About Us

The Child and Nature Alliance of Canada aspires to foster meaningful connections to the outdoors for children and youth. We believe that all children and youth should have the opportunity to play and learn in forests, parks, meadows, and mud puddles.

We work to connect children and youth to nature through policy, research, and practice.

We aim to have a deep impact on families and communities across the country. This is woven into all our key initiatives including Forest School Canada (FSC), the major educational arm of the CNAC; the Ottawa Forest and Nature School, our demonstration school and in-forest home of the CNAC; the Natural Leaders Alliance (NLA); and our research and policy development efforts.

Our People

Passionate about the potential of nature to educate and inspire children and youth, our staff team and board of directors play a vital role in our work. Learn more about the team and how to get in touch with us below.

Petra Eperjesi

Petra Eperjesi

Petra Eperjesi comes to Forest School Canada by way of the rolling hills of rural Southern Ontario where she grew up, the lakes and rivers of northern Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec where she spent her adolescence paddling, and the fields of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where she completed an organic farming apprenticeship. She holds a Master’s degree in Child Study and Education from the University of Toronto, and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of King’s College in Halifax. Petra was awarded the Council of Outdoor Educators of Ontario’s 2013 Amethyst Award, presented to promising young educators in the field of Outdoor Education, and the 2014 Edward Burtynsky Award which recognizes an outstanding Ontario elementary school teacher who inspires environmental consciousness through exemplary teaching methods. She is an avid traveller and language learner, though these days she sticks closer to home with her husband and young son, with whom she loves to sing and cook.

Chris Filler

Course Assessor

Chris Filler

Course Assessor

Chris has been teaching and learning in the outdoors for many moons. As a kayak guide, youth worker, teacher, researcher and university instructor he has demonstrated passion and proven commitment to ensuring outdoor environmental education has a prominent place in the curricular landscape. He is currently as an adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria while coordinating curriculum development and instructing within the Forest & Nature School Practitioners’ Course. Chris holds a Masters in Education from OISE/UofT (cross disciplinary- Adult Education/Environmental Studies) and a PhD in Educational Studies from UVic. His two daughters keep him on his nature toes, allowing him to hone his skills and knowledge in how nature contributes to childhood development, learning, wellbeing and fun!

Carrie Komesch

Educator

Carrie Komesch

Educator

Carrie has always been drawn to the space where education and the natural environment overlap. She spent her childhood hiking and camping with her family, and still has the Junior Ranger pin she received for participating in an Idaho State Park program circa 1993. She got her first job at the age of 15, working at a YMCA camp and was most recently employed as a nanny, where she enjoyed enriching the cognitive, emotional and social lives of children by exposing them to free and wild play in beautiful places. She became involved with Forest School Canada in 2014, when she spent her first practicum as a University of Ottawa B.Ed student collecting firewood and observing exemplary practices from her associate teacher. She believes that educators and students alike thrive in an environment that embraces evidence-based best practices, which include supporting risky play, child-led play-based learning, and a genuine commitment to an emergent curriculum that shifts with the seasons of the forest.

Mavis Lewis-Webber

Course Assessor

Mavis Lewis-Webber

Course Assessor

Mavis has worked in the early childhood education field in Manitoba for more than 35+ years, and has been mentoring educator since 1990, a role she finds very rewarding. Throughout her career she has been passionate about getting children and the adults who engage with them active outside. She is a founding board member of the Manitoba Nature Summit and from the moment she heard about Forest School she knew this was the movement she was looking for and now works as a course assessor with outdoor educators across Canada.

Sonja Lukassen

Lead Educator

Sonja Lukassen

Lead Educator

Sonja believes that we learn best when we are able to make choices, express our uniqueness, work together in an authentic way, and be outside in all sorts of weather. After completing her undergrad in Kinesiology, Sonja spent eight years with as a wilderness and adventure therapy trip leader, as well as program manager, for a charity based on the beautiful Madawaska River. After starting a family of her own, Sonja spent the next 10 years wandering the waters and trails, near and far, with her three sons. When the boys started school she noticed they were spending less time in the forest so she started a group to get her children and their friends to the woods together every week, rain or snow or shine. After being an educator for so many years, Sonja finally got her B.Ed and is keen to help nurture the learning and play of the forest school students and to have a chance to learn from them, and their families, as well.

