Elements Forest & Garden School

Where magic and reality, art and science thrive

The Dragon’s Sneeze

A little more than a week ago, we asked three of our Elementals to write a story for the Muddy Faces Dragon Sneeze competition. Two of them submitted their efforts today. I think you will agree they are VERY cute. We stand to win a Dragon Sneeze kit which includes a fire pit and dragon sneezes worth £200. May the elementals be with us!

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This one is by Fiona Press-Worth, aged 10

This one is by Elaria Foley-Leech

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Hedgerows and Soil

Our Third Session!

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This time we learned how to forage and make teas… and the vitamins found in our hedgerows

Our sessions are always filled with activities pertaining to the time of the year. This time we looked at the riches of the hedgerows and collected and made fruits and leaves to make hedgerow tea. These fruits are filled with Vit C and other minerals and trace elements. Collecting them at this time of the year to dry would have been something added to the medicine cabinet back at the house. It would have been beneficial for the long winter months to ensure that we were able to remedy a cough or cold.

Gathering hawthorns
Why soil is important

One of the elements is in fact, Earth and today we studied the magic of soil. A substance to which we owe our entire existence. Barely a few metres on the surface of the planet, it is a marriage of minerals and plants. It is what we depend on – the forests, our food, the animals – everything depends on the soil and today we looked at how we could look after it.

Checking the composition and PH of soil
What are the contents – what lives in soil?
Fungi, the secret network
Watching the soil settle out
Big thank you to Claire our lovely volunteer who helped out with the session.

A nice thing was said…

Thank you!

To book a session go here or email us on hello@elementsschool.net

77 frogs… just sayin’

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Our Saturday School – with Joan and Tina

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We had a wonderful Saturday and did loads of great things… but the highlight of the morning must be the frog count of 77 frogs in 10 minutes.

There were probably more, but it was as many as we could get given the transect conditions.

Measuring out the transect

We crossed the log and then over on the other side collected more gall. Instead of pruning the trees, we cleared ivy from the trees.

It was pretty amazing how many trees were sorted actually in ten minutes

Jonathan then told us the story of Sir Gwain and the Green Knight which is a vegetation myth which says goodbye to the old year and welcomes in the new year.

It was really quite special

It has been such a humbling and amazing experience the start of this journey. Thank you everyone who has made it possible.

To book a session go here.

Our Very First Session!!!

Story telling: Sigurd and Fafnir

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We had an amazing day. We were small but perfectly constituted. The theme was going to be dragons, but we did not expect to get so many frogs in the bargin. The idea began when we went to visit the inhabitants from Parallal Dimensions by Siubhan Regan as part of a photocall. We could not move for the frogs which were jumping out of our way. So I thought, why not, for our first session, do a citizen science survey of the frogs in the area. We could do a transect and the submit the results to CeDAR. So that is what we did!

Getting ready for the survey… and for the day actually

We began with the frog survey… We did a transect of 9m by 3m and took 5 minutes per section… and we came up with 31 frogs. It was completely mad. Far more frogs that we could have ever dreamed of. The skills learned? How to do a transect, measure with tape, record data and look for frogs (although the last one was a bit too easy).

Measuring out the 3m sqaure
Understanding the data
Crossing the shuck

We were going to gather more oak gall, but we needed to get across to the oak area… To do this we had to shimmy across the shuck. This was quite fun.


Having blackberries is one of the joys of September! As we waited for each other to cross, Jonathan told us a story about blackberries and how they figured in part of Irish history.

Pruning the lower branches of the oak trees

We gathered the oak galls and part of the process included pruning the lower branches – the dead ones of the oak trees in the new forest.

Our haul of gall!

We will be making black ink using this at the next session. So science and practical art. This is the mission of Elements – to always make experiences meaningful and relatable. For memories to be forged and made.

Here we go, our star of the show…photo by Deirdre

We ended the session with an ancient story – the story of Sigurd and Fafnir. From the Norse/Germanic myths which went on to influence Tolkein and Wagner to create The Lord of the Rings and The Ring Cycle, respectively.

I would like to thank everyone who made this day possible. A tiny part of this dream has come true.

To book a session go here.

Elementally Natural!

Lucy McCaw and Elaria Leech hang out with Parallel Dimension inhabitant by Siubhan Regan

(Our first press release, hopefully the first of many!)

New Forest School brings Children, Art and Science Outdoors

Elements, a new forest school which aims to bring the best of learning and play together in the great outdoors staged its first session on 8 September. The social enterprise sees lifelong educators Stephanie Sim and Jonathan McMurray make their dream of creating a holistic educational environment in an outdoor setting come true.

