Winter Break Reading!

Grab a cuppa’ and enjoy some peaceful down time.

Enjoy your well deserved break educators!

Photo by Jane Bird on

Recommended Summer Reads

Recommended summer reads for educators and families craving wonders of knowledge for young and awesome people!

  1. Nen and the Lonely Fisherman – Ian Eagleton and James Mayhew.

A beautiful love story that exposes children to literature with diverse characters and normalises love.

2. Story Workshop: New Possibilities for Young Writers – Susan Harris Mackay

A comprehensive look at the beginning stages of writing for young children and escape the barriers to creativity and joy in creating and recording their thinking and language. A 5 star approach to linking language for both the indoor and outdoor classroom.

Watch for a professional learning opportunity to explore Story Workshops in your classroom!

3. Love Builds Brains – Dr. Jean Clinton

The title says it all! Dr. Clinton discusses why and how relationships are the key to building healthy children and most importantly why the first 5 years are critical.

4. Ensouling Our Schools: A Universally designed framework for mental health, well-being and reconciliation. – Jennifer Katz.

Far from a perfect text with flaws such as disproven Intelligence theory profiles. It is a great start to viewing Indigenous and diverse cultures with a new lens and a beginning for change.

5. The Essential Guide to Forest School and Nature Pedagogy– Jon Cree and Marina Robb.

An essential guidebook to learning in nature. With references to K. Wiens graphics and S. Shanker Self-Reg, this is my ‘peas and carrots’ companion, they just go together. This is a ‘can’t do without’ resource for Forest and Nature school practitioners from actual practitioners in the profession!

6. The Night Walk– Marie Dorleans

A beautiful read aloud for families. Explore the night outdoors and get a whole new lens on amazing beauty and new wonders!

Cover image for Night Walk

7. Wild Nights Out: The Magic of Exploring the Outdoors After Dark – Chris Salisbury.

Take a walk on the wild side! A bevy of activities and ways to explore nature at night!

Interested in a Night Walk for educators? Add a comment to express your interest!

I hope you get a change to explore some of the amazing books for professional learning suggested! Let me know your thoughts and reviews on these summer time suggestions! Thanks for reading!

Educating Naturally



Children’s education is a most interesting topic. The debate rages on over a teacher-led, intense, academic curriculum that forces children to sit for long periods of time and follow a succinct set of teacher imposed guidelines, or a more fluid design that is child-led using an emergent curriculum with a focus on enquiry learning. The profound element in decision should lie in the direct impact of children’s social, cognitive, physical, spiritual and emotional health and the role of the educator in supporting holistic learning and children’s  self regulation at Forest and Nature School.


It is an educators job to indiscriminately make provisions that support all the domains of a child’s learning, which include biological, cognitive, emotion, social and pro-social. All learning should be differentiated as research has proven that children learn in multiple ways and at different paces. According to Daniel Goleman a child’s emotional intelligence is not fixed at birth but rather is shaped by their young experiences.

“…emotional intelligence: abilities such as being able to motivate oneself and persist in the face of frustrations; to control impulse and delay gratification; to regulate ones moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think; to empathise and to hope.” (Goleman, 2005).

That being said, what would be the emotional cost for sitting a four year old student on a carpet for 60 minutes listening to a lesson that has no contextual meaning? It is experiences that children have that give meaning to their learning. It is the seed that grows from hands on experiences that enable a child to expand their learning and understanding. Learning that is scaffolded through a skilled educators hand and eye is the glue that binds. This is what builds cognition, desire and passion for learning. This is the goal of the educator.

“…John Dewey saw that a moral education is most potent when lessons are taught to children in the course of real events, not just abstract lessons- the mode of emotional literacy.” (Goleman, 2005)

Contrary to the child-led learning discussed, a teacher-led program also has many positive aspects to learning. The educator builds upon the existing knowledge of the child and guides the child in the direction of the passion. It is in the recognition of small moments of connection that may spark an inquiry and that when pursued are enough to engage and inspire the learner.  This is where forest and nature learning are second to none.

Forest and nature learning offer an exploratory, inspiring, sensory calmative, and an explosion of learning opportunities that engage and interact with students on a tangible level. This juxtaposition has the ability to allow the immersion of the joy and wonder in nature and is a holistic way of learning and teaching.

