Welcome to Wondering Wild. I invite you to join me on my journey in nature, through the woods and along the seashore – learning, exploring, growing, being curious and inspired, questioning yet not always finding the answers, but most of all, wondering wild. I feel truly privileged that I get to spend my working week outdoors, in nature, with children. And all in the wonderful, wild landscapes surrounding Galway city and county where the woods meet the shore line, providing the perfect natural play ground for children and adults alike to grow.
My own journey of wondering wild began at a young age under the nurturing guidance of my parents and my maternal grandmother, rambling through the fields of Tipperary, walking through the Glen of Aherlow and hiking up the Galtee mountains, roaming the beaches and sand dunes of Co. Wexford and immersing myself in every ocean, lake and waterway that I encounter. It is in nature that I find myself most at home, salt water clears my head and soothes my soul, the stillness of the mountains gives me the space to be and to breath, and the strength of woodlands and trees grounds me. I always wanted to find a way to make my living, as well as my life, outdoors. I dreamed of many paths, as a five year old I wanted to be a melon farmer! As I matured so did my dreams; to that of becoming an underwater archaeologist or a forest ranger, and while volunteering in a pre-primary school in rural South Africa where we spent every Friday on the beach, I dreamed of an education system that would embrace and encourage such experiences and freedom. My many wanderings finally led me to a career in education, and while on career break from my primary school teaching job I lived and taught in Nicaragua, an experience that led me to believe that there was much more to education than classes of 30 within four walls.
Returning home I had the good fortune to stumble upon the concept of Forest School and started my training as a Forest School Leader with Circle of Life Rediscovery, who are hosted in Ireland by Earth Force Education, in October 2015. From the moment I arrived in the beautiful woodlands of Hollywood, Co. Wicklow, I knew that I had come upon something special. Those first five days of training with a wonderful bunch of fellow nature enthusiasts confirmed that I was clearly on a path upon which I could flourish and grow.
And now, 12 months after handing up my final portfolio, I am about to complete my first school year as a Forest School Leader and environmental education facilitator. Which is exactly what prompted the writing of this blog. While many practitioners are struggling to secure affordable insurance, gain access to woodlands, or get schools or parents on board, I have had the good fortune to find work as a Forest School leader with a pre-school and a primary school, to lead a nature-based after school programme, and to deliver environmental and development education workshops, all outside. Promoting the benefits of Forest School and outdoor education can only help to open doors to those who are passionate about sharing their love of nature and our natural world with others. And no one is more committed to this than the newly launched Irish Forest School Association.
Last month the Irish Forest School Association hosted their inaugural conference and AGM at the Irish National Heritage Park, Ferrycarrig, Co. Wexford. It was with joyous hearts that over 70 of us congregated at this wonderful site and spent a weekend singing songs, participating in workshops, sharing skills, and inspiring each other to continue with or, in some cases, begin the wonderful work of Forest School in Ireland. During this time I realised how truly lucky I am to be working throughout the seasons with different groups and sharing the wonders of the forest with so many children. Forest School, while a tried and trusted form of education in Scandinavia since the 1950s, and in the UK since the 1990s, is a relatively new concept to Ireland. It is grounded in six principles, the first being that it is a long-term process of regular sessions where the cycle of planning, observation, adaptation and review links each season. This means that Forest School should run for a minimum of six sessions. So imagine how rich the experience of visiting the same woodland every week for a whole school year would be. I have had the pleasure of working with two groups on a weekly basis for nine months since September, watching the children and their relationship with each other, and the woods, develop and grow through all the seasons. The three, four and five year olds of Muddy Boots Preschool in Clarinbridge, and the junior and senior infants of Galway Steiner National School have joined me on this Forest School journey and I could think of no better companions with whom to wonder and explore. As a Forest School Leader my role is to facilitate, but also to be led by the interests of the children, providing them with opportunities to take supported and appropriate risks, to support their engagement with the natural world, and to play, while fostering resilient, confident, independent and creative learners. We spend our days in the woods, exploring, playing, questioning, growing, inspiring, being, and wondering wild. It would be our pleasure if you would join us on this path too.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are of dirt” – John Muir