interest in play based outdoor learning has become the foundation of her own children’s education and her hope for all young learners. Recently, she received Blomberg Rhythmic Movement Training Level 1 certification.
In her free time, Carrie enjoys spending time with her children and husband hiking the beautiful trails of central NY. She speaks Dutch, sings, and teaches yoga to children and adults. Carrie firmly believes that:
“Children have the right to a fair education where play and nature are the focal point.”
“Every child deserves the chance to be themselves in a nonjudgmental setting where their
learning will be honored and respected.”
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately...” - Henry David Thoreau
Benga grew up as typical small town Alabama girl, surrounded by corn, cows, cotton fields and lots of football. She received her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education K-6, from Samford University and her Master of Science in Special Education from the University of Alabama.
Benga was the educator who was always trying to figure out ways to get her students outside. Whether it was collecting hail samples after a spring storm or poetry lessons under an oak tree, she was outside with her students as much as possible, enjoying the benefits of fresh air and movement. Even 25 years ago, as a fresh out of college teacher, she innately seemed to know that providing those types of learning experiences were key to creating a well rounded classroom environment for all students. Her teaching career has consisted of many classroom opportunities, from that as a therapeutic educator at a short-term residential treatment facility for children ages 4-12 with severe mental health issues to that of a teacher in a totally self-contained public school
classroom with middle school students dealing with learning disabilities. The most treasured
classroom opportunities were her years spent as a 4th grade public school teacher in a small district near Lake Ontario. It was during those years that Benga found herself questioning the direction of public education. The increased emphasis on and addition of more and more high stakes standardized testing began to make her reevaluate what her role as an educator had become.
Spending time at home with her newborn led to her becoming a full time stay at home mother. Today, Benga and her husband homeschool their two boys while living on a small hobby farm, raising chickens, making maple syrup and gardening. Homeschooling allows her family the flexibility to explore and continue to create a sustainable lifestyle for themselves. She and her boys also love spending time with family and friends hiking, kayaking, fishing and exploring areas in and around Central New York, especially near their 100 + year old camp on the Black River at the edge of The Adirondack National Park. Benga believes that:
"Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are to save environmentalism, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature." - Richard Louv