Slieve Gullion didn’t know what to expect when Year 2 Fulltime Early Childhood Studies students from Stranmillis College and their three lecturers turned up in force, Wellies at the ready and with layer upon layer of clothing. They were prepared for anything as they all stepped off the bus, taking in the beautiful scenery of mountain ranges, with still a touch of frost lying from the previous night. However, being ECS practitioners in the making, they of course have our priorities straight and the first stop was Grounded, the local coffee shop, for a quick cuppa!
Once everyone had got warmed up and had a quick chat, they all headed to the mountain side. There they started their trek led by Darren Rice the Ring of Gullion AONB Officer, learning about all the different ways children can experience being outdoors. Beforehand the group was asked to: Consider your own childhood compared to children today. Did your parents allow you to sit in front a TV and ‘let you be’? Or were they constantly encouraging you to go outside where you could build a den, or enter a world of fantasy before realising you had been covered from head to toe in mud and had to face the wrath of your Mother! Do children today experience the childhood we did, we asked ourselves? Maybe our children are using technology too much and would rather play their Xbox or new ipad?
It was soon realised that encouraging children in outdoor activities gives them an insight into the amazing world of nature and fosters their interest in the world around us. Children would go home from such an experience excited about their adventure – telling their parents, grandparents and siblings all about their learning in the outdoor environment whether it be how much fun they had in the play park or how they saw a red squirrel climbing a tree; a very different challenge and far more stimulating than getting a higher score in the latest video game.
By the end of the day, both students and tutors had learnt a lot and even began reminiscing about their own childhoods. This “reminiscing” was mainly done within the play park, acting out a fantasy story after we all divided into groups and were given one key word each to make up our story by Grainne Powell, Artistic Director, Sticky Fingers Early Years Arts ; the props were, of course, the forest and the play park. One student said ‘We busied ourselves and let our imaginations flow – turning a slide into the snow queen’s tower; using a stick as a wand and a stone with branches as a hedgehog. If we were graded on entering the mind of a child, everyone would definitely be getting an A*!’
Noreen, one of the tutors said ‘It is safe to say the ECS Slieve Gullion trip was certainly an enjoyable experience leaving us with the memories of learning about the world around us, how to encourage children to take an interest in outdoor activities and of course re-living our own childhood in the play park – as the saying goes, we are all children at heart!’