Hand-In-Hand Nature Educators


Sofi Czich, Sue Cameron, Megin Peake, Alix Wilson, Clare McDonald, Jarrett Krentzel (top row)

Serena Oliveira, Sue McGiffin & Lisa Neilsen (bottom row)

Program Director:

Jarrett Krentzel

Jarrett Krentzel

Founder/Director

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, co-founded the Outdoor Early Years Association of BC, sit as Committee Member for BC Nature’s Education Committee, Cumberland’s Ecology of the Forest Committee, Comox Valley Nature Educators and Physical Literacy for Communities and is the founder and Director of Hand-In-Hand Nature Education.

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

Cumberland Manager/Nature Edcuator

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!

Heather Thomson

Heather Thomson

Cumberland Nature Educator

Born and raised on K’omoks First Nation Territory, Heather grew up in the coastal rainforest and still considers it home. She brings to the table various teaching experiences. Trained as a BC Certified teacher she graduated from the University of Victoria in 2013 with a bachelors of Elementary Education. She also obtained her Early Childhood Education Assistant certificate. Shortly after graduating she took on two teaching positions. One was at the Victoria Nature School, her first exposure to nature preschool. She also taught at Oak and Orca Bioregional school where previously she had worked as a practicum student, substitute teacher and summer program coordinator, but became a teacher of many subjects and many ages, including some work with their distributed learning program called Hands-On Home Learning. She became hooked on the philosophies of nature education and by the next year was teaching at Hand-In-Hand’s first year of opening in Cumberland! Jarrett, Alix and her blazed the way for an outstanding first year and she went on to do another year there. 

She sought to expand her horizons and took some time to explore BC, and also to take a trip in Finland to do some personal research on Finnish educational concepts, in particular their outdoor and nature immersion practices. After returning from that enlightening trip she started an early years program in Chase BC called Ponder Bugs Nature Education. Ponder Bugs was wildly successful in that community and the idea has since been taken on by the families who attended and continues to grow there. 

She loves to sing and story tell with children, often weaving webs of wonder collaboratively with kids as they explore the forest together. 

Jody Fink

Jody Fink

Cumberland Nature Educator

I grew up on a remote farm in Northern Queensland, Australia and since childhood I have always spent the majority of my time playing and exploring the outdoors. Fast forward 20 years not much has changed. Before establishing roots in Cumberland, I travelled to various parts of the world, and what I always seemed to notice was people, especially children, having a strong connection and being their happiest outside. This resonated with me and I wanted to share these experiences with My 3 children. We spend the days just being in the outdoors, foraging; mountain biking; hiking; trail running, exploring and creating things.

Throughout my life I have had the pleasure of working with and being surrounded by amazing children. It has always fascinated me the way our little ones learn and think. How they can create and develop tools to help them achieve their vision. This is one of the reasons I am excited to join the Hand in Hand family.

I am a full-time mama, currently enrolling in school completing my Early Childhood Diploma and a small business owner. Having all this in the mix I feel very fortunate to spend parts of my days in the forest with your children.  

Comox Educators:

Sue McGiffin

Sue McGiffin

Comox 1 Manager/Nature Educator

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.

Cathy  Coates

Cathy Coates

Comox 1 Nature Educator

Hello Fun Lovers! Let’s get out and see what the day has in store!!

My appreciation for Mother Nature began while growing up with my loving family in Victoria. We had the pleasure of overlooking Swan Lake and Christmas Hill from our kitchen table. With that incredible view, we watched the seasons change; the sun rise and set; birds come and go; and the weather patterns move in and out.

I attended classes at the Swan Lake Nature House where we would explore the lake, creek, fields, trees and all the critters in between! In my late teens I learned the edible and medicinal uses of plants and flowers from my neighbour, Herbalist – Carol McGrath. I later became a volunteer teachers assistant at the Swan Lake Nature House for children’s programs. The place itself became a dear friend to me. I wish to share the peace, inspiration, knowledge and wisdom I gained there.

~Rain or Shine~ my family spent our Sundays outside in Nature. We would spend a great deal of the summer camping, canoeing, hiking and generally exploring all that Canada has to offer. I am proud to say that my parents are hugely influential on how I interact in the world. Most importantly, they have always encouraged ME to be ME. Thus, I try to meet each person, place and thing I interact with as they are; individually unique. My intention is to pass on this understanding of respect for all life, great and small, as we are visitors here on this beautiful Planet Earth.

I like to share with children what I have learned from my parents. When we become afraid of or hesitant with something- to pause; seek understanding of the situation, and then move forward (or to the side- or maybe we’ll have to jump! or clamber! or turn around?!!)

Prior to becoming a mother myself, I had the delightful opportunity of instructing Kindergym, recreational gymnastics, and circus arts at the Courtenay Lewis Centre; students aged 2 – 62!!! Since 2009, I have been evolving with the Hornby Island summer camp ‘Artistic Movement~Butterfly Freedom’. We bend, flex, dress-up, draw, explore, act, laugh, dance, roll and help each other grow with confidence.
During the summer of 2019, I joined ‘Flexpeditions’ kids adventure camp in Revelstoke. This was a monumental step in the direction of bridging my love of kids, movement, nature, science and creativity. Since then, I have volunteered with Hand-In-Hand Nature Education during for 2 annual Salmon Days at École Puntledge Park Elementary where we created fish prints with the entire school! NOW…I am so happy to be pursuing my passions locally by joining ‘Hand-In-Hand’.

