Meet Our Teachers
Our teachers will guide your children as they grow strong and true within a nature-connected community. We engage young children in ways that will quicken and protect the sense of wonder that they naturally have for the world. We help guide children into deep understandings of natural science while also cultivating their imagination and intuition. We are committed to helping them develop strength of will through engaging them in a variety of purposeful and meaningful work activities. We help children develop the life skills and capacities that are most optimally developed in early childhood, creating a strong foundation for a lifetime of learning and holistic, harmonious engagement with the world.
Director & Lead Teacher
Kelly McMenimen is a naturalist and a poet, a singer and an activist, but most of all she is a gifted educator and facilitator of connection and development. Her love of both nature and human culture has led her on a beautiful and circuitous journey through life. She is deeply tuned in to the natural world, having spent much of her childhood roaming and climbing trees in the San Juan national forest of Colorado, with her brother, her trusty dog and sometimes even her most adventurous cat! In her college years she was a camp counselor and a raft guide in the summers. She has always renewed herself by going into the woods, the mountains, the ocean, or a river. At the same time, she has ascended to the peaks of human culture and seen beautiful views from there as well: She has performed in acclaimed theatre productions, written and edited for an award-winning regional magazine, and performed as a professional jazz singer with highly-talented musicians in Brazil and the Bay area. Her lifelong interest in human consciousness and cultural healing led her on a journey that included a year at Esalen Institute and several years in graduate school at CIIS, where she earned a master’s degree in Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness.
All along the way, she has worked and developed as a teacher. First she guided and taught children at summer camps. Then she spent years teaching English to adults from around the world. Then while she was in graduate school she taught in Marin public schools. After having a child, she dedicated herself soley to mothering for several years. She views her role as a mother as her most important job, and she is incredibly proud of her amazing 12-year-old son. But as he grew older, life asked her to share her gifts with the larger world again. Her natural teaching talent was recognized when she was helping in her son’s preschool and there she was mentored as a Waldorf early childhood teacher by masterful teacher Lesley Grant. Kelly was then left in charge of the preschool while Ms. Grant took a sabbatical. This experience expanded her teaching skills, as well as her understanding of child development and the role of the teacher in early childhood. She subsequently spent several years assisting in Waldorf classrooms at various grade levels, including kindergarten, and studying Waldorf and other forms of education, including at the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training. She continues to study how to facilitate human development at all stages in a truly balanced and balancing way.
Meanwhile, she saw the two threads of her love for the world--nature and culture--meeting in a beautiful way in the world of permaculture. So she embarked on a study of permaculture design at Regenerative Design Institute and eventually started teaching permaculture to adults in the summers. Since then, she integrates permaculture principles and awareness into all of her teaching. She also had the opportunity to spend a year immersed in Jon Young’s Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness program, where she fully realized the immediate value of her personal connection to the natural world. She came to understand that she has a real gift for creating experiences that help others come home to their natural connection to and love for Mother Earth. So she started offering her own nature connection programs for children in 2011.
Looking to expand her community of like-minded colleagues, she happily went to work for Vilda nature connection programs in 2014, where she became the lead teacher and director of the early childhood programs. It was wonderful to find herself teaching and learning within a whole community of nature-connection mentors, and being valued for her early childhood expertise. She lived for many years with the inspiration for a full-fledged outdoor kindergarten where children come multiple days every week and are enriched by culture and nature at the same time. She has been overjoyed to midwife Forest Friends into being, with the support of Vilda as a sister organization. She is constantly blown away by the power and magic of teaching in collaboration with the natural world. She and her colleagues have been astounded to see just how deep and rich the inner and outer connections become, and how fully children thrive, in this multi-day program. She has come to believe that there is no better classroom for early childhood than an enchanting forest eco-system where a wide diversity of species can participate in every aspect of the educational experience.
Kelly is committed to ongoing development as a teacher and derives inspiration and guidance from regular attendance at trainings, classes, and conferences. Kelly is grateful for all the amazing teachers she has been mentored by in her life, including Lesley Grant, Joanna Macy, Brian Swimme, Charlene Spretnak, Jean Houston, Penny Livingston, Jon Young and more. She is especially grateful for the opportunities she has had to learn from several indigenous elders and she considers these deeply-rooted wisdom keepers to be some of her most important teachers, along with the forest itself.
Emma was raised between the hills of Marin County, and the Ko’olau Mountains of Oahu, with minimal television and maximum barefooted outdoor exploration. In recent years, she has pursued her great love of education and the natural human experience through a degree in Sociology, a certificate in Permaculture Design, and a year long inquiry into the Montessori method as an assistant teacher. Emma believes that humans and nature are meant to exist in harmony, and has worked to create symbiotic systems through small scale organic farm design and school garden projects. She also believes wholeheartedly that nature is our greatest teacher, and facilitates nature connection for children through various summer programs in Northern California.
Growing up, Emma was always encouraged to step outside of what she knew, and spent many summers traveling the world, exploring new cultures and volunteering. Most recently, she worked on the island of Lesbos as the youth camp coordinator for a refugee relief organization. From there, she embarked on an education innovation reimagining campaign in one of her home sates, Hawaii, where she led Social Emotional Learning empathy based workshops for kids. Emma dreams of a world where all children grow up equipped with the tools they need to successfully emotionally navigate life, while being in deep relationship with nature. On any given afternoon Emma can be found collecting wild spring water, swimming in the ocean with the seals, and building fairy houses in the Redwoods.
Kelsie Pombo is a warm, creative guide with passion for song, story, and deep nature connection. She grew up on a farm in the San Joaquin River Delta, climbing trees, catching frogs, and tending to sheep and goat babes. She studied biology at Stanford University, where she had the opportunity to live and study in the Peruvian Amazon, Australia, Papua New Guinea, and Monterey Bay. After college, Kelsie served in the Peace Corps in a rural community in Panama, where she supported environmental education and spearheaded local and national events to promote youth and women’s empowerment, leadership development, and health education. Later, Kelsie worked for the San Joaquin County Office of Education and started a local field trip program along the San Joaquin River. She is a certified Permaculture Designer, California naturalist, and a graduate of the Weaving Earth Immersion program for relational education. Kelsie also is an auntie to ten wonderful humans and an instructor for Vilda nature connection programs. When she’s not roaming forests and farms with kiddos, you can find her dancing, singing to trees, and swimming in wild waters. Kelsie is committed to stoking the fires of curiosity, wonder, and gratitude for the natural world in herself and others, and is thrilled to be a part of the Forest Friends community.
Denise is an east coast Massachusetts native who has fallen in love with the sunshine coast. She has been forever changed by the "Forest Kindergarten" educational model that she was first exposed to in 2014 in an Oakland-based preschool that took place in a redwood forest.
Since then, she has been dedicated to offering nature-connection to children, and has studied two summers with the Academy of Forest Kindergarten Teachers in Santa Barbara, CA, and worked at Vilda Wilderness school in Fairfax, CA.
Denise entwines her passion for nature with a passion for "mindfulness," and additionally spends time teaching mindfulness skills to youth in Richmond Public schools through an organization called Mindful Life Project. She is dedicated to storytelling, imagination, wonder, and play. She also really loves pinecones and would be happy if you collected one and thought of her.