“Northern Ireland is full of amazing outdoor spaces and the opportunity to enable children and families to connect to it in a meaningful and enriched manner was something I had always hoped to do,” said Stephanie Sim, co-owner of the initiative.

“There is a very strong body of academic knowledge confirming what many teachers know: getting outdoors is great for not only health, but learning as well,” said Jonathan McMurray, also the co-owner. “With many teachers having extra restrictions and controls put on them, this year socialising, playing and learning outside with our expertise behind it is sure to make a huge difference and we are so excited to offer it in a range of great sites.”

Elements will deliver forest school sessions from a variety of locations – the most recently secured venue is The Quarries Farm, which is situated on Gransha Road on the outskirts of Bangor. The farm, owned and run by Joan Woods and Tina Kersting, provides a perfect location. It is sensitively managed and has an incredible variety of habitat.

“When Joan showed me round the farm I was astounded,” said Stephanie. “The older woodland dates back to the 1830s and the new woodland which was planted by Joan and Tina is around 15 years old. Both complement the other and provide the perfect setting for a Forest School. Here children are able to be free, learn about the incredible biodiversity found on the farm that ranges from frogs to insects and birds.”

“We are thrilled that Elements will be using the space as a Forest School,” said Joan. “The farm serves as a resource for the community as well as an important lifeline for nature. We are very glad that children – and adults – will be able to come and appreciate this very special place.”

Elements will run two days a week – on a Tuesday afternoon from 3.30 to 5.30 pm and on Saturdays from 10 am to 12 pm. The cost is £18 per child, with a discount for siblings and long term bookings.

“We would like to acknowledge the great debt of gratitude to the Ards and North Down Social Enterprise Programme which gave us invaluable support and guidance,” said Jonathan. “They have been so helpful. We would especially like to thank Alison McCaw who has tirelessly helped us shape our business plan and gave us good advice.”

Alison added, “ANDSEP has been delighted to help Elements get started and refine their ideas to become such a beneficial business. Not only does it contribute to the well-being and sensory development of children through rich outdoor experiences, but the ethos of the programme is particularly beneficial at this time to support children holistically. We wish Jonathan and Stephanie the best of luck and hope that their endeavour will continue to grow.”

Emma Foley, mother of two children who have been on sessions with Elements had this to say. “The time my daughters spent in the woods with Stephanie was magical. They got to enjoy and investigate and create in their surroundings guided by her knowledge and storytelling. They cannot wait to go back.”

Elements is also holding a weekly session in Hillsbrough Forest Park on Wednesday from October and is available for birthday parties and family groups. For more information or to book a session go to www.elementsschool.net. OR to book a session go here. You can also email them at hello@elementsschool.net and follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Will we see for REALS dragons?

To book a forest school session go here.

Part of our mission is to do some serious Citizen Science – this consists of ordinary people taking part in data gathering or helping scientists do things like figure out complex and puzzling problems. This has been used for everything from doing wildlife surveys to spotting new black holes.

Tomorrow we will be counting the Frogs and hopefully spotting a Smooth Newt or two, in order to start a record of the wildlife on the site.

Smooth newt | The Wildlife Trusts
This is a smooth newt… I’m sure we can all agree it looks much like a dragon… but much smaller

However, we aren’t JUST doing Citizen Science. We are also doing habitat restoration. This will consist of pruning ivy off trees which are being strangled by the creepers. As lovely as ivy is, it is not great for the trees. So we will be out with pruning saws to give our beautiful trees a chance.

Pruning Invasive English Ivy From Tree Stock Photo - Download Image Now -  iStock
Pruning Ivy

And we will also be lighting a fire in the Main outdoor area and perhaps even giving it a name. It is all go for our first day. Yes it is fun to be outside, but it is also satisfying to be giving back. I do hope you will be able to join us.

To book a forest school session go here.


To book a session go here.

What have we here?

Last week we went down to the farm with some friends to introduce them to the place and the were blown away by it!

But TOMORROW we start our first FOR REALS session. We can’t wait!!! Tomorrow the dream to provide outdoor education which brings together play, nature, art and science comes true! We hope you will be able to join us!

Every tree has a story

To book a Forest School session go here.

The Belvoir Oak is thought to be between 500 and 600 years old. It is almost certainly the oldest tree in N Ireland, possibly all of Ireland. It is a magnificent ruin but is still alive. I have watched this tree teeter on the brink of collapse and then, a few years ago, appear to start to come alive once again.

The Belvoir Oak has seen much. 500 years ago it was 1520. It was the height of the Renaissance in Western Europe. In Ireland, things were coming to a head. The Ming Dynasty in China saw an unprecedented period of exploration and culture. The first age of globalisation was well underway.

