Colette McCartney was so touched by the attitudes of impoverished school children who she met whilst volunteering in Thailand, that she was inspired to set up her own business back home in Northern Ireland.
I have worked and gained experience in various early years and holistic treatments settings across the world,” Colette, (38), says.
“I studied Law at Manchester Metropolitan University and after graduating I took several years out to travel. During this time, I lived in Thailand where I volunteered teaching English in a local school on the small island of Koh Tao — this is where my passion for the practice of children’s mindfulness and meditation was sparked.
“The children that I was teaching were born into poverty and their families had next to nothing, but they always remained the happiest, most confident, grateful and grounded little bunch of humans.
“It became quickly apparent to me, that their daily mindfulness and meditation routine at school played a huge part in their positive outlook to life. Seeing the benefits of this, I knew that one day I wanted to share this with the children back home.
“In 2019, I recognised a gap in the market for early years wellbeing and forest school provision here in Northern Ireland, and I knew in my gut it was the time for me to make my own business ambitions and ideas a reality, and I launched Holistic Kidz.”
Holistic Kidz is an outdoor early years wellness company that offers a range of services including forest school adventure camps, birthday parties in the great outdoors, teacher training courses, outdoor learning and shared education programmes, and wellness and relaxation programmes for schools and organisations.
Colette is passionate about the work of Holistic Kidz and what she most enjoys about her role is: “Knowing that we are providing children with an opportunity to put their technology aside, let go of their everyday stresses and having the opportunity to let children be children.
“Seeing first-hand the benefits each of our services have on children every day, absolutely warms my heart and brings me a lot of happiness.
“Through our innovative outdoor learning and wellness programmes, we endeavour to improve the future of early years wellbeing in our own super unique way. My job is extremely rewarding and there is no better feeling than knowing that our services make a massively positive impact to both our employees and all of the children and adults we work with.”
The founder is excited about Holistic Kidz’s summer 2022 offering — the company’s largest programme to date.
“We have five camps across Northern Ireland taking place weekly from July 4 to August 26,” Colette says.
“Participants can look forward to lots of action-packed fun and outdoor adventure for children aged four to 12 including forest trekking, stream trails, tepee building, tree swinging, mud bath jumping, bushcraft, outdoor arts and crafts, nature assault courses and mudslide adventures.
“We will once again have camps in Barnett Demesne in Belfast and Portglenone Forest Park in Ballymena, and new this summer we have added Mount Sandelwood in Coleraine, Redburn Country Park in Holywood and Gortin Glen Forest Park in Omagh.
“Our Holistic Kidz participants can enjoy magic in the great outdoors where they make new friendships, learn new skills, build their confidence and self-esteem, boost their creativity and enquiring mind, and help to develop essential problem-solving skills and independence. The benefits are endless.
“Back in March we launched our outdoor learning and shared education programmes for schools, and it was an eyeopener for myself of the number of children that have come to us who were only touching soil in their hands for the first time, and I had one little one who had never smelt a flower before coming to Holistic Kidz.
“Having the opportunity to introduce children to things that up until now, I took for granted, means the world to me.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, mud bath jumping is one of the most popular activities on offer.
“Our children love it — wellie boots on or off — there is no better way to get close to nature than jumping in mud,” Colette says.
“Our outdoor mud play activities not only get children away from the screens, but gives them the opportunity to enjoy fresh air, excitement, exercise, and some good old fashioned muddy fun.
“Mud play also provides so many benefits including helping to build a healthy immune system; improving gut health as it helps increase the diversity of friendly bacteria in the body; allowing children to connect and interact with the natural world around them; and helping children to develop tactile skills with sensory play.
“It is a teaching tool that can help children boost creativity, imagination, independent learning and teamwork. It can also help develop construction, building and problem-solving skills.”
The entrepreneur, who is mum to eight-year-old Susannah, is on a mission to change perceptions about taking part in outdoor pursuits during what’s perceived as ‘bad’ weather.
“Scandinavian countries are ranked the healthiest and happiest in the world and one of the main reasons behind this is that from a young age, children are taught outdoors in all weather conditions,” Colette says.
“Recognising the importance of this way of life, I set myself a mission to adapt these philosophies for children here in Northern Ireland.
“We offer our popular forest adventure camps during school holidays at Easter, February half-term, Halloween and summer, and we offer our outdoor learning/shared education programmes and birthday parties all year round.
“Our five forest schools are all outdoors in nature, whatever the weather, and children can avail of the many proven scientific benefits of this including increased energy levels, physical fitness, improved mood and focus, and running around breathing in the fresh air always ensures a good night’s sleep.
“As long as the children are wearing appropriate clothing and footwear, there is no reason why our unpredictable Northern Ireland weather would ever be an issuing factor. At Holistic Kidz we have a responsibility to encourage parents to help their children develop the mindset that being outdoors in wind, rain, snow or shine is all OK.
“In fact it’s superb to dance in the rain, or make an ice mask for our faces with snow, or use the rain to make the fastest and wettest mudslides.
“One of my parent’s recently said to me ‘skin is waterproof’ and it’s very true. We hope to change mindsets here. Weather appropriate clothing and footwear are always recommended, as there will be lots of exciting adventures and jumping in muddy puddles — all the things that children love to do best.”
A Weekly Explorer pass to the Holistic Kidz summer forest adventure camp is £120 per child and a Daily Explorer is £30. For further information, visit www.holistickidz.com or see holistic_kidz on Instagram