Who Are We?

At our AGM in April , the following were elected as the ACORN of the IFSA for this year.

Sally Gretta Nichola

Sally  O’Donnell
Sally O Donnell hails from Donegal and is a hugely experienced Early Years Educator. She is the owner of Early Learning Schools, which now operates three early years services in Co Donegal. Glen Outdoor is just five minutes from Letterkenny in Barrack, Glenswilly. The Park School is at The Mountain Top, Letterkenny and Ray Forest School is in Ray, between Ramelton and Rathmullan. In 2017, Glen Outdoor School celebrated 10 years in practice as Ireland’s first outdoor preschool. Sally has worked in early years practice for over 16 years. She completed her Level Three forest School leadership training in 2013 with the first cohort of Irish Forest school trainees. See http://earlylearningschools.ie

Gretta Murphy
Gretta has had a lifelong interest in nature connection and the potential of the natural to the world to improve wellbeing generally.  She has been the manager of Kilkenny County Childcare Committee since 2002. Her experience in the early childhood care and education sector extends over 35 years. She has worked in a wide variety of child and family support services, schools, and early childhood care and education services. In 1992 she took a sabbatical to study pottery. She has a National Diploma in Child Care, B.A. (Hons) in Social Care, M.A. in Therapeutic Child Care and M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education. Gretta is a Forest school leader and a founder member of the Irish Forest School Association.

Nichola Salmon
A Kilkenny native, Nichola has been the Education Officer in Castlecomer Discovery Park since 2014. She manages the outdoor education programme there. A geographer, her interests lie in environmental education, geology and tourism development. Following her studies at Maynooth University, she was involved in research into climate change and tourism and spent six years teaching at undergraduate level. It was during this time she affirmed her passion for helping others to learn and explore connections with the natural environment.She began her Forest School training in 2016 and has a particular interest in woodland ecology and how the woodland environment can impact positively on mental health and wellbeing.In her free time, Nichola enjoys spending time ‘micro-exploring’ woodlands and has recently taken up scuba diving!

Orla Ciara Shane Furlong

Orla Gallagher
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 is current candidate on the M.A. in Child, Youth and Family Studies at IT Carlow. Her research project is exploring the engagement of families with school-aged children in woodland environments in Ireland. Orla has a particular interest in supporting practitioners to facilitate child-led learning in wild outdoor spaces.  Orla looks after our social media profile.

Ciara Hinksman
Ciara Hinksman formed her outdoor learning company Earth Force Education in 2009 after living off-grid in Co. Kerry for three months in order to immerse herself in bushcraft, sustainable living and nature connection practices. Ciara is a Heritage in Schools specialist for nature connection, biodiversity and sustainability. She runs both children’s and family forest camps in Co. Wicklow and the Irish National Heritage Park. Ciara coordinates, and is one of the trainers for, the Certificate in Forest School Programme Leadership training in Co. Wicklow with UK trainers Circle of Life Training. She was awarded Local Agenda 21 funding to run the first fully funded Forest School programmes in Ireland. Earth Force Education forest camps were featured as part of the RTE Goes Wild series on Nationwidehttp://www.vimeo.com/65611610. See seewww.earthforceeducation.com. Ciara is the founding Chair of the IFSA.

Shane Furlong
Shane is owner and operator of Wild Places, a new Wexford based business delivering Nature Connection and Nature-Based Learning to young people in the South East. He is co-originator of the Wexford Forest School Project, hosted at the Irish National Heritage Park. In 2016 this initiative delivered an innovative six week, in-school Forest School Program in partnership with Crossabeg National School and Wexford County Council and since then has expanded its offering outside Wexford to the wider Eastern seaboard. Since finishing his Forest School training in 2016, Shane has broadened his skills base through an ongoing bushcraft assistantship with Living Wilderness Bushcraft School. He is also a Heritage in Schools Specialist.  He is a lover of the little things and when he is not swinging in his hammock can be found face first in the nearest bush or flower, always with hand-lens at the ready.

Mirjam Caroline Joan

Mirjam Bloem
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.

Caroline Carroll
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.

Joan Whelan
Joan Whelan is Chair of the IFSA. In November 2016, she retired after 24 years as principal of an Educate Together primary school. She has recently started a PhD on Forest School pedagogy. 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.

Lucy

Lucy Bell
Lucy Bell is co-founder of GROWing Gardens, 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.