These are the rationale and outcomes behind the practices we have in forest school.
- Learning and Relationship Continuity through Consistent Attendance
In order for the learners to build quality relationships with their peers, attendance in Forest School has to be consistent, just as with attending any other learning institute. A consistent attendance will ensure the learners full enjoyment and development of their socio-emotional self. Projects and continuation of learning experience can also be enhanced through simply being around consistently.
- Building Resilience through Failures / Mistakes
In order to build resilience for the children, we encourage them to make try, make mistakes, fail, and then try again. We want our children to continue trying despite of the mistakes and setbacks.
Case Study: In 2016, we applied Forest School’s learning to a typical Singaporean neighbourhood Student Care. In local primary schools, children usually have weekly spelling tests of 10 words for each test. Under Student Care, most children would learn by memorizing the words up to 20 minutes before their practice test. Subsequently, after marking, each mistake made will result in “Corrections”, a repetitive process of copying the correct word 10 times. However, the psychological impact of this drill is detrimental to most children, especially those who are creative and/or sensitive. Just for 5 corrections, they took about 60 minutes and since engagement levels are very minimal, they whine and get distracted easily.
What I (Darren) did was to revamp the process. I got the child to read the spelling words for 1 minute. Then I test him immediately. At the start, he was very apprehensive because he was afraid to make mistakes and left many answers blank. The child has 8 out of 10 answers incorrect. I went through the mistake with him, told him to make a wild guess on the words when he hear them for the next one, use his instinct, trust himself. We repeated this process and he was less apprehensive, scoring 5 out of 10. After two more tries, he managed to score full marks. Compared to the conventional model of teaching spelling that took a total of 90 minutes, this process only took 20 minutes.
The point here is not in the number of correct answers or time saved on teaching, rather, it is on the psychological impact on the child to continue trying in spite of their mistakes and setbacks. This is what we call the practice of resilience.
- Hard Work Ethics through Challenges
We use nature as a medium to facilitate strong development and growth in our learners. In the wild, children will face challenges that will naturally encourage them to experiment and confront their fears. We strongly believe that this motivation will come and has to come from within and as such, we do not believe in encouraging the push. Rather, we trust our children to overcome these obstacles themselves at their own pace and in their own ways.
- Developing Reflection Process through Questioning & Facilitation
The process of reflection is a key element to the success of Forest School. It is how learners learn how to learn. We practice having our children share their observations, thoughts and conclusions with us. In addition, instead of providing definitive answers to any questions posed, we facilitate their thinking process and decision making skills by providing guiding questions so as to empower their trust and confidence.
- Involvement and Independence through Making Choices
In FS, children discuss and make decisions together. This is to teach them to take ownership of the decisions made during each session and be accountable to their friends, coaches, parents, and the environment. Every session starts with the discussion on where they will go for the day with the condition that everyone has to agree with the decision.
Despite the norm of democratic (read: majority) voting, we continue this tough practice as it allows our children to apply their skills in negotiation; listening, sharing, and decision making through organic discussions amongst themselves. Through this, they are better involved and empowered during the session, bringing out their full potential.
- Self-Regulation through Self-Awareness and Space
In Forest School, learners grow to be independent and manage their interactions with their peers, mentors, and environment by themselves. Coaches facilitate this process by helping them navigate their feelings and emotions. This is done through encouraging them to reason with their situations and to come up with choices to move forward. We believe that a learner that is unaware of understanding their emotions will not be able to rationalize and properly come up with decisions to move on from their circumstances. The key, then, is to be more liberal to emotional expression.
- Updates & Report through Listening to our children
We do not provide any report cards or documented updates for forest school. We believe that our learners’ words and sharing are the best way to know how they feel and what they are doing in school. By listening to our learners share their experiences and feedback, we better cater to their needs and development. In return, children often are more open to hearing our words too. That is the mutual trust we share with them.
Note: We will share and discuss these experiences and our observations with the parents as well.
- Inspiring Initiation through Boredom
During the initial phase of forest school, learners may get to a point where they feel bored with the session. This is a good starting point for them to start reflecting, explore their own curiosities, motivate themselves to create their own play, and learn through their own ingenuity. Our coaches will facilitate this and start creating the learner’s learning journey (“curriculum”) together with the class.
- Building Environmental Appreciation and Motivation through Limited Man-Made Resources
To ensure that our children can learn to utilize resources from the natural environment, we endeavor to carry with us as little man-made equipment as possible. By appreciating what nature has to offer, our learners will develop their own motivations to source and manage their own resources, protect vulnerable organisms, and nurture their connections with their environments.
- Ensuring Safety through Being Patient
By following the pace of our children, safety is ensured during the sessions. In Forest School, the learners decide when they are ready to challenge themselves. If they do not feel prepared, we will not encourage or pressure them to commit to the challenge. We stay patient and trust their instincts in deciding their journeys with the environment.
Testimonial on Safety
Written by Coach M, (Mother of 2 Forest School Graduates, with Waldorf Background). Coach M is an alumni coach of the Forest School Singapore Team, and a Parent convert to Forest School Coach.
“This safety consciousness means that we constantly watch for our children as they approach different trails and parts of the forest terrain. Together with daily risk assessment, we identify the areas where vigilance is required and our safety positioning comes into play. This vigilance, however, does not mean that we hover over the children nor does it mean that we stop the children from attempting acts that contain risk.
In the Forest School, safety of the children under our care is first and foremost on our coaches’ mind. In every session, at least one coach is trained to give first aid. We have an established protocol to handle rare adverse events should they occur. To the coaches, the children’s physical safety is paramount.
More appropriately, this safety priority is balanced with allowance for risk taking to encourage child’s development in entrepreneurial behavior and thinking, independent decision making, and ownership for one’s choices in life, from a very young age. In our sessions, we practice “constant vigilance with benign negligence”. This means that while our senses are constantly attuned to the environment, and sense of the possible dangers or non dangers of the terrain, we give the children space and safety boundary without giving a sense they are constantly watched. Based on our experience and training, we would have identified the risk factors, and assessed the amount of response time required. We would also have considered the competency or composure of the child (can be gleaned from the way the child balances, coordination of the limbs, muscle tension). We keep our vigilance without giving rise to a sense of fear or un-trustworthiness on the part of the children. To us it is important that the children feel that they own their risk decisions. Our experience tells us that when a child decides to do something, he or she will be competent enough to deliver. If not, adjustments will be made by child along the way and ultimately child learns limits and how to manage his or her own safety which is part of the Independent Child.
Our philosophy in the forest school is that all children come with their own knowing and sensing of the space or the environment. For instance, if the children refuse to enter any part of the forest, coaches will respect the child’s intuition. In the children, we see such displays of intuition so naturally. Children, unlike adults, do not doubt or second guess themselves and they rely on their intuition without thinking about it. We believe that children are naturally excellent observers and born gifted with intuition that keeps them safe. Our role is to empower, affirm and nurture such gifts of intuition, and inner wisdom. We believe that in so doing, we build self confidence and self belief.
In the forest school, we see that the biggest risk posed to children tend to be from man-made structures or objects and less from Mother Nature herself. They may also come from excessive adult intervention, as it disrupts the process where the child makes sense or ‘calibrate’ between his or her own inner world and the environment. If something is clearly in the danger zone, our coaches will immediately stop the child from proceeding.
In Forest school, safety is our priority. It is important to us that children learn about making their own risk decisions within safety boundaries.