Emily Van LaanCommunications and Conference Specialist, Natural Start Alliance
Emily earned her B.A. in Elementary Education from Ball State University and went on to teach first grade in Indianapolis, IN. At that time, the lack of widely accessible environmental education in urban areas led her away from formal education and into the field of informal science education at Lincoln Park Zoo. She worked on developing inquiry-based science curriculum for the zoo’s Conservation Camp program and later found her niche as the Early Childhood and Family Programs Coordinator.
Emily’s knowledge of nature education and developmentally appropriate practice allowed her to drive early childhood programming to the forefront of education offerings at Lincoln Park Zoo. Her work primarily focused on highlighting the importance of early experiences with the natural world and the long-term positive impact of these experiences. In an effort to break down barriers and create more diverse and accessible programming, Emily worked to expand the zoo’s offerings to a broader audience. Her progress on this goal is exemplified most notably through a partnership with Chicago Park District, the addition of an early childhood volunteer position, and the design and implementation of several nature play spaces.
In service to the greater AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) community, Emily served as a Nature Play Leader, where she supported other early childhood environmental educators by sharing resources, professional development opportunities, and leading discussions around important topics. Her experience advocating for early childhood environmental education led her to NAAEE and Natural Start Alliance as the Communications and Conference Coordinator. She is excited to continue the important work of Natural Start Alliance and explore new ways to support and engage the Alliance’s amazing community of members.
Emily is based in Chicago, IL.