Hand-In-Hand Educators

Jarrett Krentzel, Megin Peake, Alix Wilson, Sue McGiffin, Sue Cameron, Clare McDonald, Lisa Neilsen (top row)

Brahmi Benner & Serena Oliveira (bottom row)

Program Director:

Jarrett Krentzel

Jarrett Krentzel


After spending 6-months hiking the 3,500km Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine, I learned something that no book could teach me….nature is our ultimate teacher, and we are nature’s ultimate students! From that moment on, I realized that I had a passion for teaching youth outdoors, and my journey as an environmental educator began. That was 20-years ago, and since then I have taught environmental education from K-12 in British Columbia, Yukon, New York, Oregon and California, co-founded Cascadian Crusaders, a registered non-profit society located in the Comox Valley aimed to educate youth about plastic in the ocean, co-authored and published an environmental superhero children’s book called The Great Plastic Round-up, sat as former Vice President for the Comox Valley Naturalists Society, co-led NatureKids BC and currently sit as Committee Member for BC Nature’s Education Committee, Cumberland’s Ecology of the Forest Committee and Physical Literacy for Communities Meeting and act as Director of Hand-In-Hand Early Years Nature Education Program.

Now, after spending the past 9-years raising my 8-year old son and 9-year old daughter, I have learned yet another lesson…the foundation of an education begins as soon as a child starts learning. And so I began to wonder, why not give children their ultimate teacher (nature) in their early years (2-5 years old) by creating a nature preschool in the Comox Valley and Campbell River? I saw every reason to do so!

Cumberland Educators:

Alix Wilson

Alix Wilson

Pacific Rim Early Childhood Institute Inc.; ECE

As a child I was blessed with a mother who taught me to notice and celebrate the little things happening in nature around us all the time. I was also fortunate to live in many places across Canada, always in spots with lots of big wild spaces to spend hours exploring. When I in turn became a mother, it was amazing to see the wonder of nature again through my sons’ eyes. I was reminded of the insatiable desire children have to learn everything about the world around them, and how children love learning outside – no matter the weather!

After running a nature-based out of my home for 5 years, the news came to me about a forest preschool starting in our community, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved! The program aligned with my desire to tune children into the cycle of the seasons, a program where children could learn about the amazing world outside our back door, a program that would instil a lifelong love of nature in them. For I believe that our world needs more people who care about and for the Earth, and that having positive experiences in nature is one of the best ways to achieve this.

My passion and deep convictions that children be connected to nature from an early age are aligned with the philosophy of this program – for me this work is so important!  I am proud to have been part of Hand-In-Hand Early Years Nature Education Program from the beginning!

Clare McDonald

Clare McDonald

Athabasca University; ECEA

I went to Long Beach before I was born. The waves washed over me while I was safely in my mother’s womb. I experienced the sand, sometimes warm and sometimes cold, the way the sun sank into the ocean colouring it with rich warm tones of molten light. I collected shells, studied crabs and other tide pool denizens. Before I was born I had hiked through the moss-hung temperate rain forest of British Columbia. The scent of damp trees, and the sweet sounds of birds and serene sound of mountain streams twining about the wooded paths, these were my lullabies and dreams.

I was blessed with being raised by parents who instilled a sense of reverence for nature and allowed us time to explore in and grow with nature. Through that time I learned how to problem solve, test my skills, expand my knowledge and learn about the interconnectedness of all living things. I could enjoy silence as well as noise, sometimes adding my own voice to the mix.

My education with nature continued into my teen years and young adult life as I volunteered at our local nature centre helping to run workshops. I helped to lead the Big Bird, Little Bird and Chickadee Programs for children aged 2 to 5. In 2011 I entered into childcare working at a large centre in Lethbridge. I began as a floater, moving between the infant, toddler, preschool and afterschool rooms. Eventually I settled into the 3-4 year old room, as well as support work with specific children of different ages.

My formal education led me into child and youth care and then later into psychology. From there I shifted my focus to personal growth and began my journey with the Yasodhara Ashram. For a year I lived at the ashram learning about yoga and, more often than not, how we can learn from being in the natural world. Many of our classes required us to find a quiet space in nature, sit quietly and observe (both our surroundings and our minds). As part of this training I was able to take on a lead position in the summer kitchen where I learned how to preserve the crops we grew and about how the garden sustained the community throughout the year. Through the Ashram I was able to combine my various educations to create a united vision and approach to teaching.

I have had the opportunity to bring yoga into several childcare settings as part of programming. My first experience with Hand-In-Hand Early Years Nature Program was through volunteering a weekly hatha class at the Campbell River location. I found that the natural classroom was the perfect setting to support and enhance the learnings from a Hidden Language Hatha Yoga class. When the opportunity to join the Hand-In-Hand family arose, I jumped right in (even before Jarrett could finish his sentence). I believe that education in a natural setting is invaluable and provides powerful tools to assist children in their life journey.

