Cllr Sarah O’Reilly cuts the tape to officially open the new Outdoor Classroom at the Town Lake in Bailieborough which will be used by the local schools. Photo: Alex Coleman

Learning about the great outdoors the natural way

A new outdoor classroom has been opened in Bailieborough to encourage local children to learn about nature from experiencing it first hand.

The area is simply a circle clearing with seating created natural logs, set in the picturesque surrounds of Town Lake. The space is intended primarily for the pupils of the three local schools, St Anne’s National School, The Vale and Bailieborough Community College, but is open to anyone of any denomination and the organisers will be sending invitations to schools in the surrounding areas too.

The land is owned by St Anne’s Church and the project was generously facilitated by St Anne’s Parish Green Group under the direction of Fr Ultan McGoohan.

Kilmore Diocese and Bishop Martin Hayes have enthusiastically embraced the mission begun by Pope Francis in his groundbreaking message - the Laudato Si - which outlines the church’s responsibility in helping to mitigate the climate crisis and ongoing biodiversity collapse.

Barry Kavanagh of Nature’s Patch was one of those helping to create the classroom.

“Bishop Hayes has directed that about 30% of church land should be given back to nature in some form. We were led by that, to come up with ideas to get people connected with nature. The best way for that, I believe, is to create a space within nature, especially for young kids to come sit, and immerse themselves in it. They can learn about nature outdoors rather than learn about it inside a normal school setting,” said Barry, who in addition to being an environmental activist, is an award winning horticulturalist.

Barry is grateful the Pope has taken the lead through the Laudato Si, and is confident the outdoor classroom meets many of its seven goals in particular ecological education and community resilience and empowerment.

He was also grateful to local councillor Sarah O’Reilly of Aontú who alerted the group to discretionary funding from Cavan County Council which helped make the project a reality.

A towering row of leylandii trees dominated the space, which is peat wetlands and had become a dumping ground. Those trees were removed to open up the space.

“There was so much stuff dumped in there we had to clear - there could have been 30 or 40 sacks of rubbish,” recalls Barry.

The space was launched with an open day just before Christmas where everyone could see the intimate classroom setting.

“Because it is a wetland there is always going to be life there - from bird life to dragon flies, damsel flies and everything else in between so the children will get to see something when they arrive.”

Given concrete school classrooms and central heating, Barry suspects many children have become distanced from nature in their daily life.

“Kids don’t understand what nature truly is and the only way to find that out is to get outside, sit in nature and learn from it.

“I honestly think every school in the country needs an outdoor classroom.”

“We will have a few talks organised with ecologist Goska Wilkowska of Nature’s Patch and the Green Group. We’ll bring the kids down from the classroom to get them to enjoy the physical aspect of nature. You can use books or Whitescreens but it’s much better to sit down in nature, feel, smell, experience it with all your senses. Kids will pick it up more by doing that.”