Group of children sitting on grass around a campfire at the edge of a forest,

Forest Diaries – rocket stoves and killer whales!

How do you keep your little ones entertained during school holidays? Nature recently provided the perfect solution for Gwen Bennett, mum to two very rambunctious boys – Fionn and Oisín.

Given that Gwen works for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Gwen naturally has a passion for all things botanical and loves to impart her knowledge and love for nature onto the next generation, making her a certified ‘climate hero!’

In the hopes of tiring her two boys out, getting them away from their screens and giving them the opportunity to learn some new skills, Gwen signed her boys up to a summer camp with a difference, Elements Forest School out in Helen’s Bay.

Read below for her account of Fionn and Oisín’s jam packed week of adventure!

Children in shallow river building a  dam
Having fun in a shallow stream at the Forest School

Day 1

Fionn and Oisín were NOT looking forward to going to Forest School! They had just spent two weeks in Donegal, with no WiFi, and Mummy had stopped to ogle over every single plant they had come across, day after day and they had had ENOUGH!

They went off mumbling and grumbling – child screen deprivation is actually a thing you know!

When I went to collect them at 1pm, it seems some magic had occurred because they returned bright, smiling and happy.

They had used sharp knives and made a fire and cut and cooked potatoes over it and Fionn learned how to tie loads of cool knots in ropes. They had learned how to make rope out of ferns.

They were soaked through as it had rained but they didn’t seem to notice and didn’t even mention this. Forest School ‘maybe wasn’t terrible’.

Table with two pans containing chopped up potatoes
Preparing a tasty snack

Day 2

Fionn and Oisín went quite happily off to Forest school. Today they had designed their own trapeze and were going to make it out of sticks and rope but not the fern rope as that wouldn’t be strong enough.

They went swimming in the sea and looked for killer whales with their goggles on but didn’t find any which was disappointing as they had wanted to roast one over the fire.

Fionn had thrown seeds into Oisín’s eyes as part of a magic trick and we had a fun half an hour trying to remove these, but Forest School was cool and they were definitely going back tomorrow because they had a killer whale to find!

shallow river with trees in background, children wading through the water
Looking for killer whales

Day 3

Fionn and Oisín couldn’t wait to go to Forest School and leapt out of the car and didn’t even say goodbye. They did not find a killer whale again today so they just roasted sausages over the fire instead.

They made rocket stoves out of a baked beans can – you put cotton wool in the bottom of the can and a cut a small hole in the side of the can. You then place a lighted match through the hole and voila you have an emergency stove!

Fionn said his favourite thing about Forest School was Matthew because he had red hair just like him and was cool and was a coppersmith!

Oisín said his favourite part was making a dam across the shallow stream, which washed away pretty quickly. The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate how quickly the force of the water destroyed their dam so within an hour there was nothing left of it.

He just went into the stream in his clothes as he was too excited. They were soaked through again but they didn’t seem to notice.

outdoors, children in group with man working a piece of clay
Working in clay

Day 4 (last day!)

Fionn and Oisín galloped off to Forest School. Today they made a shelter and animals out of clay which they then fired in a kiln.

Had they mentioned that Matthew had red hair and was cool and was also a potter?! He actually made his own pottery!

Oisín explained the difference between hogweed and cow parsley to everyone. Then they got dough and put chocolate chips in it and roasted it over the fire to make Bannock – it was the most delicious thing they had ever tasted!

All things considered they loved Forest School but it would have been better if they had found a killer whale…..maybe next time, but one thing’s for sure with their new found love of nature, Fionn and Oisín are mini climate heroes in the making!

Something for everyone

Elements Forest School host a range of activities from Forest and Garden Schools for schools, classes and after school clubs to craft sessions for older children and adults. These are held outdoors and allow participants to get more involved with nature and the world around them.

All the activities in this story were supervised by the Forest School.

For more information about Elements Forest School and their upcoming Autumn programme, go to:

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