Forest School educators are skilled at observation and allowing children to practice their skills across domains. Often it is the educators position to listen and observe. Being quiet and mindful of the children’s play in the forest rather than interrupting the play models respect for the child and their learning. Knowing when to join in play and when to step back and only listen is imperative to the success of a forest and nature educator that sees value in fostering the holistic child.


The ability of children to naturally self-regulate is natures way.

“…primary goal of a social-learning approach is to enhance children’s desire and ability to take a willing, active part in social interaction rather than a passive role in which they are externally conditioned to perform desirable behaviours and avoid undesirable ones.” (Shanker, 2013).

When educators offer opportunity to take risks and fail in a trusting setting it subjects children to a growth mind-set rather than a fixed mind-set.  Trying, failing wondering and discovering are fundamental to intrinsic learning for children. I can think of no better place for education than in the magic of the forest.



Children use negotiation, co-operation, tenacity, social skills, and mostly a sense of wonder. I capture the best moments when I simply sit back, watch and listen.

Wander, Be Wild, Always Wonder

Gail Molenaar RECE, Self-Reg Consultant and Forest and Nature School Practitioner

Offering workshops and presentations for educators locally and internationally.

The Wonder in Nature


To Wonder is to; think, connect, perceive, guess, enquire, respond, guide, answer, reflect, acknowledge, desire, see, be amazed, admire, be curious, ponder, be in awe, discover, make meaning, solve problems and learn. You get the idea!

As a nature pedagog, I was afforded the opportunity to work with some dedicated Early Childhood Educators in childcare centres, reflecting on a nature pedagogy.  The outdoor environment is as much the third teacher as the indoors and will often be perceived as simply fresh air and gross motor play. It is so much more than that! It is the ultimate in Loose Parts/Intelligent materials that are brought to the outdoor space or discovered. Sometimes a simple provocation will spark the most magical conversation or witness the most profound engagement with wonder!


Wonder is a dandelion seed head ready to blow away, a sunflower begging to be investigated, a piece of bark ladened with insects or a crack in the sidewalk bursting with natures garden. The wonder of nature is the greatest down low, where the grown-up misses and the small child discovers! Do we take these precious moments and make time to wonder and grow? Do we document how the learning is happening? Do we wonder what the child is wondering?

adorable autumn baby blur
Photo by Janko Ferlic on

As elementary school educators ready themselves to receive their students they build environments, create activities, guide thinking, and link student learning to all aspects of the curriculum. The curriculum becomes the driving force behind facilitation and the expectations of program. Educators are held accountable for facilitating learning and have been guided in practice on best delivery for students. This is their training. Though I wonder……

Should we reflect on our own preconceived ideas of learning and wonder? How could self-determined learning connect to the curriculum? Could we, should we wonder what the child is thinking, what language they might use to communicate their knowledge and how they might extend their own learning? Do we see what the child sees…….. and wonder?  Do we make enough time for wonder? Shouldn’t we? Do we employ the pedagogy of listening, (C.Rinaldi)?


What do you wonder about?


Gail Molenaar- BA, RECE

Wander,Be Wild and Always Wonder

Self-Regulation Consultant and Nature Practitioner

What If?

What if….

What if we all understood Self-Regulation?



The embracing of Self-Reg has begun and is being talked about in many classrooms across our nation. We hang posters, talk about it with our colleagues and parents, and drop the ideal language as though we know it’s significance. Before you know it we build quiet, cosy corners in our classroom, read stories about emotions, deliver a few common programs that have been recommended and expect all to fall into place. After all this is the new age of self-regulation and we are on board!

We’ve started by reading Stuart Shankers ‘Self-Reg: How to Help Your Child (and You) Break the Stress Cycle and Successfully Engage With Life’, which is the ultimate guide to Self-Reg. The 5 steps of this method include:


Recognise the Stressors

Reduce the Stress

Reflect: Stress Awareness

Respond: Restoration and Resilience



When practicing Self-Reg we use these steps to guide us, teach ourselves what to look for, how to help and then how to manage in the future. This guide is a starting point to relationship building and improved quality of life. It is a Paradigm Revolution.

 So Who Is Our Focus?

Our focus is always the people we are in charge of, our family, students or clients. It is almost always directly linked to a child showing difficulty in social relationships or coping with expectations in general. We place so much focus on the child that we forget about our own challenges of self-regulation. But how important is that, you may ask?

It is critical.

What if?

What if we started to recognise our own challenges and stress behaviour?

