The Samara Team

Dr. Rachel Larimore, nature-based early childhood education expert

Rachel Larimore, Ph.D.

Jane Weir

David Catlin

David Catlin


  • Chief Visionary

    Rachel is an educator, speaker, consultant, and author of multiple books including Establishing a Nature-Based Preschool, Preschool Beyond Walls: Blending Early Childhood Education and Nature-Based Learning, and Evaluating Natureness: Measuring the Quality of Nature-based Classrooms in Pre-k Through 3rd Grade. Her passion and expertise is intentional integration of nature into early childhood education for young children’s whole development.

    Prior to establishing Samara Early Learning, Rachel founded one of the nation’s earliest nature-based preschools at Chippewa Nature Center (CNC) in Midland, MI. The creation of the preschool in 2007 was part of her 15-year tenure as the Director of Education. She continued as the director of the program until 2016 when, at her departure, the program served 140 children each year through public and private funding sources. In her tenure at CNC she also co-chaired the Nature Center’s $6 million capital expansion project, which was completed in 2010. The expansion included an approximately 5,000 square foot LEED Gold Certified preschool building. During her time at CNC, Rachel led the creation of a partnership with Bullock Creek Schools to create a nature-based kindergarten and first grade within the public school system.

    Rachel earned her Ph.D. from Michigan State University’s Department of Teacher Education; a M.A. in Park and Recreation Administration from Central Michigan University; and a B.S. in Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism, with an emphasis in interpretation, from Colorado State University. Rachel has been recognized for her work by various organizations including the National Association for Interpretation Region 4’s in 2012 with the “Master Interpretive Manager” recognition; First State Bank’s “RUBY Award” in 2013 for professionals under the age of 40; and Exchange Magazine in 2015 with the “Promising Early Care and Education Leader” award. For even more about Rachel, visit

    Click here if you’re interested in having Rachel speak at your conference or with your professional learning workshop.

    Learn more about Rachel’s current research here.

  • Principle Pocketknife

    Jane was born-and-raised in Ohio and is now living in Michigan (We know... but she’s great despite that—ha!) As a single mother of two active kiddos and one puppy she is busy at baseline. But that’s where she thrives. She is a tea lover, workout enthusiast, and obsessed with organization. Despite a beginning in biochemical research, she has found her passion in small business. She helped grow and build an online e-comm business, but when the 60+ hour work week kept her from her kids too often, she pivoted. Now she uses her years of experience in operating and growing a business, to serve other business owners, and help them do the same. That’s where Samara comes in—she helps us accomplish All. The. Things. She happily wears all of the hats. And, she’s our go-to-person to make things happen. That’s why she’s our cherished pocketknife!

  • Consultant

    David Catlin’s work with Samara Early Learning primarily focuses on administrative aspects of nature-based early childhood education—particularly related to business planning and issues around operations. He and Rachel began working together in 2014 to provide business planning support to organizations and individuals looking to start their own nature-based preschool.  

    David has devoted his 35-year-long professional career to the nature center and environmental learning center field. He started with degrees in environmental education and interpretation. He then spent 16 years with the Missouri Department of Conservation, helping to plan and launch the agency’s nature center network for six years and later running its Springfield Conservation Nature Center for a decade. In 2000, he signed on with the National Audubon Society. For 15 years, his responsibilities there included supporting the organization’s national network of over 40 centers and overseeing the start-up of 16 new facilities across the country—evaluating sites, facilitating strategic and business planning, selecting architects and exhibit design teams, training staff, and serving as an in-house resource for problem-solving and question-answering. Since 2015, he has done similar work for nature centers across the U.S. through his firm David Catlin Consulting LLC. He has also worked as a writer, speaker, and capital campaign counsel. You can learn more about David and his recent work at

  • Director of Joy

    Hank is a German Shorthaired Pointer (“GSP”) who loves to spend time outdoors and napping on the couch. He particularly enjoys pointing birds, keeping squirrels in line, and chasing shadows. In fact, he is a shadow connoisseur who can easily distinguish between a butterfly or bird flying overhead rather than a human trying to trick him.

    Hank has been with Samara Early Learning since its inception as he, like the other SEL team members, has a passion for nature-based play. His primary responsibility on the team is reminding everyone that life is too important to be taken seriously and we should find moments of joy as often as possible. In fact, he has an incredible knack for calculating 60 minutes and reminding his mom (our Chief Visionary, Rachel Larimore) it is time for the meeting to end and go have some fun. Maybe a frisbee throwing break?! Or a squeak toy?!


A bit more about our titles…

→ “Chief Visionary” because someone in the organization must stay focused on the overall purpose, or the WHY, of the work being done. This was inspired by the work of Simon Sinek.

→ “Principle Pocketknife” because she’s our go-to-person to make things happen. All. The. Things.

→ “Director of Joy” because someone needs to remind us life is too important to be taken seriously

Books by Samara’s Founder—Rachel Larimore