The mission of The Children’s Nature Institute is to educate children, families and communities through interactive experiences with nature and to inspire respect, responsibility and a connection to the natural environment.
In 1985, Harriet Bennish began leading nature walks for families with young children with her own toddler on her back. Naming the program Nursery Nature Walks, her goal was to get children started on a path of lifelong environmentalism by exposing them to nature from the very beginning of their lives. That same year, Harriet had a second child and passed the torch on to early childhood education specialist and nature lover Judy Burns Fishman, who over the next 17 years expanded the organization, creating several successful programs serving up to 15,000 people annually from the diverse communities of Southern California.
After the Los Angeles incidents of civil unrest in 1992, CNI’s Board of Directors created the Nature Discovery Program to give at-risk youth in low-income neighborhoods of Los Angeles the opportunity to learn science, math and reading skills through experiences with the natural world. This three part program includes transporting children from academically low-ranking schools on Field Trips to local parks, beaches and mountains, thereby introducing underprivileged children to the environment in its natural state, many for the first time, as an educational resource.
In 2010, CNI made the mission-driven move to the Magnolia Place Family Center to be the “green arm” of a community initiative to strengthen communities and families, and create successful children by addressing core protective factors. CNI is the only environmental organization in this collaborative of 70+ partners and as such is the model for how environmental education, advocacy, and awareness are critical to integrated community development. Because of this move, CNI has developed a stream of place-based programs to add to the initiative’s goals.