The Greatest Outdoors

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Learning and play

Here are a few thoughts after ten years of Forest School… yes I started teaching Forest School in 2012…

Here is one of the wee gnomes on the Forest School flag we still use…
Here it is being made…
Literally my first Forest School class… those kids are now 17

Well, my thoughts… what always inspired me was the wish to have children understand and be connected with nature. Yes, true it was about how nature was great for children. How nature was important to us. How they are the future and therefore they are entrusted to nature. And from the very start to was always linked to the unseen beings, the invisible law of physics or pharies, you choose, that surrounded us. Always.

Beach school…. we also did beach school

The most important thing though – along with working with all of nature – was bringing this joy, this constancy of love. If the activities were overprescribed and joyless, then it would defeat the purpose.

So Forest School would always be a place of learning, yes, but also magic and play…

Fast forward ten years… that’s ten years of being a Waldorf teacher, ten years of Forest School, two years of Covid, two years of starting our own social enterprise… and here we are…

Here are the top 5 things I have learnt as an outdoor teaching practitioner:

  1. Plan, plan, plan with the children and the activities in mind.
  2. Have everything at hand.
  3. Health and safety of course, but also boundaries they can explore and grow into.
  4. Always read the children – see where they are and what they need.
  5. Have fun with it! Make sure that there is always space for fun.

It has been a wonderful 10 years and with any luck there will be another 10 to go! Thank you everyone who has helped along the way.

Why we do what we do

I found this picture on social media and it inspired me to write this…

As a teacher I see the importance of play. Children are not mini adults. Their brains are different, their hands and bone structure is different, they learn differently. And they long to learn. They are enthusiastic about life. And it is universal. A child in Asia is exactly like a child in Europe. It is astonishing how they have the exact same characteristics and go through the same developmental stages.

When a child plays they engage every fibre of their being. Their bodies, their imagination, their thought and their will. They enter into a world which they utterly believe and they are creating the future. We do them a greatest service in being able to keep those boundaries of childhood as free and as joyful for as long as possible. It is in their sense that the world is GOOD and BEAUTIFUL that they will seek its TRUTH with a hopeful, beatific will.

At elements we do this. Nature, the greatest teacher, is given the space and we enter a partnership with her to create moments of magic and lasting memories. The child develops a confidence and a trust in the world, while also encountering the very limits of their experience.

The importance of Deep Play

Deep play is a state which all children and adults who are working at their best are able to achieve. This happens when you are so engrossed in an activity that time suddenly stands still.

You can see this with very young children when they play and older children when they are using their imagination to world build. We see this in Elements Forest School.

Being managed from pillar to post is something which our children are now very used to. They arrive at an activity and they are now used to being told what to do. This is fine… up to a point. But they must also be given space to breathe. Space to dream. Space to get bored. Space to be themselves. To have down time, as it were.

In Elements we blend the two based on the what the children tell us. Well, not tell TELL us, but we ‘read the room’ – or in this case, the Forest.

The Forest really is the star of the show. After that it is children. Then it is us. As a Steiner educator, and as a team that comes from that background or works intuitively with these principles, seeing where the children are is more important than trying to cram them with activities. The children will learn eventually – but most often the first step is just watching you and being at home in nature.

This is where Deep Play comes in. Deep Play is relaxing, it is freedom, it is delight, it is engaging with the best parts of yourself. It lowers the stress levels, it boosts immune levels, it allays anxiety, it helps ANYONE the opportunity to reconnect with meaning.

At Elements Forest and Garden School this is our top priority. And we believe it can be best – if not only – done in nature. Touching, feeling and discovering the natural environment is healing. Trees give off chemicals which are literally relaxing. Soil is full of bacteria which makes you happy. The air is cleaner in the forest which helps boost your oxygen levels. It is literally ALL GOOD.

Add to that the magic of the elements and you have some very happy children.

If you are interested in signing your child up or having elements are your school or working with your after school, let us know by contacting us on 07540075991 or emailing hello@elementsschool.net

We greet the spring!

I know that spring does not begin until March apparently, but as far as I’m concerned it starts on 1 Feb – the quarter day marked in Ireland by Brigid’s.

There was a real sense that the children who came back just wanted to be with the forest and the forest wanted to be with them, so we decided to keep the sessions loose.

Here are some pictures from the two session this week – which is not to say they did not have a ball!

There are no more spaces in the Steiner School but there are spaces in the Quarries which is a magical place! Especially in that sunset. Call/WhatsApp/Text 07540075991 OR email hello@elementsschool.net OR fill in this form to register.

Forest School begins!

As the years pass, and despite the pandemic, Elements has seen more 100 children take part in our Forest School sessions and other activities.

Our mission is to enable children to experience and get to know the world around them, and in our many activities to gain confidence, develop their sense of confidence and sensory experiences, as well as enjoy all of the seasons around them.

At the Holywood Steiner School, we are able to cook outdoors, explore the beautiful forest they have and put on a series of educational and fun activities.

Children are able to play on their own or join in activities. It makes for a truly rich and in depth outdoor experience.

Our classes in Holywood are now full and bookings will reopen in the Summer term.

