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.
• 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 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 the Conservation Education Committee with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Karen coordinates the Minnesota School Forest Program at the Department of Natural Resources. She loves working with teachers around the state to help them teach outside more often. Karen has a background in Environmental Education and Biology and was a former classroom teacher in Colorado. She has a daughter and husband who love being active outside as much as she does. They spend a lot of time playing, canoeing, camping, and skiing.
Niall Murton is the Camp & Outreach Director for the Burnsville YMCA and YMCA Camp Streefland. He leads a national initiative between the National Park Service and YMCA for the Twin Cities that connects thousands of youth with nearby nature experiences. Prior to joining the Y, Niall worked in Parks & Recreation and the YMCA in Denver, CO. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Health & Physical Education & Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction. He has been involved in outdoor and community programming for over 20 years. He actively coaches with the Prior Lake Soccer Club and enjoys fishing, canoe trips and time with his family outdoors.
Cathy is Professor of Pediatrics and the Associate Director for Leadership and Education at the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. She is also the consulting Director of Research for the Children & Nature Network. Cathy has been involved in the Minnesota Children & Nature Connection executive committee since 2007, previously serving as its Chair and hosting the organization briefly at the University of Minnesota. 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.
Jody is currently the Director of Recreation and Parks for the City of Brooklyn Park, MN (6 largest City in the state of MN). She has worked in both municipal and County government for over 38 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 play areas in parks and nature-based preschool programming that utilizes the natural world as an enriched classroom.
Bekah is the Learning Experiences Coordinator at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. Prior to Como, she worked at the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, Warner Nature Center, and Minnesota Children's Museum. Bekah has a background in Psychology and Environmental Education and strongly believes in the power of play and time spent in nature. She also has two children who are experts in tree climbing, mud slinging, fort building, rock jumping and gorp eating.