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

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





Lessons In Self-Regulation From A Tree

February 25, 2016


Nature has a way. Winter has a way. I sit still on a felled tree that slowly decomposes under me in my ‘sit-spot’. The still air carrying the slowly descending flakes of powder, landing gently on my sleeve makes me breathe intentionally.

These moments of reflection are perceptions in my brain that carry me for only but a wrinkle in time, but last an eternity. It is how I feel in the moment and how I regulate myself for the rest of the day. Just that small five minutes of uninterrupted time allow me to re-frame my thoughts and needs for my afternoon. I get so much for so little. This is how we start or end our sessions.

Rewind the clock back 15 minutes in time. A group of 12 junior kindergarten students loudly trudge along a beaten path leading to a serenity of sorts, it is our forest. They deem themselves ‘Forest Kids’, not unlike superhero’s that can “scale tall buildings in a single bound.”They can climb trees in the wink of an eye. These now 4 and 5 year olds have become tree climbing aficionados that enthusiastically share their joy of success. After all it has taken some serious patience, courage, empathy and above all, self-regulation to get where they are, from where they have come.

The ultimate self-regulation, I have determined, has got to be teaching oneself to climb a tree. The first approach as you look upwards towards a snarl of branches seems thrilling. You step back, look up and begin to examine whether or not this activity is for you. The decision is made and an attempt will begin post haste. You grab upon a branch littered with protruding bumps of needles and new growth then pause to grip in another spot that feels better. Now your other hand must follow and bring along behind it a foot. But where to place the foot? The lowest branch perhaps? It is only fractionally off the ground, you raise your leg and then the other, while both hands are clinging to an upper branch simultaneously! You feel a small twinge of fear and decide that is all your body can account for today. You climb down and feel exhilarated and exhausted all at the same time. You go off to play with your friends at the log.

The following day you return to the tree and repeat your steps. Only this time you have decided you will climb right to the top and be declared the highest tree climber ever. You make it another 2 branches higher than last time before descending for the day.  Each day you progress until you declare that you are now the worlds highest tree climber, and each day sees you make a goal that sometimes is completed and sometimes defeated. It is always on your own terms. It is never with encouragement from adults or peers but instead, a labour of accomplishment that you took your time, to conquer your fears one step at a time and only when you were ready. You had to listen to your brain messaging you of fear and you had to decide if the threat was perceived or if you were in real danger. Your body had to cooperate and resist the temptation to quit, or run from the challenge. It became important to challenge yourself and try your best. Some days you weren’t ready and your friends supported you as you did for them when they weren’t ready. You had to monitor your surroundings, track and estimate your footing, determine your tolerance and what to do if you couldn’t manage. You had to listen to your body and any signs of stress you placed on it, by every snapping branch, blowing breeze or slippery step.  Every step of the way you self-regulated, no one else did it for you but you. You take great pride in your accomplishments.

Children climb trees regularly in the forest. The climbing tree has proven to be a tool of self-regulation that some students choose and others do not. It is self-determined learning that develops life long learning. Risky play and a growth mind set help children to understand and manage stress. Like self-regulation they are fluid processes and not programs that can be instructed.

Gail Molenaar is an RECE,  Forest and Nature School Practitioner and a Self-Regulation Advocate who is  currently studying under Stuart Shanker at The Mehrit Centre, TMC.


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