The Minnesota Children and Nature Connection is an alliance of individuals, organizations and communities engaged in a movement to connect children and families to nature. MN-CNC seeks to build awareness of the developmental, social, emotional and health benefits of connecting children and families to the natural world.

Our Goals

• Motivate and educate the public by communicating the benefits of reconnecting to nature.

• Support the development of opportunities for children and families to experience nature within their parks, neighborhoods and community.

• Build a network of individuals, institutions, organizations and industries interested in promoting the organization’s mission.

• Disseminate and support related research and promote best practice.

• Inform policy, systems and practice to provide increased access for children, families and the public to the natural world.

Who We Serve

Professionals, Policymakers and Implementers, Researchers, Families

MNCNC’s work is aimed primarily at the professionals whose work touches children and families. These individuals and organizations are from diverse sectors including education, early childhood, health, mental health, social work, environmental education, recreation, design, policymaking, among others. Researchers, parents and others may also be interested in our events and resources.

Steering Committee Members

Heidi Faris (Chair)

heidi_skiingHeidi is a Naturalist Teacher at Tamarack Nature Center for the My Nature Preschool. Prior to teaching she spent the past 8 years in the zoo world where she specialized in connecting families to nature through play experiences, as well as serving as co-chair for the North Carolina Children and Nature Coalition (NCCAN!). Beyond the classroom she is an advisor for family nature clubs with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

Ed Nelson

Coming soon

MaryLynn Pulscher

maryMaryLynn has more than 20 years of experience with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, including work in Recreation, Park Planning, and Community Engagement, and currently serves as the Supervisor for Environmental Education. She coordinates creative, collaborative based programs, projects and events that encompass outdoor adventure, nature, art, and history to serve the interests of Minneapolis park users. She has served on the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection executive committee twice since 2008.

Amanda Varley

amandaAmanda is an Early Education Specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education. She co-leads Minnesota’s School Readiness Study. She brings to the MN Children and Nature Connection executive board a wealth of knowledge about early childhood as well as about social media and online strategies for reaching diverse audiences. Long passionate about the outdoors, Amanda enjoys hiking, gardening, paddling, rock climbing and sailing.

Deb Loy

debDeb is a health and wellness consultant with over 25 years of experience committed to children's health. Her work in health care, local public health and the Minnesota Department of Education focused on the connections between health and education outcomes. She is a leader and advocate for health and education equity and the power of prevention. Deb's been an avid nature lover since her childhood and loves to garden, hike, camp, paddle and travel. She brings her expertise in state and local-level policy and systems change to the executive board of the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection.

Cathy Jordan

Cathy-Jordan-photoCathy is associate professor of Extension and Pediatrics and the immediate past director of the Children, Youth and Family Consortium (CYFC) at the University of MInnesota. Cathy has been involved in the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection executive committee since 2007, previously serving as its Chair and hosting the organization at CYFC. Cathy’s areas of expertise include the developmental, educational and health impacts of connecting children to nature as well as best practices in community-engaged approaches to research. She provides an evidence-informed lens for the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection.

Mikaela Swanlund

Mikaela Swanlund photoMikaela has been dedicated to helping people find a good quality of life through outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship through her work with a variety of organizations and her current position as Outdoor Programs and Outreach Coordinator for Recreation Equipment Inc. (REI). Through her unique role at REI she has been able to have a large impact in the outdoor community. She brings her professional skill set and acts as a representative of the business sector to the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection executive committee and is proud to serve as its chair.

Jody Yungers

Jody Yungers photoJody has worked in both municipal and County government for over 34 years. Jody has served on the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection executive committee as the Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association representative since its infancy. Jody has been an advocate and leader in the industry for implementation of nature-based preschool programming that utilizes the natural world as an enriched classroom.