New exciting year!

Check out what we have on this year!

Forest School

Holywood Steiner School

Forest School has started again. We are now full for the Holywood Steiner School! We have our full quota and class is closed!

The Quarries, Bangor

Arrow making

We are starting up again at The Quarries in Bangor. Located at 402 Gransha Road it is a beautiful traditional Ulster farm which has been sensitively managed by Joan Woods and Tina Kersting.

It is teeming with wildlife and is blessed with two forests – one more recently planted native woodland and a 200 year old forest which surrounds the Quarry.

Surveying frogs

We have looked for frogs, found a fallen buzzard, collected tinder from birch and found millions of mushrooms. Tales were told by the fires in winter and more discoveries will be made over the coming spring and summer.

If you are interested in joining, sessions are held on Tuesdays, from 3.30 – 5.30 pm. Each session costs £15.

Get in touch by filling in this form or contacting us at 07540075991. For the month of February we are offering half price for one session two or more new sign ups!

Arts and Crafts Sessions

Leaf made by first timer attending our copper smithing class. Two more are coming up in Feb and March.
No experience necessary

We are delighted to continue to offer our wonderful craft sessions this year.

Introducing our first adult course this year at the Holywood Steiner School

From Fleece to Fabric: The Hidden Magic of Wool and Coppersmithing with Lake and Oak will be running at the Holywood Steiner School.

Fleece to Fabric: 5, 12 and 19 Feb

Coppersmithing: 19 and 26 Mar

For both activities start at age 12+ years. Click onto the links to find out more about each course.

Here are some highlights.

Fleece to Fabric

In the first lesson you will learn how to wash raw wool
In lesson 2, we card and create yarn!

These pictures do not do the sessions justice. What takes place is nothing short of a review of the entirety of our development as human beings and the important wool and other fibres have played in our lives. From the story of Theseus and the Minotaur to the Wool Guilds of Florence to the songs of the women of the Shetlands, the course is a tour de force in Emma’s skill as a textile creative.

If you are interested in this course click on this link for a full description and to book.

Coppersmithing

Like wool, our relationship with copper is also ancient. A soft metal that can be worked easily it is also warm, bright and gorgeous. Spend the day creating something with will literally last forever.

If you are interested in this course click on this link for a full description and to book.

A great start to the year!

Elements is one year old! that anniversary passed by pretty much unnoticed because we have been so busy… here is what we have been up to then in Insta images…

This session is full!!!
Our first Forest School

We have just restarted this. To book go to this form! Or email hello@elementsschool.net.

Finally the BEST THING EVER!!! Our Craft Programme!!!

Go to these various pages to book.

Copper Smithing

Fabulous Fungi

Fleece to Fabric

The Summer of (Forest) Love

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Clay work on the last day

Our summer scheme – the first ever this year – was sold out. It is hard to believe that Elements is slightly less than a year old.

Children from all over North Down and Belfast got to experience the excitement of the Northern Irish summer.

From the start of July’s scorching heat to the almost deluge at the end of the first week of August, there was always fun to be had.

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A perfect day

As nature becomes recognised as more and more important to our well being, being part of Forest School is being seen as something which feeds all elements (excuse the pun) of our bodies and souls.

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A magical site

It is almost a cliche to speak about the sites which we visit as magical but this site really IS magical. The land looked after so thoughtfully by Glencraig is one of the most sensitively managed areas we have used. And yet at the same time so welcoming to people.

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Dam building

It has a river which rises and falls – in a very safe manner. The water is filled with trout and we spent many happy hours trying to catch them.

The children were able to watch first hand the effect of rain on these streams and due to the cleanliness of the water they were able to play in them. It is quite sad that many water courses in Ireland are so polluted due to agricultural run off. But not here!!!!

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The Troll Bridge

The forest is large enough for adventures to take place. Like this walk over the troll bridge. Here stories are made and come to life. Here lessons can be learnt without ever being taught. For instance… the troll who lived under this bridge. He lived there because his family didn’t want him to live under the bridges in Belfast because he did not want to eat people. So he now lived there as he caught only fish. So let us be kind to the troll and be good to the water.

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River walking

Walking in rivers and chasing fish is a lost art – many children today are taught to fear the water and fire. But at Elements, supervised fun is given free reign.

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Cooking bannock

Because we have a small number of children and a group of experienced and passionate teachers, we are able to carry out some very exciting but practical activities. Cooking is very close to children’s hearts and Matthew Walton our new Forest School teacher made gluten free bannock.

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Potato gratin!

We also made potato gratin over the open fire. Apparently this is the best potato dish anyone had ever made!

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Whittling

We whittled little sticks and walking sticks! Knife skills for six to 12 year olds is something we delight in doing. Children working with fire and knives learn that these are tools which are to be respected. If they are careful with them, they will be able to be in control of the fire/ knife and something dangerous can be a help meet.

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Bringing back a sycamore tree

With the permission of Glencraig, we were able to harvest young sycamore trees as part of the forest management activity and turn these beautiful trees into walking sticks which were keepsakes. We made nettle cords and these were then used to create handles on the walking sticks which hands could be slipped through.

