Our Mission & Vision
Using member input from the Conversation Café event in April 2018, the IFSA ACORN agreed an organisation mission statement and set priorities for the work of IFSA:
- To bring Forest School practitioners together to inspire inclusive, playful, learning for all, in nature.
- To build resilience and relationships, through our connection with each other, and the natural world, while inspiring creativity and supporting wellbeing.
Secondly, we agreed that a key role for IFSA is to continue to make links with other organisations who share our vision for a better and more sustainable world where humans can live more harmoniously with each other and with nature. We see this kind of networking as a really important way to support you, our members, on the ground.
Over the coming months we hope to meet some key organisations that we have identified that can support us to achieve that goal.
who we are
At our AGM in May 2022, the following were elected as the ACORN of the IFSA until May 2023
Caitríona Uí Chléirigh
Joan Whelan, Chairperson
Joan Whelan is Chair of the IFSA. In November 2016, she retired after 24 years as principal of an Educate Together primary school. She completed her PhD on Forest School as caring pedagogy in 2022. She is a qualified educational psychologist and has always been interested in ensuring that schools are caring, holistic places, for both staff and students. She introduced Forest School to her primary school in 2011, the first Irish primary school to offer this provision and it is now an embedded part of the school’s offering. She believes strongly in schools being local hubs in their communities and has pioneered initiatives including the introduction of a school-age childcare service, community use of the school building and most recently chaired a committee to renovate a local park, where the voice of the local children was to the fore. She lives in Dublin with her husband and has two adult children.
Caitríona Uí Chléirigh
Caitríona Uí Chléirigh from Monaghan is a Primary School Principal who is passionate about nature-based learning and outdoor education. Having grown up on a farm, her childhood was spent exploring the outdoors, with a sense of freedom and intrigue. This innate connection deepened as she got the opportunity during her teacher training to study Outdoor Education in University of Stavanger, Norway and explore the Scandinavian pedagogy around immersing children in nature from an early age, facilitating them to explore the world at their own pace, in their own way, attending to their unique sense of being. It was here that Caitríona’s passion aligned with her purpose and on return to Ireland, she sought opportunities in the formal education system to bring the Scandinavian pedagogy to her teachings.
In 2020, Caitríona completed her FS training and she offers Forest School at her Primary school. Her dream would be that every child in our education system gets an opportunity to engage with Forest School so that holistically we provide for their Wellbeing, are educated and empathetic to our planet and that they are gifted with the opportunity to lead their learning and follow their aspirations as unique human beings.
Ach mar a deir an tseanfhocal “Ní neart go cur le chéile”.
Caroline is the manager of a School Age Childcare Service operating within a primary school and runs the Forest School programme in the school. She is a trained Forest School Leader and completed her training in Belfast in 2013. Caroline works closely with the class teachers to ensure close links to the Primary school curriculum in the Forest School Activities on offer. The Forest School is now an integrated part of the school curriculum and Caroline works each year with senior infants, second class and third class. Caroline feels privileged to see how children interact and play in the natural environment. She is particularly interested in seeing how children seem able to solve minor issues (big to them!) more easily outdoors. She feels Forest School somehow seems to enable children to express themselves more freely than in the indoor environment Caroline is the treasurer of the IFSA.
Ciara Hinksman is the founder of Forest School Ireland which evolved from Earth Force Education, founded in 2009. Over ten years ago, she lived off-grid for three months immersed in bushcraft, nature awareness and sustainable living practices in Co. Kerry. She then travelled extensively to the UK and USA to learn from and meet nature connection mentors, powerful youths and Elders inspired by the International 8 Shields network originated by Jon Young and Mark Morey. Ciara wanted to be part of bringing connection to nature, to self and to others back home though the cultural design models she learned; through story, wildlife, plants and the natural rhythms of our seasons and our lives. Ciara first encountered Forest School in 2010 in the UK and since 2013 has been hosting Forest School training in Ireland with UK trainers Circle of Life Rediscovery CIC. She is an associate trainer delivering the OCN Level 3 Certificate Forest School Leader training in Co. Wicklow. She is the Founding Chair of IFSA and is so happy to be part of the growing movement of Forest School Leaders in Ireland and around the world. See www.forestschoolireland.ie for more information about the FS approach to learning and the courses on offer.
