The Greatest Outdoors

Month: September 2020

Happy Birthday!

We were delighted that Issac and Ruiri chose us to celebrate their birthdays!

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Birthday boy lights a fire

We try to have activities which have them learning things but in a fun way. So one of the activities which we did was making your own bow. You then had to shoot an arrow from your bow. Hidden in this activity was the tensile strength needed to create a bow from a suitably bendy stick, tying a knot, and then learning to shoot an arrow – another found stick. It was the best fun we had.

Scavenger hunts had us all around the site, identifying flowers, plants and other found objects – and learning the names of the various autumnal berries, as well as looking at different kinds of leaves.

After that there was the party.

Before the party though was learning about the long drop toilet – Shrek’s Toilet as it will now forever be known as.

Feedback from the parent:

Hi guys – thank you so much for Saturday. I’ve been chatting to the boys – they both really enjoyed themselves and feedback from the other families was really positive! R- said he loved the story round the fire and Shrek’s hut and I- loved seeing the frogs.

From our perspective, the place and space is amazing, having the barn set up was great. You guys were great at answering questions, letting us know rough plan for the day and I thought the games and prizes were spot on.

A Councilor Visits

Councillor Janice McArthur paid us a special visit. Here she is seen with Lucy McCaw, enjoying some nettle tea. Lucy is also harvesting nettle fibres. The story told this week was the Wild Swans.

Janice is a huge supporter of outdoor education, mental health and well being. Her deep connection to the landscape through history and lived experience came through as we walked through the forest.

Having councilors who are onboard and recognise the value of being outdoors is so heartwarming and encouraging for the future of education.

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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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.

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.

A nice thing was said…

Thank you!

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Our Very First Session!!!

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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!

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).

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.

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.

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.

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 OR to book a session go here. You can also email them at 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.

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