About Us

Why We're Here

At the Natural Start Alliance, we believe in great beginnings. We know that hands-on experiences in nature help build stronger, smarter, and happier children, and we believe that quality education for young children includes regular opportunities to connect with nature and the local environment. We also believe that as children learn to care for themselves and others, they also begin to learn to care for the world around them. Experiencing and learning about the environment in early childhood builds a foundation for lifelong environmental literacy. 

Who We Are

The Natural Start Alliance is a network of people and organizations that believe that all young children need frequent opportunities to experience, learn from, and care for nature and the environment through high-quality education. The Alliance, a project of the North American Association for Environmental Education, serves as a backbone organization to focus and amplify the collective impact of the people and organizations that share this common vision.


What We Do

Natural Start promotes quality and access to early childhood environmental education.

Specifically, we:

1. Promote early childhood environmental education that is engaging, effective, safe, and inclusive.

2. Increase the competencies of early childhood environmental educators to meet the needs of children with different abilities and from a diversity of backgrounds, including young people of color and those from underserved communities.

3. Foster and support early childhood environmental education communities of practice.

4. Advocate for policies that support nature-based early childhood education settings and programs.

5. Promote research that informs early childhood environmental education practice and advocacy.

6. Promote the value of early childhood environmental education to educators, policymakers, and parents.

Learn about the benefits of becoming a member of Natural Start.


Alliance Staff

Judy Braus, Executive Director, NAAEE
Christy Merrick, Director, Natural Start Alliance
Betty Olivolo, Senior Advisor, Natural Start Alliance
Emily Van Laan, Communications and Conference Coordinator, Natural Start Alliance
Kit Harrington, Policy and Professional Training Coordinator, Natural Start Alliance
Contact us anytime at info@naturalstart.org


Advisory Board

Patti Bailie, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, University of Maine at Farmington
Yashwant Bhagwanji, Professor, Florida Atlantic University
Ken Finch, Founder & President, Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood
Megan Gessler, Founder and Director, Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association (NINPA)
Sarah Keely, Preschool Teacher, St. David’s Episcopal Day School
Rachel Larimore, Doctoral Student, Michigan State University
Stacy McReynolds, Vice President of Education, San Antonio Zoo
Sheila Williams Ridge, Director, University of Minnesota Lab School
Bora Simmons, Director, National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education
Susie Wirth, Outreach Director, Nature Explore