Mini-beast Hunting

Mini-beast hunting

Having come from a family of primary school teachers, I always said I didn’t want to be a teacher.  I studied Geology in UCC and Environmental Engineering in Queens University Belfast.  Over the years, I worked on Groundwater Protection Plans; I tested soil and groundwater in petrol stations, oil depots and building sites; I travelled for a while and I even spent a few months as an archivist.

I then found my real niche in the field of Environmental Education.  So in a way, teaching found me.  Of course, I wasn’t a total stranger to it, having been involved in the Irish Girl Guides since the age of 7.  I came all the way up from brownies to guides, leading other girls through the patrol system and eventually became a young leader and an adult leader.

In May 2004, I moved to Killarney National Park, where I worked as a field instructor in the Education Centre for three years. At first, I was employed on a casual basis, working whenever an extra instructor was needed.  During that time, I volunteered with the park rangers for a year, spent a summer coordinating volunteer conservation work camps and worked nights in the cinema for several months to pay the rent.  Eventually I was taken on as a full time member of staff.

New Oak Leaves in Oak Park

New Oak Leaves

In Killarney I was able to really indulge my passion for the natural world and discovered how much I loved introducing children and adults to the wonders of the world around them.  Primary school nature days; leaving cert ecology and geography classes;scout and guide groups and college students; I loved working with them all.  It was the perfect place to get started and of course I learned from the best in the business.

It was also during this time that I discovered the joy of putting together new programmes.  In preparing a talk on the Geology of the Killarney Valley for the annual Spring School, I went back to my geological roots and had to find a way to eliminate the technical language and explain the time-scales and processes to a general audience.  These new skills came in useful when putting together my first summer course for Primary School teachers and my first workshop for primary school children.

Somewhere in the middle of this time, I realised that I had lost my fear of public speaking.  Yes there’s still a few nerves when I have to stand up and give a talk, but nothing like the absolute panic I experienced two hours before presenting an outline of my final year project to the Geology Department in college, when I shocked my supervisor by bursting into tears.

Rocks and Soils Heritage in Schools

Some of the rock specimens used for classroom visits

From Killarney, I moved to Castlecomer Discovery Park.  Coming in at the start before the visitor centre was even finished was exciting and brought a whole new set of challenges and opportunities.  I was starting from the beginning, establishing the education programme, compiling worksheets and teacher notes and of course teaching the classes who came to us for science days.  With the support of a fantastic manager and a great team of staff, the education programme grew and expanded.  Starting just with primary schools, we soon had a range of secondary schools programmes with first year tours, leaving cert and junior cert ecology classes, transition year groups and LCVP classes and a range of family programmes including a very popular Santa Claus Experience.

During this time I also registered as a heritage specialist with the Heritage in Schools scheme, began training primary teachers for the Discover Primary Science and Maths programme and ran my own summer course for primary school teachers for 3 years, an expanded version of the course I first developed in Killarney.

Heritage in Schools Wildways Adventures

Poster for classroom visits

 

Now I’m putting it all together, drawing on all of my previous experience and using it in my own business.  I started Wildways Adventures in July 2012.  My mission is to get people outdoors exploring the wonderful world that’s just outside their doors. As well as developing family activities and working with tourism businesses, I’ve continued my work with schools and taken on some new challenges.

For school visits, I focus on the areas of geology and biodiversity.  t I love to guide children towards discovering more and about the world around them, from the rocks beneath their feet and the fossils in the footpaths, to the trees and wild flowers they walk past every day and the huge variety of invertebrate life living in the school yard and their own back gardens.

To read more about my Heritage in Schools workshops or find out how I can contribute to your school’s science programme see my Schools page.