Claire is passionate about deep nature connection and living a way of life where you can live in harmony with nature and the seasonal cycles. She learnt the art and craft of coppicing with the Muintir Na Coille co-operative in Co Mayo and over the past 6 years has developed her own sustainable woodland coppice and craftwork in a native woodland in Co Down.
She wants to inspire the next generation of woodland warriors and connect people back to nature. In 2020 she qualified as an OCN level 3 practitioner under the tutelage of Marina Robb and Ciara Hinksman in Wicklow, and has gone on to run her own nature-based Wellbeing and Forest School called ‘The Honeybees’.
Kerry is a passionate, Forest School Leader, Forest Therapy Practitioner and an Art Therapist based in the South-West of Ireland. Her appreciation for nature and art has brought her on creative journey’s around the world. She is the founder of The Nature Hub, a platform to offer Forest School and Forest Therapy practices to children and adults. She has been involved in Forest School for the past 5 years, running forest after school groups, toddler groups, family groups and helps coordinate and facilitate for the Galway Forest School Leadership trainings. She also runs forest bathing sessions in Killarney National Park and is currently running a Forest Therapy pilot program to support people dealing with stress and anxiety. She has training in Eco-Psychology, Challenging Behaviour in the Outdoors, Therapeutic Play skills and is certified in Therapeutic skills for children in the outdoors.
Lucy Bell is co-founder of GROWing Wild, a Kildare based environmental education company, specialising in organic school & community gardens, local organic food projects, living willow, biodiversity & native habitat projects and forest schools.Lucy is an organic horticulturalist, a horticulture tutor, environmental educator and a trained Forest School Leader. Lucy is the co-author of ‘The Year-Round School Organic Garden’. Lucy is a Heritage Specialist for the ‘Heritage in Schools’ scheme. Lucy has worked as a willow artist and co-ordinator for décor as part of The Healing Area for Body & Soul and Body & Soul @ Electric Picnic since 2009 and as part of the décor collective Adorn Décor for Another Love Story. Lucy facilitates ways for people, both young and old, to connect to nature through school organic gardens and native habitat development, wilderness survival skills, wild foraging, woodland trips, living willow work and Bushcraft skills.www.growingwild.ie
Mirjam Bloem lives in Cork. She says that for her, being a Forest School leader is ‘like coming around full circle again’. As a child, she spent days in the woods, while as a teenager, she was part of a National Anarchist nature youth club in Holland, going into the wild every Sunday to learn from each other about birds, plants and insects. As an adult, Mirjam attended An Tionad Glas, the organic horticultural college in Drumcollagher, to further develop her love of plants, herbs and bees. She attended the Art of Mentoring with Jon Young on a number of occasions which further inspired her to play her part in the re-connection with nature movement and led her to Forest School training. She feels it is wonderful to be part of a movement that helps children and teenagers feel how great it is to connect with themselves and each other through the woods. Mirjam is the membership secretary of The Irish Forest School Association.
Orla Gallagher is a Forest School Leader and Early Childhood Professional. A graduate of the B.A(Hons) in Early Childhood Care and Education at the Institute of Technology Blanchardstown, Orla developed an interest in outdoor and risky play experiences and undertook the OCN Level 3 in Forest School Leadership in 2015. Orla was selected to present at the Early Childhood Ireland Research and Practice Seminar 2016 based on her undergraduate research into Unstructured Outdoor Play Habits of Children aged 3-6 years. Orla has a particular interest in supporting practitioners to facilitate child-led learning in wild outdoor spaces.
An Taisce Green Schools
CRANN Trees for Ireland
Native Woodland Trust
Leave No Trace
Field Studies Ireland
Heritage in Schools
Forest School Association (England)
Children and Natural Alliance of Canada
Outdoor & Woodland Learning in Scotland (OWL)
Lasmuigh – the professional practice journal for the Outdoor Sector on the Island of Ireland