Council of Nature and Forest Preschools

The Natural Start Alliance's Council of Nature and Forest Preschools was created by nature-based education professionals and is a subset of the Natural Start Alliance membership. The Council is focused specifically on advancing nature and forest preschools.

The Council works in committees, listed below. If you'd like to get involved, please contact the team lead for the area (or areas) that you are interested in. You can spend as much time on Council activities as you like: this is an all-volunteer effort of professionals who want to advance the field. Each team works on its own schedule.

Or for general inquiries about the Council, you can contact the current Council Co-Chairs, Kit Harrington, [email protected], and Megan Gessler, [email protected].



Council Focus Areas and Contacts



Role: Help the field advocate for policies that encourage nature-based, outdoor learning
Team Lead: Anna Dutke, Nature Preschool Teacher, Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools


Professional Development

Role: Promote quality professional practice in the field of nature-based education
Team Leads: Sarah Sheldon, Advisor for Professional Development, Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association
Contact[email protected]


Higher Education/Teacher Preparation

Role: Coordinate higher education activities in teacher preparation programs for nature-based early childhood education
Team Lead: Patty Born Selly, Faculty Program Coodinator/Assistant Professor, Hamline University
Contact[email protected] 



Role: Promote creation and connection of regional nature-based early childhood education associations through national hub
Team LeadMegan Gessler, Founder and President, Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association


Council Leadership

Attendees of the nature-based education meeting at the National Conservation Training Center.The Council for Nature and Forest Preschools began to form in 2015 at a meeting at the National Conservation Training Center to explore how the Natural Start Alliance could help accelerate the nature-based preschool movement. At that meeting, leaders in the field were clear: nature and forest schools need specialized professional support to ensure quality and grow the movement. The nature-based education professionals listed below have come together to help the Council get started, and they form the Leadership Team. They invite other leaders--whether parents, educators, administrators, researchers, or others--to join them in helping to push the field forward.


Council Chair

Megan Gessler, Founder and Director, Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Association

Kit Harrington, Communications and Engagement Coordinator, Voices for Vermont's Children


Leadership Team

Patti Bailie, Professor, University of Maine Farmington

Patty Born Selly, Faculty Program Coodinator/Assistant Professor, Hamline University

Anna Dutke, Nature Preschool Teacher, Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools

Rachel Larimore, Author and Nature-Based Early Learning Consultant

Sarah Sheldon, Nature Preschool Teacher, Chicago Botanic Garden

David Sobel, Professor Emeritus, Antioch University

Sheila Williams-Ridge, Director, Shirley G. Moore Laboratory School, University of Minnesota