I have been blessed with the experience of teaching children in many contexts: through Yoga in child care centres as well as at Foundry, through teaching art at the Crow’s Nest Gallery and Art Studio and through workshops at the Helen Schuler Nature Centre. I am very excited to begin my journey with Hand-In-Hand Education and I cannot wait to grow with the children, the environment and the community.

Comox Educators:

Sue McGiffin

Sue McGiffin

Northern Lights College; ECE, SN, IT

Throughout my journey of teaching I have had many wonderful experiences and opportunities to learn, share and be a part of children’s development. I am thrilled that this journey has led me to become a member of the teaching team at the Hand-In-Hand Early Years Nature Education Program. Before joining this team I worked for four years at the Beaufort Children’s Centre here in Courtenay.

My husband, daughter, and I moved to the Comox Valley in 2012 from Pemberton, BC where I worked for 10 years as a teacher at both the Whistler and Pemberton Children’s Centres. However, my experience of working with children began many years prior when I took a job as a ski school instructor, which certainly was a natural fit as I have had a lifelong passion for skiing. That job introduced me to working with children and ignited my pursuit to continue working with youth in some capacity. While in Pemberton I earned my Diploma in Early Childhood Education through Northern Lights College. From there, my educational philosophy regarding childhood development began to develop and continues to be centred around learning through play and exploration. This philosophy and the fundamental aspects of learning are a natural fit with Hand-In-Hand Early Years Nature Education Program.

My passion for teaching children and my love for yoga have converged into an opportunity to further guide children in the yoga studio. I have developed and implemented a children’s yoga program that I teach here in the Comox Valley at different Recreation and Wellness Centres. I have witnessed first hand the physical and emotional benefits of allowing children room to move and explore within their learning. Through all of my previous experience I have discovered that true learning occurs when a child is guided and motivated by his or her own intrinsic enthusiasm and curiosity for the world around them. It really is the witnessing of the ‘ah-ha’ moments in a child’s life that keeps me drawn to this career path.

As a passionate nature lover, I am very excited about the opportunity to work with children in an outdoor setting where these ‘ah-ha’ moments are sure to be limitless and the learning will unfold organically as children discover the nature around them. I am excited about the opportunity to guide children within an environment where there are endless opportunities to explore, move, wonder and question in their journey of learning. I also look forward to working with the parents of my students at Hand-in-Hand Early Years Nature Education Program to ensure that the unique needs of each individual child is being met, and that we are working together as a team in each child’s development.

Serena Oliveira

Serena Oliveira

West Coast Adventure College; Adventure Tourism Diploma (Level 2)

I spent most of my childhood catching frogs and exploring the wild woods in Northern Ontario with friends, family, and my legged companions. Some of my first memories are of picking rose hips as a toddler and eating wild raspberries while my grandfather showed me the bear and wolf tracks beside me in the mud, that I hadn’t noticed. My father is from India, and my mother from rural northern Ontario. I grew up learning stories about my Dad’s adventures in the forests in India, and the natural world as a classroom where my father and his siblings used to swim, play, and get into mischief with other little rascals.

My passion to learn from forest adventures has been with me for as long as I can remember. Two years into my studies to become an anthropologist, I decided to trade in my pen and textbooks for my tent and hiking boots. I spent 4 years traveling across the United States and Canada camping, learning, living on farms, working closely with the seasons across the countries and visiting homesteads with a focus on community education and primitive skills.

In 2010 I completed the naturalist and guide program at the West Coast Adventure College.  Since then I have been on the adventure of being an educator, doula and postpartum support while raising a family of my own. With over a decade of learning from the life cycles on the West Coast while raising my two sons, I have learned various ways to integrate the joy of discovery in the natural world, with my every day parenting.

Last fall my two sons and I moved from Denman Island to Cumberland, where we love spending time in the forest, which is akin to my second home. This is where I am reminded time and time again that my own learning potential is endless! I love teaching, and this year I have taught woodland adventures at the Cumberland Community School and themed forest camps with my partner with a focus on survival, sensory awareness, bush craft skills and martial arts. Outside of working with youth I’m usually found climbing a tree with my own kids, dancing, sword fighting, wild crafting, herbal medicine making or supporting someone who is giving birth.

I approach teaching as a sharing process where everyone has the opportunity to give and receive, to learn and offer their knowledge. I look forward to the many adventures to come, to share, to learn and grow alongside the children in our outdoor classrooms!

Lisa Nielsen

Lisa Nielsen

North Island College; ECE

Hi! My name’s Lisa Nielsen, I’m a licensed early childhood educator & have worked closely with children and their families throughout BC for the past 15 years as a private caregiver.

My passion is truly my community, and I dedicate my energy to working with families to appreciate the outdoors and develop a personal re-wild perspective.

I had a childhood truly immersed in nature, in a small coastal mountain community in northern BC.  It was wild and I was free!

