Welcome to the opening post of Tír na nÓg Forest School’s blog - Our Story - Humble Beginnings
Imagine a forest where children run and play freely in the dappled sunlight beneath the forest canopy. Where the children climb trees; sing and shout at the tops of their voices; roll and jump in the mud and water; light fires and sit together to cook a meal over the open flames; laugh and tell stories that don’t need to make sense; use tools to make their own playthings; where the children care about themselves, others and the earth they live on.
This place is Tír na nÓg Forest School - the Land of the Young.
Tír na nÓg Forest School opened it’s invisible doors as a 2-day a week preschool program in September 2013. Our forest is a beautiful mature white spruce woodland located in Roachville, New Brunswick, Canada on the property owned by the school’s founder and director, Lisa Brown and her husband, Seamus Brown.
The dream of Tír na nÓg Forest School came from Lisa’s upbringing in rural New Brunswick where she was nurtured to appreciate and enjoy the simple things in life. Growing up, she spent much of her time with her mother caring for home and family and with her father to work and adventure in the forest.
Lisa has had a long-time interest in outdoor learning for young children. She strongly values the importance of the childhood years and the impact experiences during this period of development have on the way a person sees, understands and contributes to our world. She opened Lisa’s Playhouse Children’s Learning Centre in 2007 with the thoughts that one day she would open a forest school program based on the European model.
While dreaming about what her outdoor learning program would look like, Lisa discoveredMarlene Power, the owner and director of Canada’s first forest school, Carp Ridge Forest Preschool and Kindegarden, located in Ottawa, Ontario. Lisa contacted Marlene and then travelled to visit her forest school. Lisa was inspired and her dreams began to take shape into a clearer form. Later that year, Lisa met Sarah Glinz, a mother who recently moved to the Sussex area and enrolled her two young children in her programs at Lisa’s Playhouse. Sarah was a forester who shared Lisa’s passion for outdoor spaces and connecting children to the natural world. Lisa brought the ethos of forest school to Sarah’s attention and they quickly realized that between the two of them, they could bring their strengths together to bring Lisa’s dream of building a forest school for the children and families in her community to reality.
That summer, Lisa hosted one of two Canada-wide, pilot Forest School Practitioner courses through Forest School Canada. During this course Lisa, Sarah and fourteen other like-minded early childhood and youth educators from across Canada took their training with UK Forest School Trainer, Jon Cree, towards becoming Canada’s first cohort of Forest School Practitioners. With the practical, hands-on training and continuing coursework to work on to receive certification, Tír na nÓg Forest School launched it’s first, exclusively outdoor, forest preschool program in September 2013 on a 5 acre forested woodlot behind Lisa’s Playhouse.
The name of the forest school, “Tír na nÓg” was inspired by Lisa’s unique Irish connections and history. Lisa married Seamus Brown in Co. Down, Northern Ireland in 1993 and have a daughter Caragh who was born also in Northern Ireland in 1995. Seamus and Lisa work together in all areas of the businesses. Seamus is a brick mason by trade but also has a talent for carpentry and has built every building and almost everything in them for the playhouse and forest school. Because of their Irish background, an Irish name for their forest school seemed fitting. Tír na nÓg is an Old Irish word that means “the land of the young”.
The land around Lisa’s Playhouse and Tír na nÓg Forest School is very familiar to Lisa and holds a soft spot in her heart. The children who attend her programs visit the same special places she used to when she was their age. It is her hope and dream to be successful in reconnecting children to the natural world so that when they look back on their childhood they will have happy memories as she did. During Lisa and Sarah’s first year of programming, they witnessed dramatic healthy and holistic growth and development of the ten children in their two full-days a week program.
By regularly posting learning experiences at the forest on social media like Facebook and through connections in their community, the interest for forest school grew so much that Lisa decided to expand the program at her Sussex location the following year. Lisa knew that if she was going to expand her program, she would need to bring on a third educator to meet the demand. Jessica McCullum had started working at Lisa’s Playhouse as a summer student when she was 16. She loved working with children and after high school when on to receive her Early Childhood Care and Education certification through Holland College and her degree in Bachelor of Child and Family Studies at the University of PEI. Jess was working at a child care centre in Jasper, Alberta and hiking the surrounding mountains on her days off at the time Lisa made the call to see if she was interested in returning home to work at the forest school. We were really glad to hear her say “Yes!”.
Tim Jones spent over 3 hours a day, twice a week driving his daughter Jenah to and from Tír na nÓg Forest School in Sussex. It was during those long drives back and forth that Tim began to truly understand the positive impact that this was having on his daughter’s life. In late fall, a few months into the program, he approached Lisa about opening a second location in Saint John to make the program more accessible to more families. Lisa was up for it, and they quickly got to work sorting out the details.
Before the end of the first year of programming, Lisa hosted a professional development workshop at Tír na nÓg to help educators learn more about outdoor education and its benefits for both child and educator. At this workshop, she met Elizabeth Hendrick, recent graduate from the University of New Brunswick’s Bachelor of Education Program. Elizabeth was so interested in Lisa’s forest school, that she travelled the hour and half (one-way) down from her home outside Fredericton to volunteer at the school several times before the program finished for the summer. Lisa saw the twinkle in Elizabeth’s eye each time she came to Tír na nÓg and knew she was the perfect person to help support the school. Lisa put Tim in contact with Elizabeth and before long she was working as the first educator in Saint John and helped build the second Tír na nÓg Forest School on a parcel of woodland in Rockwood Park adjacent to the Cherry Brook Zoo.
With staff and partner in place to expand programming, Jess, Tim and Elizabeth all took their Forest School Practitioner’s training that summer. Jess and Elizabeth met for the first time and became fast friends at their training through Forest School Canada in Canmore, Alberta and Tim flew off the the UK to do his training with Patrick Harrison of Greenbow Training. With the practical training and the combination of unique personal experiences and skill sets in each educator, the Tír na nÓg Forest School staff feels more like family than co-workers.
Today, the Sussex location has three forest school programs running September 2014-June 2015 for various ages:
a 2 day a week, full-day program on Tuesdays and Thursdays;
a 2 day a week, half-day program on Mondays and Wednesdays;
and a one afternoon a week after school program
We are taking registration for our new expanded programs beginning in September 2015-June 2016.
The Saint John location has one program that runs two, full-days a week September 2014 - June 2015 and will be expanding to two programs next year.
This summer, the Sussex location will also host it’s second, week-long summer day camp in late August!
We hope you enjoyed our story and will continue to visit this blog where our educators will share some of the unique experiences and learning that we see daily in the forests, fields, meadows and streams of Tír na nÓg Forest School. We hope our stories bring a smile to your face and warm your heart as much as the forest school children and their families do for us as we walk this path of life-long learning together in “the Land of the Young."