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21 Mar 2011
Groundwork NI Chair, Paul McErlean is pictured with
two young Forest School partcipants
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Northern Ireland’s largest Forest Schools event held in
Groundwork NI are celebrating the success of the Forest Schools
environmental programme that has been delivered to pairs of local
schools in North Belfast over the past six months. The
programme culminated on Wednesday 30th March at 10.00am at
Hazelwood Integrated Primary School where a certificate
presentation took place in the Assembly Hall ceremony for
participants. After this the schoolchildren made their way into
Throne Woods beside the school to take part in what was Northern
Ireland’s largest ever Forest Schools session.
This event saw over 250 local school children (P2-P7)
participating in five outdoor activities ranging from wood
whittling to tree planting and from den making to mammal trekking.
Forest Schools has been developed and adapted from the original
concept implemented in Sweden in the 1950’s and developed
throughout other Scandinavian and European Countries. In the 1980’s
the concept was adopted in the UK by early years practitioners and
Forest Schools has successfully developed opportunities in an
outdoor setting for children and adults of all ages to develop a
variety of life skills: independence, altruism, self awareness and
social communication skills, all of which assist individuals to
grow in self-esteem and confidence.
Bronagh Burns, aged 8, Star of the Sea Primary School
“I really enjoyed these days in the woods and I enjoyed
answering questions on nature but the thing I liked most was
finding insects, looking at them in our jars and then making the
homes for them. We’ve been using different senses each week, I have
met new friends from other local schools and it’s been massive
Sylvia Gordon, Director of Groundwork NI
“One of the key aspects of this environmental programme is that
the schools have come together to share their learning
experiences and to develop new friendships and mutual trust from a
young age. Using the great outdoors as a backdrop to work in
partnership and build tolerance with the local schools has
been extremely successful. This project compliments our core
work in the LCAP area within North Belfast and we are grateful to
all the parties who have contributed to making this programme a
The project was made possible through Loughview Community Action
Partnership (LCAP) funded by OFMDFM and Ulster Garden Villages.
Groundwork Northern Ireland delivered the project in
partnership with the Northern Ireland Forest School
Young people enjoying the great outdoors in Throne
Billy Hutchinson, LCAP lead partner said:
“Loughview Community Action
Partnership were pleased to be working in partnership with
Groundwork Northern Ireland on the Schools Environmental Programme.
LCAP’s aims through our programmes of work are to build
citizenship, good relations, leadership and capability among and
between communities in North Belfast. The Schools Environmental
Programme equipped local children with all of these skills and
most importantly built bridges between schools from different
backgrounds and broke down barriers between children. The local
woodland was used for the sessions, therefore giving ownership of
these areas of shared space to the children and their communities.
We would hope that those who participated in the programme and
their families continue to use this area and pass on what they have
learned through the programme.”
The primary aim of the Forest Schools project in North Belfast
was to bring local schools together on a cross community basis to
engage in shared learning in an area of shared space. The model of
Forest Schools is being used as an educational programme and is
proven to work with children and young people in the outdoors,
helping to build self-esteem, social skills and independence.
Hands-on activities with natural materials develop practical and
intellectual skills, which can be linked directly, back to the
Groundwork NI staff members Barbara Wallace and Madeleine
Kelly worked in partnership with Brian Poots from the Northern
Ireland Forest School Association. As the Forest School approach is
unique from other environmental programmes, Madeleine Kelly and
Barbara Wallace have both completed training with the Northern
Ireland Forest Schools Association and will soon be two of only
three accredited practioners in Northern Ireland.
Brian Poots, Northern
Ireland Forest Schools Association said:
“The Northern Ireland Forest School Association
(NIFSA) supported Groundwork NI staff to deliver this
educational programme for LCAP. This involved training and
assessing two Groundwork NI staff who were undertaking the Forest
School Leader Level 3 Award. This has been a huge and very exciting
partnership for NIFSA. It has enormous potential and I believe that
with the help of Groundwork NI, Forest School can become an
integral part of a child’s natural development.”