The endless outdoor experiences & adventures fostered the respectful love for nature that I value more every day.

It’s why I’m passionate about recreating similar opportunity’s for today’s children; With the right amount of outdoor education & conservation, children will become the caretakers of Earth and leaders of innovation.

Happy Adventures🌿

Megin Peake

Megin Peake

Nova Scotia College of Art and Deisgn; BFA

As a child I grew up surrounded by lush forest of both the Island and the Kootenays, experiencing both the Pacific and Kootenay Lake as a playground. I attended Waldorf from gr. 2 – 5, where interacting with the mystical and mythical aspects of nature was a strong force. Making clay cakes, searching for forest faerie’s and sanding soapstone are fond memories that are still prominent to this day. When I start to dissect the quirks of who I am and how I interact with the world around me, I see so strongly it was due to my surroundings and upbringing. 

Having graduated with my Bachelor of Fine Arts from NSCAD University (in Halifax) I was plunged back into the free-form learning curriculum that is called life and I found nature on a whole deeper level. Between experiencing the wild of the back-country, practicing cold water immersion in beautiful places, diving deeper into meditation and tree-planting for 7 seasons, I’ve developed a deep sense of gratitude for what it means to have a connection with nature and the land around us. I’ve been reflecting on how can I give back to the world and community around me and a note that strikes particularly strong, is opening up our children’s eyes to the wonder of our backyards. I believe in order to preserve and protect our ecosystems we have to teach and encourage people to become stewards of the land. And what better place to do that than to start with our young by simply playing in these magical landscapes!
I’m inspired to invoke “awe” in the simplicities for both myself and the friends around us. I look forward to playing with many new friends this year!

Campbell River Educators:

Sue Cameron

Sue Cameron

North Island College; ECE

I am a proud mom of three adult children. We were blessed to call Quadra Island our home for almost thirty years. The Quadra Childrens Centre was a big part of our lives while we lived on Quadra. All three of my kids attended this childcare centre. As my children grew, surrounded by caring teachers in their early years I began to appreciate the importance of this work and wanted to be a part of it. I decided it was time to go back to school and become an Early Childhood Educator.

I am passionate about children and their innate abilities and unique gifts they possess. My teaching background is based on and is continually inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach. This philosophy sees children as capable beings full of potential. I spent over ten years at the Quadra Childrens Centre where this philosophy helped guide me as an early year’s teacher and supervisor in the out of school program. The beautiful forests which surround the centre became a third teacher for all of us as we explored, played and learned for many hours each day, saturated by nature. After moving to Campbell River five years ago I had the opportunity to teach at the Willow Point Childrens Centre and create an early learning program which included huge amounts of time outdoors, in all kinds of weather, year round.

I am excited and honored to have an opportunity to be a part of this outdoor nature program. I look forward to facilitating a myriad of teachable moments as your children interact with their natural environment.

Brahmi Benner

Brahmi Benner

Concordia University; ECE

I grew up in Vancouver, the lucky city that cannot eclipse its natural skyline of mountains and ocean. I studied ECE and Elementary Education at Concordia University in Montreal. I loved trekking up Mont Royal to escape the concrete grid of the city and watch the seasons change from a birds’ eye view. I have always been drawn to study language and culture in the context of children’s education, which began with the bilingual school of Montreal and brought me to China in 2011. It was hard to adjust to the hyper-urban environments of Tianjin and Beijing but I was also deeply engaged in the culturally rich and exciting work of trilingual language immersion in a Reggio Emilia-inspired German preschool. It was hard to see the impact of air pollution on our kids, the nagging coughs, and the bad air days when we had to stay inside. Children are keenly attuned to their environment no matter what it holds, and I remember our kids debating whether clouds were the same as dirty air. When I returned to BC, I had the deepest appreciation for the smell of the air. I try to remember that feeling now, the sensitivity I had to the notes of fir, cedar and ocean air on each inhale. It’s so easy to take for granted. I moved to Galiano Island in 2016 and worked with a non-profit team to establish the island’s first community daycare. Our richest resource has truly been the forest around us. I became the School Garden Coordinator for the Galiano Community Food Program, planting, harvesting and cooking with the elementary school kids and diving into big questions about food security and island living. In June 2018 I attended the Hand-In-Hand KIDS Campference and I was so impressed with the knowledgeable presenters and unique design of Pro-D workshops for teachers that also served as fun activities for kids. In October 2018, I was so fortunate to participate in the Forest and Nature School Practitioner’s Course in Revelstoke, BC. This was an incredible cohort of teachers who I still feel privileged to have as co-learners and mentors. As Program Manager of the Galiano Daycare, it was a joy to share my learning about forest education with my daycare team. Leaving Galiano is bittersweet but I am so excited to be part of a new community in Campbell River. I can’t wait for us to spend our time together learning from the forest. 

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