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Kids take a leaf from older people in Forest School project

26 May 2023

Kids take a leaf from older people in Forest School project

A pilot programme which brings school children and older people together to explore the outdoors has been launched. Radius Housing is working with Northern Ireland Forest Schools Association (NIFSA) and Kylemore Nursery to run an intergenerational forest schools programme from May to June 2023.

Forest schools is a recognised model of education which takes learning to the outdoors environment, engaging and motivating children through outdoor exercises linked to the curriculum.

The pilot, which is the first in NI, will bring together children from Kylemore Nursery, Coleraine, their parents & grandparents and older people from Radius’s Independent Living schemes in Coleraine, Portstewart and Portrush for a programme of learning and sharing. The intergenerational work will see the older people tell their stories and memories of outdoor play and learning, as the children undertake their own outdoor activities in the wooded and green spaces. The idea is that the older people pass on their ideas of outdoor creativity and fun to the young children. 

The workshops, led by NIFSA and supported by the teachers of Kylemore Nursery (who are accredited in the Forest schools programme) will involve 52 children from the nursery.  They will each participate in a planting workshop and 2 Forest schools workshops at The Cornfield, Ballysally.  A celebration event will be held at the end of the programme to hi-light learning and achievements.

As well as the obvious benefits of learning and intergenerational sharing, the programme has clear good relations benefits with different religious and ethnic backgrounds mixing and learning together. Parents, grandparents and children have the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with others of different backgrounds and nationalities.

NIFSA has tailored resources for the pilot, linking to the curriculum, in this case KS1.  This will include evaluation workbooks to reinforce learning. The hope is that the pilot scheme will allow for a wider programme to be developed for the future. 

Speaking at the start of the program, Melanie Rintoul, Senior Communities Officer, Radius Housing, said “Radius Housing are really excited to be part of this pilot programme.  The programme knits together different elements which are key to developing good relations in our communities; education, linking generations & using our natural environment.”

The Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Councillor Ivor Wallace, said “I am delighted to come along today and witness first-hand how this new pilot programme will benefit both young and old from within our local area. The intergenerational element is especially heart-warming to see. It is to be commended that this programme will help children learn how previous generations enjoyed the outdoors and no doubt encourage them to appreciate it for themselves. Well done to all involved in bringing this exciting programme to the Borough.”

Yvonne Thompson, Scheme Co-ordinator of Rathain Fold in Coleraine, whose residents are participating in the programme, said “We were delighted to be invited to join with these children and others as our tenants are very actively involved in their local community and schools and welcome the opportunity to interact and pass on our memories of childhood outdoor play and the games we loved – some of which are not played by children any longer. The tenants have a great wealth of knowledge and experience to pass on to the next generation and they are looking forward to this programme of events.”

Brian Poots, NIFSA,  added “This is such an exciting project. I witness first-hand the joy that Forest Schools bring to children every day. I know that this inter-generational Forest School will bring excitement to everybody involved. I also think it will be very powerful, invoking memories for the older audience of the time when they were children and how they used to play without so many restrictions as we have today.”

Hilary Hutchinson, Principle, Kylemore Nursery, concluded “We are all really keen to have the opportunity to participate in this project and wish to thank Radius for the opportunity. Our staff, parents and children know that it will benefit our pre-school children in valuing the elderly by forging relationships with the Radius tenants, developing a caring nature as we share skills and find out more about how outdoor play was valued by previous generations.” 

The pilot programme  was supported by the Department for Communities and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive’s ‘Housing for All’ Shared Housing Programme. The Programme has its origins in the NI Executive Together: Building a United Community Strategy which reflects the Executive’s commitment to improving community relations and continuing the journey towards a more united and shared society. A total of £3.0 M has been invested in Laurel Hill Gardens and associated five-year Good Relations Plan.


Further information:

Brendan Scott

MW Advocate