Leona O'Neill: Fun forest school aims to bring kids back to their natural roots

The outdoors antidote to life's stresses is more important than ever now, especially for children. Leona O'Neill finds out about the benefits of a Northern Ireland forest school to its little pupils

Colette McCartney, founder of Holistic Kidz, with Finn Jones and Susannah McCartney, both aged seven, and four-year-old Elle Brown at the launch the outdoor forest school’s Halloween Camp which takes place from October 26-30 at Barnett Demesne in Belfast
Colette McCartney, founder of Holistic Kidz, with Finn Jones and Susannah McCartney, both aged seven, and four-year-old Elle Brown at the launch the outdoor forest school’s Halloween Camp which takes place from October 26-30 at Barnett Demesne in Belfast

THERE’S no question that this pandemic has been stressful and trying time for us adults, and when focusing on just getting through, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that these surreal times are incredibly stressful for our kids too.

Our kids' mental health and wellbeing may have been dented by happenings, by the stress and the worry around them, but there are people here in the north quietly working away to help them centre themselves and get back to a place of peace. And they are using the great outdoors to do exactly that.

One such company, Holistic Kidz, last week announced Northern Ireland’s first outdoor forest school, with their week-long Halloween Camp at Barnett Demesne in Belfast taking place from Monday to Friday October 26-30.

The week of outdoor adventure promises lots of fun for children aged four to 12 including tree climbing, tepee creations, scarecrow building, magic wand and mud pie potion making, spooky stories, hot chocolate around the campfire and the Hogwarts nature trail.

Holistic Kidz NI was founded by mother-of-one Colette McCartney in 2019 and is the first of its kind, an early learning wellness company that prides itself on sprinkling its relaxation magic on the children and young people of Northern Ireland.

“Holistic Kidz helps to sprinkle confidence, positivity and zen wherever we are or wherever we go,” Colette told me. “Through our innovative holistic programmes, we endeavour to improve the future of wellbeing in our own super unique way.

“The last six months have been a stressful time for children of all ages. Schoolchildren had their routine taken away from them overnight and no doubt picked up on the worry that the adults around them were feeling. Not being able to see their family and friends, home-schooling and spending so much time at home was a very hard thing for all children – especially when they don’t really understand the severity of what was happening around them.

“And unfortunately, this may have led to some children exhibiting behavioural and emotional changes.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have seen a higher demand for our services and we are pleased to have been able to work with parents to sprinkle our relaxation magic into

many homes across Northern Ireland.

“We created a ‘Bundles of Zen’ handbook which we gave to our Holistic Kidz as well as local children’s charities. This was full of positive affirmations, meditations and exercise ideas. We had a fantastic response and we’re proud that we have been able to help, support and improve the well-being of parents and children during these worrying times.”

“We ran our Holistic Kidz Forest School Summer Camp in July and August and from the first day parents could see that the benefits of their children being outdoors in nature were unequivocal. Nature is good for replenishing the soul and reducing stress in kids.

“Parents reported many positive differences that our camp made for their children. Anxiety was eliminated, sleep routines had vastly improved, their overall physical and emotional health was back in balance and all the children’s confidence levels rocketed sky high.”

Colette says that she is greatly looking forward to the Halloween Camp.

“Children are stimulated by spending time outdoors and there are so many proven scientific benefits including increased energy levels, improved mood and focus and running around breathing in the fresh air always ensures a good night’s sleep.

“Our ethos is very much built around nature and giving our Holistic Kidz the opportunity to learn new skills, build their confidence and emotional well-being, boost their creativity and imagination and develop essential problem-solving skills.”

:: For further information go to or holistic_kidzni on Instagram

:: Here's one of Collette’s meditation techniques you can try at home

Just like a tree meditation:

This is a nice exercise that kids (or grown-ups!) can do barefoot outside in nature.

:: Sit or lie down with your feet connected to the ground.

:: Imagine you are a tree in spring and can hear the sound of the birds and bees tweeting and buzzing around you.

:: Take in the smell of the fresh air, flowers and grass. Breathe in sunshine and breathe out rain storms, continue to do this throughout.

With every sunshine breath in, imagine a new colourful leaf growing on your branches (arms and legs)... imagine each leaf as a calming emotion. For example, happy, calm, inner peace, confidence, love, kind, healthy. Feel these emotions growing inside you as you grow your colourful leaves in your mind.