Toby Meis

Educator

Toby Meis

Educator

Toby began teaching as a music theory and Double Bass instructor while studying at the University of Calgary working on his B.Mus. To help fund his art and education he spent a decade working as a tree planter, and became weathered and enchanted by Canada’s forests, from BC’s steep and wet coastal rainforests to the deep, mountainous forests of BC’s interior and the northern boreal forests in Alberta and Saskatchewan. While music performance continues to be a rich part of Toby’s life, his focus has been increasingly drawn to teaching, and in 2014 Toby broadened and formalized his teaching at the University of Ottawa by completing his B.Ed. specializing in elementary education. With his new position as an educator at the Ottawa Forest and Nature School, Toby is overjoyed to spend his days sharing his interest and experience in forest ecosystems while facilitating student-led play in one of Ottawa’s forests. He loves to support, and is routinely astounded by the creativity, empathy, persistence and agility that his forest school students display while they play, build, and explore.

Marlene Power

Executive Director

Marlene Power

Executive Director

Marlene Power founded the Carp Ridge Forest Preschool, Canada’s first outdoor, nature-based Forest Preschool, and created Forest School Canada, a national initiative to promote nature-based education through Forest School and Nature School professional learning, policy and research. Marlene first developed Forest School Canada as an initiative under the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada (CNAC). In December 2014 she was appointed Executive Director of the CNAC and she continues to lead Forest School Canada as a key program of CNAC. She also runs the Ottawa Forest and Nature School, the headquarters for CNAC, delivering Forest School programs to the Ottawa Carleton District School Board as well as the community.

Marlene studied at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Dalhousie University, and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Education at University of British Columbia, with a focus on risky play and student engagement. She has worked in a variety of settings, including community development, environmental education, and early childhood education. Marlene formerly served on the Board of Directors of the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, as well as TD Friends of the Environment Fund.

Marlene is an avid outdoors-person, social activist, environmentalist, and an advocate of children’s right to play in the natural world. She attributes her resilience, creativity, love of nature, and environmental values to the freedom she was given to roam during her childhood. She learned so much by growing up connected to the beauty and nature around her in outport Newfoundland. She currently lives in Chelsea, QC, and spends many days roaming the woods with her dog, and her two children, Hazel and Emry.

Stephanie Smith

Administrative Coordinator

Stephanie Smith

Administrative Coordinator

Stephanie comes to the organization with several years of experience of working with children in the public and nonprofit sectors. She completed her degree in Linguistics and CTESL at Carleton University while spending a number of years working at the City of Ottawa’s Department of Parks and Recreation and with Hostelling International Canada. She spent a year teaching English in Spain and exploring the rich and diverse outdoor landscapes that the country had to offer before returning to her hometown of Ottawa and starting with the Child and Nature Alliance. Her hobbies include: camping, learning languages, hiking, organizing, cooking, and puzzles.

Jen Warr

Educator

Jen Warr

Educator

Jen is passionate about sharing her love of nature, creativity, exploration and learning with students of all ages. From a very young age she was paddling, camping, frog catching, and wandering through forests, ponds, and meadows and continues to do so today. This led her to pursue an undergraduate degree in Environmental Sciences and Studies from Trent University and a Bachelor of Education from Queen’s University specializing in Outdoor and Experiential Education. She has worked in a variety of capacities including outdoor education programming and canoe trip leading in Algonquin Park, science outreach programs for Aboriginal Youth, organic farming, day camps, turtle conservation and care, and earth education programs. When not working she can be found camping, knitting, gardening, puddle jumping, playing the banjo or wandering through wild spaces.

Board of Directors

Aron Bookman

Aron Bookman

Aron is the father of four girls and enjoys sharing his love of backpacking, kayaking, hiking and swimming with them. When he’s not pursuing outdoor adventures, he practices law as a Career Partner at Carfra Lawton LLP. He is also the past president of Congregation Emmanu-El and former director of the BC Water Polo Association.