What I need to help me find just the right thing is, CALM. Lend me your calm so that I may find my own. Then I may be able to utilise the strategies I know will work.





What if we all practiced Shanker Self-Reg™️?

Shanker Self-Reg™️ is a process of understanding and managing your own stress behaviour. Shanker Self-Reg ™️ shows us why and shows us how. The most critical piece is, are we listening?

What if?

What if we thought of autonomy as progressive and valuable, and that children are capable of finding the right strategy at the right time, when they need it?

Children as young as 3 years old are able to self-regulate. Typically the most effective method of learning to self-regulate is through others, we call this co-regulating. When the adult or caregiver in the child’s life exhibits calm responses to disappointing events, the child takes internal notes on how this was managed. The connection we use is called Limbic Resonance and it involves the Interbrain. Dr. Stuart Shanker refers to it as the “Bluetooth Connection”. This is the foundation of self-regulation. Children who have had repeated kindled alarms or a neurobiological diagnosis often struggle to make these connections. That is not to say the connections are not there, it is as a response for a variety of reasons that the child finds these connections stressful and therefore difficult. Self-Reg can change that trajectory, and it works every time, for every person. The time it takes to dismantle the shield and build relationships varies as do all processes that are worth working for.


As educators or parents we must be cautious of how we try to change that trajectory. Do you plan Yoga, deep breathing, mindful moments for children, (or adults), and expect compliance? If you do, you may be trying to force a child into an activity that may cause more stress and anxiety. Instead, try offering Yoga in a corner to the children who want to join in. Some may watch and contemplate, some may try with the group, some may find a quite corner to try on their own and still others may avoid completely, (I know this author would). Offer something different the next day and everyday there after. Some may never find the perfect solution, particularly in a busy, over populated classroom. However, this does not mean the child does not have strategies to regulate, they may in fact have many that you are unaware of. Be a detective and make those discoveries!

Sometimes those strategies are unconventional.



What if we all went to bed happy and inspired? What if we all got adequate sleep to be our very best self? What if we never felt the need to yell in frustration? What if we all understood how everyone felt just by a glance? What if we were never misunderstood?

What if we all practiced Self-Reg?


Shanker Self-Reg is a process of understanding and managing our own stress behaviour.

It’s about Stress, Recovery and Restoration.

It’s all about RELATIONSHIPS, so go ahead and make connections!


Gail Molenaar is an RECE, a Forest and Nature School Practitioner and a TMC Self-Reg Consultant.



Looking At Stressors: Kids Really Want To Do Well

Kids Really Want To Do Well

When we see kids going against the grain, avoiding the task or simply non-compliant, we are quick to assume they are misbehaving. We wonder why they’re choosing to be disrespectful, aggressive or in-your-face confrontational! They swear, throw things in the class, ignore your instructions, disregard social norms, avoid or flee. Why? Why this child and why today? Why not yesterday or the day before? Why not all last week but only today? Will it be tomorrow too? We ask ourselves these questions over and over in an attempt to get this kid to comply and yet nothing works. If it does, it never lasts for long.

We try behaviour charts, token reward systems, first and then boards or the ‘catch and praise’ technique and my personal favourite,(insert sarcasm), the preferred inventory, to name a few. Behaviour management systems has long been the preferred method for dealing with children with behaviour issues. We place so much focus on trying to stop the behaviour that we blind ourselves to why it’s happening in the first place.

My enlightened self has dove in and become a full on advocate of understanding self-regulation. I always knew a better way and practiced many of the fundamental ideals of self-regulation but didn’t grasp the full scale, nor did I have a label for it until I began studying via the Shanker Method®. That in of itself, has been a breakthrough in my learning journey.


The first step to understanding self-regulation, for me, has been understanding stressors. Stressors are those things that happen by accident or by design, that cause us to expend energy and then recover. It is the quantity and quality of stress that dictates how much energy we use and how much it will cost us to recover. Have our alarms been kindled and primed over time, or are we just starting to recognise new stressors from new environments? It is how well we understand and are able to self-regulate that indicates our success from exposure and recovery of this energy and recognising that not all stress is negative! As we can guess, some things are more energy expensive than others. When we look at potential stressors we must look critically at all the domains of development, for without each the puzzle is incomplete. These include: biological, emotion, cognitive, social and finally prosocial.

Let’s take a closer look.

 Biological: Stressors that cause change in our bodies and affect us physically.

