The Greatest Outdoors

Month: August 2020

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.

The great unknown

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature
Photography from :

To book for a session go here. To read about our curriculum which is steeped in science, art, nature and magic.

How did we begin Elements Forest and Garden School? It came for the deep wish to bring art, science, spirit and nature together.

Children need to feel wonder with the world – and all too often, wonder was being taken out at too young an age. The other thing they needed was to be in nature. Whether it was at the top of a mountain or by the lough shore, nature and children belong together.

This connection has been shown to not only be good physically, but mentally and spiritually as well. And since children will be the custodians of the planet – we look after it for each successive generation – they needed to know and love it.

Studio GHIBLI Princess Mononoke Forest Spirit Elf Kodama glow in ...
Kodama – Princess Mononoke Forest Spirit

There was also the intuition that everything around us is alive and we are in partnership with it. So… we decided that we would ensure that this understanding and respect for the seen and unseen and everything in between would be an important part of our sessions. That it would be filled with world literature, traditions and activities which were nonetheless deeply rooted in the immediate place around us.

So our sessions will always include deep play. But in addition to that we will have seasonal stories which are never dumbed down. We will have activities which speak to the soul. We will learn skills without realising we have done so. We will always bear the cosmos in mind and our wider responsiblity to the world.

And we believe we can do this one child, one forest school session at a time. It does sound overly worthy but those were the reasons… however this does not mean that it won’t be fun. Because that’s what it is all about, fun. And I promise, they won’t even realise they are learning.

Pin by Vani Muthukrishnan on My kolam | Colorful rangoli designs ...
Kolam pattern – art and nature describing the ineffable

The thing about wonder is that it keeps us interested in the world… and it then inspires us to do something about it – and for it. And so we come full circle… Elements Forest and Garden School. We hope you’ll be able to join us.

Forest School STARTS!!! BOOK HERE!!!

If you go down to the woods today

Dear all, we are soooo excited to announce that we are about to start our first Forest School sessions. We have been doing Forest School now for the past eight years and now have the opportunity to bring it to Bangor, Hillsbrough and Belvoir Park Forest (but this will be in October)!

Our Forest School also includes STEM and Art sessions while also enabling the children to take part in deep play in some of the most beautiful forests in their neck of the woods, pun intended!

What can you expect:

Storytelling and myths
Learning about biodiversity and how we all play a part on the planet
Activities from den building to geometry and art
Challenges and deep play
Creating seasonal crafts and a variety of activities to choose from
We always ensure that our activities are low impact and environmentally friendly and work closely with our children to ensure that they get the best experiences.

So here are the sessions:

The Quarries Farm, Bangor, Co Down

This is a link to our booking form:  here

Here is more information about our sessions.

Hillsbrough Forest Park

This is a link to our booking form:  here

Here is more information about our sessions.

Children’s Parties and Family Days

To find out more about parties and family sessions please email

Here is more information about our sessions.

We will also be organising Festival Days this year and Full Moon Nights next year. We haven’t costed them as yet, but have put the dates down so you can keep them in your diary!

Michaelmas 29th September 2020

Michaelmas is a harvest festival where we give thanks to the Earth for having provided us and ask for courage as we enter the darkness of winter.

Michaelmas: Taming the Dragon - Tucson Waldorf School

2 pm – 3 pm: FREE this is our tiny launch party! This will be followed by our regular Forest School session. Places are limited so please book early by emailing

Halloween 31st October 2020, The Quarries, 4 – 6 pm

Crossing the Veil: The Pre-Christian Origins of Halloween and ...

Halloween is the Celtic New Year and we will be celebrating it as such. We will not be having terrifying and ghoulish horrors, but a gentle celebration of this important time of the year. Instead there will be stories, visits to grandfather and grandmother trees and traditional Halloween games.

Places are limited so please book early by emailing

Cost: TBC

Families only

Martinmas: 11 November, Hillsbrough Forest Park, 2 – 4 pm

Martinmas Festival - Lantern Walk Monday Nov 11th 4.00pm

To celebrate this lantern festival we will be walking through Hillsbrough. Priority will be given to regular Forest School attendees.

Places are limited so please book early by emailing

Cost: TBC

Advent Garden: 1 December 2020, the Quarries, 4 pm

Sheiling School Thornbury The Advent Garden - Sheiling School ...

We will be walking the Advent Spiral at the Quarries. Priority to be given to our regular attendees.

Places are limited so please book early by emailing

Cost: TBC

About our Elements Sessions

Elements Forest and Garden School is run by Educators who have worked in some of Northern Ireland’s most unique settings – including 2 of the top School Visit sites. With a real passion for the outdoors and the many health and learning benefits that being in green spaces brings, Elements is proud to offer its STEM and Art focused sessions.

We will be engaging participants with the life and landscape of the location as well as getting hands on with investigations as well as natural crafts and art. With a “leave no trace” emphasis, children will leave with a deeper understanding of the place, supporting their learning as well as having had fun!

Who are Elements?

Elements is run by Stephanie Sim (RSPB, Waldorf Teacher) and Jonathan
McMurray (W5 Schools Presenter, Ulster Folk Museum Education and former SENCO). Between them Stephanie and Jonathan have a love of the outdoors, the environment, strong education and research backgrounds and a real knowledge of how children learn best. These sessions will provide a wealth of learning material to help school and home learning across a range of subjects.

Some Questions Answered:

How do I book?
Click here and fill in your details! (Note that until payment is received we cannot confirm your booking).

How do I pay?
Via PayPal or BACS. We will give you those details when we accept your booking. If you have questions about prices and payment methods get in touch at and we will help you to decide.

What if the weather is bad?
Provided there is no yellow warning issued, we will go ahead! We will inform you if the session is cancelled and you will either be able to get the session deferred or a full refund.

How much is it?
Check the sessions – we generally charge £18 per child for two hours – and there is a sibling discount. There is also a monthly booking discount.

What ages is this for?
Ages 6-12.

Do I need to stay with my children for the duration?
Not at all. Please leave them off and collect promptly at the end 🙂

Do we need to bring equipment?
Not for any of our activities – we provide those. However your child must be dressed appropriately and ready for the weather!

What are you doing to prevent COVID transmission?
Although being outdoors is a lower risk, we are COVID aware and will maintain all relevant government guidance at the time of the workshop. Currently this includes social distancing throughout, hand sanitizing and health checks. More info will be given to booking participants.
Please have a look at further posts for details of each week.

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