Mariana Brussoni

Mariana Brussoni

Dr. Brussoni is an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia. She is also a scientist with the Child and Family Research Institute and the BC Injury Research & Prevention Unit. Trained as a developmental psychologist, Mariana investigates child injury prevention, parents’ perceptions of children’s risk engagement and safety, the influence of nature-based challenging play on child health and development, and promoting developmentally appropriate opportunities for children’s risky play. Mariana enjoys putting her research into practice while hanging out with her family, enjoying the beautiful BC outdoors and travelling to far off places.

Dawn Carr

Dawn Carr

Dawn Carr has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Parks Council (CPC) since 2012, providing professional advice and services to the directors and senior executives of Canada’s provincial, territorial and federal park agencies. Dawn is also deeply committed to global conservation initiatives as a member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), and through her leadership on the board of directors with the Canadian Committee for the IUCN. In Canada, Dawn has worked hard to ignite a pan-Canadian culture that respects, loves and takes deep pride in the role of nature in our everyday lives. In 2016 Dawn was named to the Women for Nature network where she strives to advance Nature Canada’s goal to inspire young leaders for nature.

Guylaine Chabot

Guylaine Chabot

Dr. Chabot is an Assistant Professor in Health Sciences at L’Université du Québec en Outaouais. With a background in community health, she has a long tradition of multidisciplinary and intersectoral work as a practitioner in community and children health promotion. Her studies are related to nature-based interventions in collaboration with parks, NGOs, municipalities, ministries, schools and early child centers. Guylaine lives in St-Ferréol-les-Neiges in Quebec, an outdoor playground with 200 km’s of cross-country ski trails, where she enjoys hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and relaxing with her family of four children, her husband and her community.

Becs Hoskins

Becs Hoskins

One of the Alliance’s founding collaborators, Becs brings a depth of experience in outdoor education and recreation, adventure therapy, non-profit management and collaborative leadership at community, provincial and national levels to her role on the board of CNAC. In her roles as Provincial Community Engagement Specialist for BC Parks and past CNAC Executive Director, some key initiatives that she has played a key role in are Get Outside BC (www.getoutsidebc.ca), Healthy by Nature (www.healthybynature.ca) and MEC Outdoor Nation (www.outdoornation.mec.ca). Becs is also a past Director and volunteer with Power to Be Adventure Therapy Society. Becs lives in Victoria, BC with her husband, dog and three children – where outdoor adventures are a part of everyday life!

Brett Tackaberry

Brett Tackaberry

Brett Tackaberry is a digital solutions architect and technical director for bv02, a digital creative agency in Ottawa. Outside of work, he help out with a variety of initiatives around Ottawa with a focus on community building, education and helping kids. In addition to participating on the board for CNAC, Brett is: a founding member of Tech4Good Ottawa; the lead for Random Hacks of Kindness, a hackathon for social good; and a co-founder and lead for Mustaches for Kids, a fundraising initiative for Make a Wish.  He has a side business including an app for landlords and a vinyl record company.  Brett lives in Ottawa with his family of two boys, Emmett and Cole, and wonderful wife Anne. On the weekends you can find him in the garden, the garage or watching the boys play from the comfort of an Adirondack chair.

Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker

Partners & Supporters

Partnerships are at the heart of our success at the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada. Some of our partnerships involve collaboration with governments, universities and research institutions and other community groups. Others bring us together with corporate partners who are committed to building our success through fundraising and awareness. We also value the important contributions of philanthropic organizations that support our work through their granting.

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

We partner with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board to deliver experiential forest school programming for children in Junior Kindergarten through 6, both at the Forest School and at schools. We also offer training programs in outdoor education for teachers and early child educators.

Lawson Foundation

The Lawson Foundation is a national family foundation that invests in and engages with ideas, people and organizations that contribute to the wellbeing of children and youth and their development as active and engaged members of society. The Lawson Foundation is a major funder of our work and the CNAC is one of XX organizations that are active in the execution of its Outdoor Play Strategy.

TD Bank Group

Interested in partnering with the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada? Contact us to learn more.