It was during this time the Belvoir Oak was a seedling. A youngster. Since then it has seen empires rise and fall, kings come and go, wars, society undergo unrecognisable transformations, and it is still here. To stand beside the Belvoir Oak is to feel its unfathomable presence.

This is the magic of being in the forest. This September, in addition to being with dragons, we will also be with trees. Whether we are at the Quarries or in Hillsbrough, we will be identifying three native Irish trees: the oak, the rowan and the willow. We will accompany the trees, learn about them, learn how to be with them and how to care for them.

Because our Forest School is also about learning how we are the warp and weft of the fabric of the cosmos and the guardians and caretakers of this wonderful planet.

To book a Forest School session go here.

A time for dragons

Click here to book a session – or several :-).

Herding Cats: Here, There Be Dragons
Here there be dragons

The arrival of the Perseid meteor showers signals the start of autumn. The days are now noticeably shorter and the temperature drops. The heady, leisurely days of summer are over, and thoughts turn to more serious things. It must have been a time of reckoning for our ancestors.

They would have a sense of how much food they had after the harvest and what they had to bring them through the winter to next spring. Food would have to be stored and preserved. Portioned out. If it was a terrible summer (such as this one was), then the following months would be dangerous ones. Or perhaps there was a delight in an abundant year and a quiet celebration that there would be less of a hardship in the cold, long, dark end of winter months would have been the satisfaction of the village.

Because of this, this time of the year has traditionally been associated with not only the harvest, but courage – to take up your sword and meet the challenges that lie ahead. There was gratitude, of course, but there was also a steeling of resolve.

St. George the Great Martyr of Syria Orthodox Icon
St George from Syrian Church

In Steiner schools the world over, this is known as the Michaelmas term and September is the time of the Michaelmas challenges. This is because Michael was the archangel of balance – light and dark (think of the autumnal equinox) – and vanquishing the forces of darkness.

Taking inspiration from this, our curriculum in September will be inspired by the harvest, foraged food, and dragons.

Dragons are very interesting aren’t they? In medieval iconography they are not slayed, but tamed. It was thought that if you are able to tame your dragon, you are well on your way to self possession. The Tibetians called this riding the wind-horse of lung-ta.

Dragons aren’t all bad of course. In China, they are seen as a symbol of extremely good luck! If you are born in the year of the Dragon, you are considered EXTREMELY lucky. Nevertheless dragons are a symbol of power and enormous potential.

Hong Kong crisis: can Britain ever tame the Chinese dragon? | News Review |  The Sunday Times
The Chinese Dragon is associated with good fortune

Here are some very famous dragons:

spiritedawayhaku - DeviantArt | Studio ghibli art, Spirited away haku,  Ghibli art
Haku, Spirited Away

In Spirited Away, Haku is a river which was concreted over and therefore had lost his way. In Chinese and East Asian mythology – even Hindu mythology – dragons known as loong or nagas – are associated with not fire, but water and the air. They bring the rains or untold destruction in the form of floods. Dragons are protectors and ward off evil. They are often seen alongside phoenixes.

Smaug just melted the flesh off my bones in virtual reality - The Verge
Smaug, The Hobbit

Dragons in the West are associated with wonderful lore, including the hoarding of gold. Because gold cannot be set on fire and is a soft metal, dragons would use them as the bedding. In the most famous of myths and literature, the dragon which guarded the treasure which Siegfried sought, was slayed by him. When he tasted the blood of the roasting heart he was able to understand the language of the birds. This dragon reappears in Beowulf. The dragon in the Hobbit is based directly on these two giants of classic mythology.

HTTYD / DREAMWORKS DRAGONS on Instagram: “- Toothless... — #Toothless  #NightFury #LightFury … | How train your dragon, How to train your dragon,  How to train dragon
Toothless, How to Train Your Dragon

Dragons in Norse mythology appear as protectors. The Viking longships were famously carved with dragons as mastheads.

10 Popular Dragons Game of Thrones Dragon Ball Pokemon Shen Ron
Viserion, Game of Thrones

The Mother of Dragons weirdly has a connection with Chinese Literature where Nu Kwa the Chinese goddess of order is able to create the world from chaos. There are of course any number of females who are associated with serpents – from Eve and Lilith in the Bible to the female nagas of Hindu mythology.

So come along for a Forest School experience which isn’t just about being outdoors, but also infusing meaning to the outdoors. Reconnecting not just physically and intellectually, but on a soul and spirit level too!!!

Details of sessions and how to book them are found here.

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