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The activity of using a knife to whittle a stick is one which requires intense willforce
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We also made clay animals which will be fired by Eden pottery
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The story told was the birth of Lugh which was seasonally appropriate

We also spent time at the beach and made rocket stoves learning how to make a small efficient fire using only a tin and cottonwool. Every day was a learning day, every minute a minute of fun and just like that it was over.

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Tired but happy has to be our tagline… that and of course, the Greatest Outdoors!!!!

The Year that Was…

Hi all, I thought I’d try and update the very busy last year we have had. It has been an incredible journey we have taken since the end of September last year.

Before we get into that here is the booking form in case you’d like to find out more about what we are doing…

Because we now have art classes, weekly sessions, a summer scheme and birthday parties, we have a single booking form for you to register your interest. Fill it in and Jonathan will get back to you… or you CAN email hello@elementsschool.net. Or call 07410411840.

Some highlights:

Quarries Sessions

Our Quarries sessions were the first to get going. Thanks to Joan Woods, we were able to start our Tuesday and Saturday sessions. We had originally hoped to have had a peripatetic existence, taking the Elements experience on the road to schools, but Covid prevented this. So instead, we began our sessions here in this impossibly idyllic site. We counted frogs, listened to stories and made fires…. we watched the seasons change here.

We came in second for the the Muddy Faces Dragon Sneeze competition!!!!
The colours of late summer
We foraged and made apple and meadowsweet tea…
We made charcoal….

Hillsbrough Sessions

We began sessions in Hillsbrough in October and we had a little band of Elements. It has been very successful and we will continue with this.

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This is Sassy Susan

Sassy Susan has been named by the students who attend Hillsbrough. She was an important part of our map making and orienteering sessions. Some skills we covered during these sessions included

  • Whittling
  • Foraging
  • Use of kelly kettle
  • Orienteering
  • Mapmaking
  • Bird Song ID
  • Plant ID
  • Knots
  • Making walking sticks

Óiche Shamhna

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Collaborating with artist Jennifer McQuillan we put on a Halloween which returned to the Sidhe and traditions which venerated this very special evening as the start of the Celtic year. There was even a full moon!!!!

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Green Santa!

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To get away from the commercialism of Christmas, we invited the Green Santa to come along and put up in the roundhouse at The Quarries. The beautiful cold evenings with a welcoming fire and candlelit room made it an encounter to remember.

Birthday Parties!

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We were delighted to be able to host birthday parties where we played games, had a space to cut the cake and spend sometime in nature!

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Art classes… beginning of lessons for older children and adults

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For the longest time we were asked if we would organise sessions for older people and children and Gabriel Knight obliged! We started drawing classes for 12+ that included charcoal making and making elderflower cordial. As the first set of classes comes to an end, we are now organsing the Autumn programme. We are looking at copper smelting, survival skills, textile work, more drawing (of fungi) and an acrylic painting workshop – just in time for Christmas gifts. Of course Halloween and Green Santa will be there right along with us!

I have a silly little dream that it will eventually evolve into the equivalent of a 21st century hub of the Arts and Crafts movement… With artists from far and wide coming to work with us and with people from different age groups and abilities.

We can always dream…

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Our first summer scheme

The summer scheme is about to start and we are holding it in Helen’s Bay. For the very first time and it is completely sold out! Here’s hoping for a truly wonderful two weeks.

May be an image of tree, outdoors and text that says "elements forest and garden school Summer Scheme Glencraig, Helen's Bay Ages years old 5- July, 2021Full Waiting List open 2-5 Aug, 2021 9am- 1pm £22 per child per session £85 for the whole week (4 days) for more information or to book a place email: hello@elementsschool.net, or call Jonathan on 07140411840 you can also visit our webiste at www.elementsschool.net eLeMeNTS GARDEN SCHOOL"

Whew!

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All that’s left is for us to say thank you. We would like to name check the following people and organisations

Alison McCaw and the Ards and North Down Social Enterprise Programme

They helped us do our business plan, helped us get in touch with so many kind people and Alison gave us such sound advise and supported us unreservedly. It was impossible to have a better mentor

Joan Woods and the Quarries Farm

Joan invited us to set up at the Quarries and gave us a start! Thank you Joan!

Heidi Steffen, Iona Shop

Heidi has supported us with the donation of some art supplies

Brian Poots, NIFSA

Brian trained me (Stephanie) and gave me so much encouragement to start. We also helped speak to some people to get started in Lisburn.

And thank you to everyone who has come along for our programmes and supported us that way. We hope that you have gotten as much out of them as we have had putting them on.

Summer mandala

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We made a summer mandala today – creating a ring using our body as a compass and then laying out flowers around the periphery. We then made a pyramid in the middle and decorated it with ferns and more flowers. In this way we learned that a pyramid has four sides – but has triangle as a side. Scared geometry is everywhere – the circle (eternity), the square (Earth) and the triangle (Trimurti).

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Working with pruning saws – our participants are given real tools to work with – which can be shocking I guess for some… but from the age of 6 they are taught to respect and use these tools. Here the child saws a stick to create a whole arsenal – today we made a pick axe and a spear.

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