NatureTot bridges nature and the Montessori classroom
What does innovation look like in the Yukon? We’re introducing you to innovators like Leet Mueller, CEO and Founder of NatureTot, who leveraged I&E’s Innovation Fund to help develop a system to bridge nature and the classroom.
Leet Mueller grew up immersed in the nature of B.C., which instilled a lifelong reverence for living and learning on the land. Leet has spent of most of her life passionate about education, and found her calling in Montessori education. Over her 15 years of working in early childhood education, she began to realize that young children lack access to nature, often caused by multiple problems from lack of land, to distance, to staffing, and more. Realizing that this is a significant time for development in children, and given the huge benefits of nature, she set out to address this lack of access.
Leet nurtured the seed of an idea for a system that integrates simple, accessible life cycles of planting, harvesting and decomposing. She tested this idea in the classroom, where she saw how deeply children were captivated by the whole system.
The idea for NatureTot was planted three years ago, and Leet decided to join Yukonstruct’s Startup Bootcamp, an 8-week intensive program to develop a business or validate an innovative idea. With guidance from instructor William LeChuga, Leet first saw the potential for her idea.
From there, Leet worked with our team at YukonU I&E “as vital partners in the whole process.” By accessing our Innovation Fund and Wrap Around Services, Leet was able to run several pilot projects, answer important questions, and receive feedback. From the early stages, Leet could see that NatureTot “integrated beautifully into Montessori philosophy and curriculum.”
The NatureTot system is designed to fit easily inside a Montessori Casa classroom, and is comprised of beautiful wood-paneled planting, harvesting and composting cabinets, which support multiple exercises related to each stage of the life cycle.
Leet recalls LeChuga’s advice: “if you don’t have funding six months in advance, you can’t focus on your business—you can only focus one day at a time.” With this in mind, our team at YukonU I&E makes it our mission to fund innovative Yukon businesses like NaturTot, and we work diligently to facilitate additional funding applications with Yukon Government’s Department of Economic Development, the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, and more impactful funders.
Beyond funding, Leet described the supportive atmosphere at YukonU I&E and Yukonstruct: “YukonU I&E provided a cushion for creativity and innovation that is powerful. Not only are you making a public commitment—you have the space to go very deep.” The Northlight building is a hub waiting for Yukoners to explore, tap into, and visit when you have an idea, a challenge, or opportunity to share with community.
Leet is gradually introducing NatureTot to the world, including a recent trip to a conference in Boston: “people were really excited by the system, they were moved emotionally by it, and saw the potential.”
Looking ahead, Leet is focused on learning more, running a small production of cabinets this spring, and preparing for autumn. She gives deep gratitude to a “quiet but powerful team,” including her parents, her partner, close friends, all the testers, teachers, families, YukonU I&E, and the Yukon Government Department of Education for supporting her entrepreneurial journey.
Learn more on the new NatureTot website.
Photos: Leet Mueller
Now it’s your turn! If you are based in the Yukon and moving towards running a business, you could qualify for innovation funding to turn your idea into reality.
Learn more: YukonU/innovation/innovation-fund.