The Greatest Outdoors

Category: Our Curriculum Page 2 of 5

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

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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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 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:, or call Jonathan on 07140411840 you can also visit our webiste at eLeMeNTS GARDEN SCHOOL"


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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.

Thank you Heidi!

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Stationery to go gaga over

The Iona Shop in Holywood which stocks all manner of good things is sponsoring some of our art materials for the sessions with Gabriel. The shop stocks only the very best quality colour pencils, crayons, pastels and carries a wide range of papers for crafting. There is also a very small mark up on these materials as Heidi is committed to making the best art materials available to all – although they are by no means cheap, these crayons are made from beeswax and the colour pencils are vibrant and true.

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If you love art you will love the art collection at the Iona Shop.

The week it has been!

We have had some spectacular weather and enjoyed some memorable afternoons in Hillsbrough and the Quarries.

Here are some highlights. But before we go any further a big shout out to Laura Laffin to thank her for stepping on over the past two Tuesday with us!

Also our little band of Elementals at Hillsbrough grows!

May be an image of one or more people and text that says "Our little band of Elementals grows at Hillsbrough We conduct sessions every Wednesday from 3.30- 5.30 pm year olds £15 per session only 07410411840 07410 eLeMeNTS FOREST AND GARDEN SCHOOL"
May be an image of tree, outdoors and text that says "elements Ûnd garden school Summer Scheme Glencraig, Helen's Bay Ages years old 5-8 July, 2021 Almabl all gone...wait list 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:, or call Jonathan on 07140411840 you can also visit our webiste at eLeMeNTS GARDEN SCHOOL"

We have also experienced a really high demand for the Summer Scheme. Can’t wait to get it going!

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This week we practised our whittling skills by whittling little spears. Or litter pickers. Jonathan gave an impromptu Physics lesson and I told the Australian Aboriginal story The Flower Seekers.

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Here we are checking out a fungi on a log.

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 Or call 07140411840.

The cycle of life

This week our regulars at the Quarries were given the lesson of the cycle of life when we found a dead buzzard which had become entangled in the brambles. We were able to talk about how everything returns to the Earth and how we all are part of the same cycle in a gentle way. After that we buried the bird – we gave it a star burial – where it lay beneath the skies.

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We used some of its feathers to decorate our walking sticks. Only a few feathers were taken, as you can see from the photograph.

One Form to Rule Them All

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 Or call 07410411840.

Here are all our ad just to remind you what we have!

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Here are some FAQs

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Summer Scheme!!!

We cannot describe how excited we are!!! Our very first summer scheme which builds on the nearly 60 sessions we have done since we have started this year… and that’s not counting the scores of sessions we have had since we started doing Forest School lessons since 2013!

Our booking form will be made available soon or by email, so to book a provisional place which will be confirmed by next week please either email or call 07410411840 that’s Jonathan’s phone number.

With the Glencraig site we will have access to a beautiful naturally managed forest, historic walks and a blue flag beach – Helen’s Bay! There is outdoor cooking, crafts and storytelling. We will have wildlife and nature ID, and of course a deep and meaningful connection to nature.

Looking forward to a blissful summer!

Stars in their eyes


It is a great time of the year to start astronomy and having taught it to eleven and twelve year olds, I can tell you that children love the stars.

The constellations are a wonderful way for children to learn about history, maths, astronomy as well as mythology.

One of the simplest ways to start to know the constellations is to begin with a ‘charismatic’ on and there is no constellation more charismatic and more recognisable than Orion. Just before we go on, we are starting our Forest School sessions on 5 Jan.

To help you keep your new year’s resolutions to spend more time outdoors we have reduced our Jan/Feb prices to £15 per session for each child.

If you would like to take advantage of this offer, please contact us at

You can also book a session here.

Back to Orion! Visible in the skies from around 8 pm at night, it ‘rises’ till quite late and you can track it all the way across the skies till bedtime.

Locate Orion by looking for his ‘belt’ – which are the three stars in a straight line. Orion was such a distinctive constellation that even in the ancient past, our Babylonian astronomers – we follow the Babylonian tradition – already spotted him. And all the starts in Orion have Arabic names. The three stars are called Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. However the two biggest stars, literally are Betelgeuse and Rigel. Betelgeuse is actually orange in colour, as a star you can see that, and Rigel is blue.


How can you help your child to start to map the stars?

  1. You can get a star chart or map – or better still download an app on it.
  2. Locate Orion on it. Then do the same in the night sky.
  3. Then get some black paper and a white colour pencil and draw Orion out in it. You could even learn the Greek alphabet using it. Each major star has its own Greek alphabet in order of precedence.
  4. Here is the story of Orion, the Great Hunter. You can tell the story of Orion while looking at the constellation or drawing it on paper.
  5. Orion was likely the son of the sea-god Poseidon and Euryale, daughter of Minos, King of Crete. Orion could walk on the waves because of his father; he walked to the island of Chios where he got drunk and attacked Merope, daughter of Oenopion, the ruler there. In vengeance, Oenopion blinded Orion and drove him away. Orion stumbled to Lemnos where Hephaestus—the smith-god—had his forge. Hephaestus told his servant, Cedalion, to guide Orion to the uttermost East where Helios, the Sun, healed him; Orion carried Cedalion around on his shoulders. Orion returned to Chios to punish Oenopion, but the king hid away underground and escaped Orion’s wrath. Orion’s next journey took him to Crete where he hunted with the goddess Artemis and her mother Leto, and in the course of the hunt, threatened to kill every beast on Earth. Mother Earth (Apollo in some versions, disapproving of his sister’s relationship with a male) objected and sent a giant scorpion to kill Orion. The creature succeeded, and after his death, the goddesses asked Zeus to place Orion among the constellations. Zeus consented and, as a memorial to the hero’s death, added the Scorpion to the heavens as well.
  6. Finally locate Sirius, the Dog Star. I’ll write about Sirius tomorrow!

Happy stargazing!!!!

Diana mourns Orion – before immortalising him in the constellations

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