The mission of Families in Nature is to connect children and their families to nature and to each other through time spent learning, playing, and volunteering outdoors. Families in Nature is a federally tax exempt 501c3 non-profit organization and we strive to engage families of all backgrounds with children of all ages. FiN is in its 8th year as an outdoor education program and is currently serving families with children ranging in age from 4 months to 17 years old, with interns in college and beyond. FiN activities are aimed at teaching children and their parents about ecology and conservation through hands-on experiences in nature, while they spend quality family time together. The activities include nature walks, field science experiences, service projects, campouts, lessons in outdoor skills, and more. Each activity has time for learning and time for playing outside. It is amazing what a group of kids (and parents) will come up with when they have unstructured time outside together.
We strive to create confident, capable, independent, curious, engaged, interested and connected children and families. The physical and mental health benefits, as well as the educational benefits of time spent in nature are well documented in Richard Louv’s books “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle.”
FiN teaches field science through the use of hands on learning. FiN families experience hands on field science with local biologists and ecologists throughout the year. For example, families have the chance to volunteer with Texas Parks and Wildlife to band wild birds at Guadalupe River State Park. We also study water quality and aquatic insects with the City of Austin. We go birding and learn marine biology on the Texas Coast, and we have many other educational adventures. Our goal is to educate children and their families about the world around them and to create environmentally literate students. “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dim
Families in Nature promotes strong families and a strong sense of community through shared experiences in nature. We hope to provide a “tribe” as described in Michael Gurian’s “The Wonder of Boys.”
FiN creates scheduled family time as a restorative part of our busy, over scheduled lives where every member of the family is probably headed in different directions all week long.
FiN works to instill confidence in families so that they will feel safe and capable taking their children hiking and camping. We teach camping using the principles of Leave No Trace.
FiN provides opportunities for volunteer service to families who want to do volunteer projects with their children.
Participation in FiN can help children and their parents reduce stress by spending time outdoors without the distractions of screens, phones, bills, laundry, and all of the other minutia of everyday life. FiN activities create emotionally accessible time with family and community.
FiN Staff, Leaders and Volunteers
Heather Kuhlken, Founder and Director of Families in Nature
Heather Kuhlken incorporated her experience as a teacher, outdoor educator and biologist and her passion for nature and conservation to found Austin Families in Nature in 2008. Over the past 7 years, Heather has guided AFiN’s growth from a small family nature club into a well known 501c3 non-profit that is now named Families in Nature. As the executive director of Families and Nature, Heather spends time planning and leading family outdoor and environmental education experiences, managing multiple Families in Nature groups, and managing the internal structure, fundraising, website and social media for the organization. She mentors leaders in Austin and around the US to help them engage families in experiential science, outdoor education and nature play. This includes training classroom teachers to incorporate nature and the outdoors into their instruction. During the summer, Heather leads immersive, nature-rich travel experiences for families to destinations around the world. Heather has also designed and lead the community builds of three nature-based play areas at Parkside Community School, a Montessori school in Austin, TX. Heather also works as a nature and underwater photographer through Kuhlken Photography. Heather leads the Families and Communities project on the Leadership Team of the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin, and is an active part of the international Children and Nature Network, speaking at their annual conference and helping lead webinars for family nature club leaders and the Natural Leaders Network. Heather has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Masters in Teaching secondary science from Rice University. She has research experience studying marine mammals and sustainable fisheries management in Baja, Mexico through the School for Field Studies. Heather also has research experience studying bird behavior at Rice University and the Houston Zoo. She is a National Outdoor Leadership School graduate that participated in the Baja Sea Kayaking program and is certified in Wilderness First Aid and Rescue Scuba Diving. In addition to being the director of Families in Nature, Heather and her husband, David, along with his sister and her family, run Pedernales Cellars winery in Stonewall, TX. Heather and David are the parents of 3 boys who love to be out in nature exploring and traveling with friends and family.
Kelly Edwards – Program Coordinator for Families in Nature
Kelly Edwards brings to our organization a background in teaching, a passion for camping and scuba diving, and extensive experience working and volunteering for nonprofits. Kelly worked as an elementary school Spanish teacher for seven years. During that time he also sponsored outdoor clubs at two different schools and worked as the Camp Director at El Ranchito Nature Discovery Camp for two summers. Kelly also served in the Peace Corps in Honduras, working in rural communities on sustainable agriculture and watershed management projects. Kelly has a Bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish from Indiana University, a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Texas, and is currently working towards a Counseling degree at Texas State University. Kelly is a certified Divemaster with over one hundred dives logged and has been backpacking in National and State parks all over the country. Kelly loves spending time camping, hiking, and swimming with his wife and two children.