Ex- Strong smells, heat, clothing tags.

Emotion: As opposed to ‘emotional’ which is really dealing with feelings, emotion is looking internally and why we may react the way we do, sometimes without knowing we have, why we did or how it really felt.

Ex- Death, marriage, employment or loss of it.

Cognitive: This is the brain connection and is often associated with academic demands. Lack of scaffolding tasks, expectations that are still beyond our capabilities or insufficient time to complete tasks.

Ex- tests, unpreparedness, including right tools or team.

Social: The stress of understanding social conventions, mindblindness, difficulty seeing others thinking/feeling.

Ex- Parties, employment, relationships

Prosocial: Dealing with others stress and anxiety.

Ex- Lack of community resources, safe havens, professional services.

As you may notice all 5 domains link together. One affects the other and therefore one stressor may be affected through all or most of the domains. It is cyclical.


By being a ‘stress detective’, we open up the possibilities to see what we haven’t seen before. We start by reframing the behaviour to see it as stress behaviour and then dive a little deeper to recognise the stressors, looking for the cause.


Kids really do want to do well. They are not actively looking for ways to sabotage your classroom, your home or your relationship. They simply can’t find a way out. They don’t recognise there’s a problem, they’re just dealing with stress the best way they know how. Finding the stressors leads us to problem solve. It’s up to us to be the sleuth, help them understand why they do the things they do, how their body and brain react, how to recognise it and most importantly how they can manage it.

Being a stress detective, helps others see because, kids really do want to do well!

It’s all about relationships.

Gail Molenaar B.A, RECE,

Self-Regulation consultant and Forest and Nature School Practitioner

Follow me on FacebookWander Wild Wonder or on Twitter @Rylone3

Linking The Forest To Self-Regulation


Linking The Forest To Self-Regulation


As the school year ends and another torch is passed, I can’t help but think about all the lessons the forest has taught us, and all that we have taught each other. It goes without saying that children grow physically, but seeing growth in the other domains of development takes some observation and listening, akin to the slow growth of a forest and the cyclicality of the ever changing seasons.



A child grows, muscles develop and balance is challenged. Children who are offered ample opportunity to grow, stretch and challenge their bodies are better able to focus and see the world around them. All senses are optimised by the rich earthy scent, uneven terrain, a cicada shell, prickly juniper, bright sun and rich tones of green and brown, The call of the Blue Jay, the hammering of the Pileated Woodpecker and the constant rush of the water below, stimulate their auditory sense. Even the odd lick of a leaf or a taste of a developing apple fires the synapses to make new connections. Growth is in discovery.



A child sees through all their senses and learns to learn. Why does the water almost run dry? How does the tree make flowers and then make apples? How does the rope stay tied when we swing upon the tree branch? What are galls? Do the fairies ride the ladybird beetles, the butterflies and the crickets too? How can I make a fort with these sticks? Why do the green inchworms like to stick to my hair? And why do the grey tree frogs stick to my hand? Without these interactive lessons children would not wonder how the world works. It is only through hands-on experiences that learning comes to life, and each child learns at their own pace, in their own time and at their own level.




A child deals with many traumas and excitements in life. The birth of a leaf, or a caterpillar, the vandalism of a tree, the birth of an apple, the death of a creature and the connections of life in the forest make life around them authentic. By making connections to the physical world they discover outlets to their emotional needs. Conversation is a segue for daily interactions that naturally offer co-regulation. Children that look closely do so calmly. This takes some practice but the rewards are a gift.




A child engages with their peers and their supporters on many levels. A gentle nudge to move forward along the path, a soft lens of encouragement for climbing the next rung of the tree, a speak of advice on how to tie a knot to hold the sticks together, solving conflicts over a change in ‘sit-spots’, showing everyone what you have found, understanding that sharing is sometimes about being patient, and fair is when we all get what we need. Learning how to get along, how to be a friend and how to engage with others is only learned when opportunity to socialize is offered. When adults intervene with children’s communication it teaches them that someone else will solve their problems for them. The open air and space of the forest gives children a comforting space to play and interpret their own world in their own words.



A child learns to see what others are thinking and feeling. Sitting and looking closely affords opportunity to see what they hadn’t seen before. An inchworm makes its way up the tree, a squirrel pauses to scan the area. The resident mallard waits for his mate to wade along the trickling creek bed. We remember that we are guests of the forest and are only invited to stay a while. A ‘Sit-Spot’ session affords us the opportunity to show empathy and what it might feel like to be that someone or something that we have taken the time to observe.


