9,000 MILES TO TIMBERNOOK: A Conversation with Wendy Pirie, Director of TimberNook New Zealand

Many of our providers find that TimberNook camps (which promote creative, nature-based play and healthy child developmental)dovetail with what they are already doing professionally. Wendy Pirie, director of TimberNook New Zealand, is no exception. Here’s the story of how she went from newbie, to trained provider, to veteran camp director—all in just 16 months, and all with the full support and guidance of TimberNook along the way.

In March of 2014, Wendy Pirie had no idea she was six months away from flying halfway around the world, from the rolling hills ofNew Zealand to a little town in New Hampshire. Or that, just over a year later, she’d be waving goodbye to the happily exhausted children at the conclusion of her sixth TimberNook camp.

Trained in exercise and health science, with a post-graduate degree in child development, Wendy has been interested in children’s physical, social, and emotional health for years. She’s also an advocate for the environment and sustainable living, and operates Fresh Air Forests—an organization focused on compensating for humans’ environmental impact by growing trees. Her interest in the relationship of physical movement to brain development—as well as the effects of the outdoors on sensory integration—only intensified after she had her own children.

 In the spring of 2014, Wendy came across a blog post by TimberNook Founder Angie Hanscom. “It was like a light bulb turned on—wow,” Wendy says. The TimberNook concept seemed to fit so naturally with her work in youth development, movement, and nature that she knew she had to learn more.

“People connect with TimberNook’s message because parents in my generation remember growing up playing outside,” Wendy says. “Time with your children is so important, and nature can help you make that connection. It slows you down. You’re literally stopping to smell the flowers. Parents have an unwavering love for their children, and nature is a happy place.”

In October of 2014, Wendy traveled to the U.S. to train as a TimberNook provider and received tremendous knowledge and support from her peers and TimberNook staff. Back at home, she found it relatively easy to create a camp site, as she lives close to an existing camp. Forests, streams, fire, mud, trees, and water were easily accessible. And Wendy was able to incorporate sheep—of which there are an abundance in the area!—to put a unique spin on certain programming elements.

Of course, launching camps halfway around the world wasn’t a complete walk in the park (or in the woods); Wendy did have to work to promote her camps initially and break through the uncertainty many children have when it comes to playing so immersively in nature.

“We assume Kiwi kids [New Zealand kids] are outdoor kids—but a lot of them aren’t. Many are mud-averse,” Wendy says. And while this can be a hurdle at first, it also becomes part of magic of TimberNook. “The children lead their peers. We watch them explore in their own time, at their own pace.” Over the course of a week of camp, children open up and become more physically and mentally equipped to take reasonable risks in their play. Wendy cites one boy who was nervous to climb a tree at the beginning of camp, but, on the last day of camp, was swinging on a rope swing, his face painted with ash from the campfire. “By the end of the week, they have total ownership of their environment,” says Wendy.

To date, Wendy has operated six TimberNook camps, including her first winter camp. “A lot of my energy goes into talking about TimberNook, but the children sell it for you,” she says. “Children re-enact the experience at home and share it with family and friends. It’s an opportunity for families to connect with the TimberNook experience—and it’s been a big driver [of camp enrollment].”

To learn more about and how TimberNook partners with providers to help launch camps—and to get started launching your own TimberNook site—click here for information on our October 2015 provider training session!  

Share This:


03-Apr-2016 01:21 PM Ingrid Wubben

Wow! I am really impressed with your qualifications Wendy and that you have founded a TimberNook Camp in New Zealand. Unfortunately I am not from your 'neck of the woods' or I would be coming to play!! There will be many children and parents grateful for your family's commitment. Congratulations on such a worthy venture, Ingrid :o)


Leave a Comment