Rebecca Cowser, Volunteer – Rebecca has taught in various environments such as: child development centers, Down Syndrome Association of Texas (DSACT), in-home education, and most recently as a substitute for Hays CISD. She is currently a graduate student at WGU, working on a Masters of Teaching. She earned her Bachelors’ in Applied Learning & Development from the University of Texas at Austin. Aside from her love of teaching, Rebecca enjoys exploring & photographing nature with her husband, three daughters, and Siberian Husky.
Jennifer Chenault, Leader of the Houston group –
Tiffany McElweenie, Leader of the Houston group –
Jennifer Chapman, Leader of CDC South group – Jennifer is currently the Education Programs Supervisor at the Austin Nature & Science Center. She has been involved in the field of Informal Science Education and Animal Behavior for over 15 years. As an educator and a mother, Jennifer enjoys helping families to find their niche in nature.
Katie Mittmann, Leader of Khabele Group –
Jennie Glass, Leader of Khabele Group – Outdoor Education Specialist and teacher at the Khabele School in Austin, TX.
Yousif Seedhom, Leader of Parkside Group –
Kelly Seale, Co-leader of the Parkside Group – Kelly is an outdoor education specialist and after-school teacher at Parkside Community School
Julie Mowad, Leader of Homeschool AFiN Group –
Miriam R. Leal, Leader of Homeschool AFiN Group – Miriam is an elementary educator, ATXDIY Maker Scouts coordinator, Coder Dojo leader and teacher at Learning Fun 101.
Chris Long, Leader of the Austin Montessori group – Chris is finishing his degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management while teaching at Austin Montessori.
Melissa Hargrave, Leader of Austin International School Group – Melissa is a psychotherapist and a nature enthusiast. She loves to get outdoors with her husband, three year old daughter, and puppy.
Maria Fabiola Rodriguez – Former FIN Intern, Environmental Scientist, Biologist and current FIN Volunteer
Jon Jones – FiN volunteer and Environmental Scientist
Families in Nature Board of Directors
Molly Stevens – FiN board chair and Executive Director of Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center
Nancy Pollard – FiN board secretary, attorney specializing in Trusts & Estates, currently focusing on raising her 2, 3, and 4 year old sons while running a small business from home and serving a number of non-profit organizations as a board member and volunteer
Rich LeGrand – Rich is a tech entrepreneur and FiN parent. He loves to “unplug” and
experience nature with his wife and two boys.
Adam Wilson – FiN board treasurer, Co-Founder and School Director, Griffin School
Craig Hensley – Texas Parks and Wildlife Park Ranger and Interpreter at Guadalupe River State Park
Linda Amala Puckett – Copywriter and Marketing Consultant – Linda is a senior-level copywriter with a broad background including nonprofit, B2B, healthcare, tourism, real estate, banking, and retail. She has expertise in creating successful campaigns across all media, including print, broadcast, email and web content.
Merila Walker – Consultant specializing at the intersection of healthcare, government, and technology. More importantly, she has a deeply rooted love and curiosity for nature thanks to her father.
Robert Ochoa – Education Director at El Buen Samaritano
Susan Lo – FIN Parent
Maria Bickerton – Attorney and FiN Parent
Monica Lopez Magee – Director of development and communications at Keep Austin Beautiful
Rae Ann Allong –
Families in Nature Advisory Board
Margaret Lamar -Director of strategic partnerships for the Children and Nature Network – Margaret Lamar works to create communities where nature is a part of the everyday lives of children. Margaret is a policy and program architect who connects environmental education with the goals of achieving health and wellness. She facilitates community-based planning to increase access to green space through outdoor classrooms in schools, innovative land use, and programming partnerships.
Bernadette Noll – Author of “Slow Family Living” and “Make Stuff Together – Bernadette Noll is an author, speaker, community events organizer, workshop facilitator, artist, teacher, creative thinker and mother of four.
Philip Sansone – Executive Director of The Whole Planet Foundation – Philip Sansone’s diverse and far ranging background focuses on three distinct arenas in international development: entrepreneurship, subsistence agricultural cooperatives and microfinance in developing countries. He is also the founder of Book People, where he continues to serve on the Book People Board of Directors. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras where he worked with the Misquito Indians for almost three years on the Patuca River in La Mosquitia, and in Paraguay for four years helping to start agricultural cooperatives.
Dr. Wesley Glazener – Pediatrician, with a great appreciation for the need to get families outside together
Katy Weidenfeller – Director, Strategic & Business Planning for External Affairs at The Nature Conservancy – Katy works with External Affairs staff and other senior managers across the Nature Conservancy to develop major initiatives in support of The Nature Conservancy’s global conservation agenda.
Peggy Winkler – Peggy Winkler is an Austin leader whose vision and commitment has made a significant impact on conserving the unique and precious natural resources in Central Texas. Her dedication to protecting the best of our area for current and future generations has been well-demonstrated by her actions and leadership, setting an example for others in our community. Peggy has a Master of Science degree in marine botany and certification as a Master Naturalist.
Dr. Andrew Sansom –