Looking at Forest and Nature school through a self-regulation lens is new. In fact it is unique and innovative. We look at stress through a 5-step model, (Shanker Method™) and put on our self-regulation goggles. Through this new lens we see what may be the stressors and try to help find ways to deal with it. Yet what I am finding is the stressors for the students in the indoor class become virtually nonexistent in the outdoor forest class. What exactly do we see inside the Kindergarten room that perhaps might be considered stressors?


Inside Stressors for many students:

  1. Noise-

This could be anything ranging from the HVAC to the P.A system, bells to transition to lunch, loud children playing, music, blocks banging against the hard floor or the teachers singing a clean up song.

  1. Lighting-

The harsh fluorescent lights actually flicker and make a humming sound, not to mention the excessive brightness.

  1. Temperature-

Sometimes the lack of air movement with the beating sun on the windows creates a rather high temperature. Along with 27 bodies, it can get rather hot.

  1. Crowded-

With 27 small bodies vying for 2 teachers attention, it can get overwhelming for both teacher and student. We all require some personal space, which is rather difficult to procure in a classroom.

  1. Smell-

Bodily functions and small children are a given. There is no escape when encapsulated in a Kindergarten room!

  1. Transitions and Dictated schedules-

Being swept up in play and then forced to clean up and attend gym when you are 3 years old is not very child honouring. The gym alone with its sound reverberation and echo are enough to cause stress. Calisthenics for Kindergarten is not age appropriate, nor does it have any benefit to physical well-being. Play is what builds large muscles and the proprioceptive, and vestibular workout that children need.

  1. Bright Colours and Visual Overload-

In an effort to make classrooms appealing, teachers tend to decorate their rooms with brightly coloured bulletin board trims, paint in primary colours, order red, blue and green topped tables and store items in bright coloured plastic totes. Our eyes are never sure where to glance and become overwhelmed.


Overall we are creating a sensory storm that may be causing our students more harm than benefit. Consider calming colours, opening windows, turning off overhead lights and using soft glow bulbs in table lamps. Provide headphones, fidget toys, smell jars, yoga cards and a quiet space to calm.


But what about the forest? Let’s reframe


The forest offers hidey holes for quiet reflection, mother nature has created the perfect light bulb amongst the trees and she always wears the perfect scent. Sometimes it gets quite hot outside but it’s always significantly cooler under the tree canopy. We are never crowded as we frolic on hills and fallen trees. We climb those same trees and make new discoveries about the flora and fauna and ourselves. Our ears hear so many sounds that soothe us and sometimes rock us to sleep. We see such a variety of green and brown that never overwhelms us but instead offers a familiar colour scheme that makes us feel calm and alert. The forest is the best gym class that was never taught.


Self-Regulation is a paradigm revolution. I see it everywhere I turn and with every move that is made. As educators we tend to be driven by management, management of behaviour and management of time. Every minute of every hour must be filled with something new, exciting, educational and thought provoking. After all without this what would we need teachers for?

We must begin by looking much more closely in what we want to accomplish, where we see the future of education and what our students are missing in their lives. Granted some are missing much more than others, but what is every child in Canadian schools missing? I can say that all children are missing out on nature. Some are getting more than others, but collectively as educators, we are neglecting the lessons that nature can provide and the deep learning that cannot be duplicated inside a classroom. As a Forest and Nature School practitioner, I can say that in general, children who are not self-regulating in an indoor classroom miraculously can bring themselves to calm, happy and alert within a short amount of time in the forest classroom.

There is no better time than now to go deep into the forest to experience some of the best self-regulating calm, and beyond that, be on the look out for all those stressors in your life.

  1. Reframe the behaviour.
  2. Recognise the stressors.
  3. Reduce the Stress
  4. Reflect
  5. Respond

(The Mehrit Centre-

When you take the time to balance your own wellbeing, it pays forward to the students under your watch. As Dr. Stuart Shanker might say, “Stay Calm and Self-Reg on.” And I add to the sentiment by taking it into the forest!


Gail Molenaar is an RECE, an Early Years Consultant, a TMC Self-Reg Consultant  and a Forest and Nature School Practitioner.


Follow Gail on Facebook- Wander Wild Wonder or Twitter- @wildwander1





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