Megin Peake

Megin Peake

Comox 2 Manager/Nature Educator

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!
Fiona Balasi

Fiona Balasi

Comox 2 Nature Educator

I am excited to be returning to Hand-In-Hand in Comox after a few years away from the professional ECE world during which I have been working with adults with disabilities and doing the wonderfully unprofessional work of raising my own small child.

I have lived in the Comox Valley since 2016, when I graduated from Capilano University’s Early Childhood Care and Education program and moved from Vancouver to lead a wilder and quieter life here on the Island. I spent that first whirlwind of a year teaching the Campbell River Hand-In-Hand program with Sue Cameron and it was the biggest and most rewarding learning curve of my life to that point. Immersive and emergent outdoor education is such an incredibly powerful experience and as a so-called teacher I feel that I am really a learner alongside the children and as a pupil of the natural environment.

I grew up in an ‘unschooling’ family, which means that my learning took place everywhere, all the time. I believe that children can’t help but learn from every experience, and that with mentorship and the help of dynamic, living environments full of human and non-human interaction we can support them to find empowering, connecting, skill-building and motivating lessons in their experiences. As a person with a dis/ability, I also emphasize inclusion in my work – people with all kinds of physical needs and abilities should be able to enjoy nature-based learning. Growing up with a serious heart problem, outdoor play was often exhausting, scary and lonely. A big part of my journey has been to overcome that intimidation, ask for help, and nurture my love of wild spaces – I hope to support all kinds of children in that journey as well.

Returning to outdoor education as a parent, my commitment and connection to this work is deeper than ever. I bring to the woods and the work a love of learning, a profound respect for children, a commitment to gender, racial and dis/ability justice, a massive curiosity about the world around me, and lots of favourite songs and books.

Maureen Wagner

Maureen Wagner

Comox 2 Nature Educator

I grew up in a large family of ten children plus many foster brothers and sisters. We had the space and freedom to roam on a 100 acre farm in southern Ontario. I have three favourite memory spots on the farm where we spent many hours exploring. The first was the river behind the house for swimming, rowing a boat and playing in the mud. Another spot, a couple fields away but still on the river, was the “big rock”.  I remember spending so much time picking away at the mica in it.  Still a field distance away, but the closest to the house, was my third favourite spot, the creek. Two of my brothers and I, ages 3, 4 and 5, spent time sending stick or ice boats down it and running after them.

As I grew my interest in outdoors waned until I met my husband who was studying forestry. He reintroduced me to camping and then cycling, kayaking and hiking. We now spend everyday out walking somewhere in our beautiful valley.

My career as an educator spans over 30 years. Beginning as a preschool teacher, I’ve also worked as an interpreter for the Deaf, an intervenor for the Deaf/Blind and finally a StrongStart facilitator.  While I was a facilitator part of my philosophy involved spending as much time outdoors as possible. We explored many spots in the valley but one we visited often was the Lerwick Forest. We spent many days there, learning about science, math, art and literacy. We made fairy doors for the trees and for a few years, did various activities around them. I worked with the city’s Park Department for six months to create an officially designated area called, Fairy Lane. This endeavour was one reason I was nominated for and the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award of Excellence in Early Childhood Education in 2016.

I have been retired for three years and have spent most of that time helping to look after my three grand daughters, teaching them sign language and passing on my love of stories and being outside.

I look forward to exploring the outdoors with your children and getting to know new families.

Ann-sophie Bouchard

Ann-sophie Bouchard

Comox 2 Nature Educator

My name is Sophie and I am the newest addition to the awesome team of nature educators!

Originally from the east side of the country, where it’s very cold, I spent most of my time playing in the snow during winter and at the beach during summer. Being outside always brought me joy and sense of freedom. After finishing a teaching degree in Quebec, I decided that I was done with the long and cold winter and moved on the west coast with the goal of exploring the mountains as much as possible. Mountain biking, snowboarding, backcountry skiing and hiking are the different ways I found to accomplish my goal. After finishing my Early Childhood Education license, I worked in different childcare settings, got some great experience and realised how much outside time was the key of happiness with young children. To be able to finally mix together my two passions (outdoors and young children) is absolutely beautiful!

I am looking forward to spend time in the forest with the little ones and share my passion with them!

Campbell River Educators:

Sue Cameron

Sue Cameron

Campbell River Co-Manager/Nature Educator

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.

Hannah Trice

Hannah Trice

Campbell River Co-Manager/Nature Educator

DETAILS COMING SOON!

Cheri Millns

Cheri Millns

Campbell River Nature Educator

I was born and raised in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. I have strong ties to the island and am proud to live on Canada’s most beautiful and abundant land. Most of my spare time is spent locally, outdoors, either in the forest, on hiking trails, or at the beach playing with my own 5 children.

In my personal life I have constantly searched for alternative schooling methods. My family has been a part of French Immersion Schools, Waldorf Schools, and a Sports Alternative Charter School in addition to Public, Christian, and Catholic Schools. Currently I am a home-schooling mama for my two youngest children. I am so happy that I have stumbled upon Hand in Hand Early Years Nature Education as it truly fits with my beliefs of freedom within education and values of nurture within nature.

I come to Hand in Hand with experience working with children professionally for nearly 20 years as a swimming coach, a yoga instructor, and a martial arts instructor. There is nothing I love to do more than play with kids. It is my personal goal to be reliable, approachable, positive influence on young people. I encourage them to think outside the box and chart their own course. I am a strong believer that children should take risks both socially and physically, and constantly offer opportunities to do so. It is with great enthusiasm that I begin my journey with your children.


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