These are the rationale and outcomes behind the practices we have in forest school.
Learning and Relationship continuity through Consistent Attendance
Attendance in forest school has to be consistent just as any learner would in attending schools, in order for the learners to build relationship with his/her peers, mentors and environment. The resources for learning comes from these 3 elements. 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.
Resilience Building through Failures / Mistakes
Case study Application: We applied the forest school style of learning in a typical Singapore neighbourhood student care in 2016. Children in Singapore local primary school would usually have 10 weekly words to learn, that they will need to be tested on, called spelling. In the student care, most children learn by reading and memorising the words for up to 20 minutes, before they come to the teacher for a practice test. Which will then be marked by the teacher. Any mistake make, will result in “CORRECTION” – a repetition process, where by the child will copy the correct words 10 times. The psychological impact of this drill is detrimental to most children. We can see it from how long it takes children to do “correction”. In the student care it took them up to 60min to complete 5 “correction”. They whine and get distracted easily. Engagement level are very minimal. Especially for the creative minded and sensitive children.
What I (Darren) did, was to shake up 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 mistake, he left many answer 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. I gave him back the spelling list for another minute, then I tested him again. He was less apprehensive. He had 5 out of 10 answers correct. We repeated the process 2 more times. He had 10 out of 10 answers correct, by the end of the process. It took him 20 minute to complete ‘this’ spelling process, compared with the old drill model which took 90 minute.
The point we should see here is not in the correct answers or time saved, it is in the psychological impact on the child ability to face failures/mistakes, and keep trying. It is a practice of resilience. It is a better engagement methodology to learning. And that is what we will practice here.
Hard Work ethics through Challenges
We believe in the strong developmental and growth in our learners when they get to face naturally occurring challenges, that naturally pushes them to try, work hard and overcome their fears to tackle the challenges. The motivation will and has to come from within. We do not believe in encouraging the push. But we trust our children to overcome the challenges they choose to take in our forest school at their own pace. Hard Work, is one aspect they will learn and earn from this practice.
Developing Reflection Process through Questioning & Facilitation
The reflection process is a key element of the forest school. It is how learners learn how to learn. We practice having learners share with us their thoughts and conclusion about what they observe or think. We will not give any definite answer unless it is required. Every curiousity by our learners will be facilitated with questions that lead to reflection and self decision that empowers their trust and confidence of the self.
Involvement and Independence through Making Choices
In forest school, children discuss and make choices together, learning to take ownership of the choices they make in session, being accountable to their friends, coaches, parents and the environment. Every session starts with the decision on where they will be heading to for the day, this decision will be made via having everyone agree to the decision, a tough practice, as we are used to the democratic way of majority voting. But in Forest School, because of the believe in consensus and accountability, children form powerful negotiation, listening and sharing skills through an organic context of discussion and decision making. They then develop a sense of independence and empowerment, pegged with an intrinsic involvement in the session, which brings out their potential.
Self-Regulation through Self-Awareness and Space
In forest school, the learners learn to manage themselves and interact with their peers, mentors and environment by themselves. Coaches will facilitate the process by helping them explore their feelings and emotions, followed by reasoning and choices. A learner who is unable to be aware of their feelings, will not be able to reason and come up with personal choices for self or others. Reducing the control on emotional expression is a key aspect of this practice.
Updates & Report through Listening to our children
We do not provide any report card or documented updates for forest school, as we believe our learners’ words and sharing are the best form of knowing how they feel and what they are doing in school. Listen to the learner share about their experience and feedback every session. However, we will share and discuss with parents about their child and what we observe. Children in this situation are welcome to hear our words too. That is the trust we have with them.
Inspiring initiation through Boredom
During the initial phase of forest school, learners may get to a point where they are feeling bored with the session. This is a good starting point for them to start reflecting, building their own curiosity, and build self motivated to create their own play and learning through their own ingenuity. Our coaches will facilitate this and start creating the learners learning journey (aka customised ‘curriculum’) together with the class.
Building environmental appreciation and motivation through limited man-made resources
In forest school, we endeavour to carry with us as little man-made material as possible, to ensure that our children learn to harvest and tap on the resources that their environment provide. This process develops a sense of appreciation for their environment and what nature provides for us all the time. With this appreciation, they will form their own motivation to manage their own resources, protect the vulnerable ones, and develop the connection for themselves with their environment.
Ensuring Safety through Being Patience
In forest school, we ensure safety in the session, by following the pace of our children. They decide when they are ready to challenge or scale a wall. If at moment they feel that they are not ready, we do not enforce or encourage them to go further. We stay patience and trust the instinct of our children in their journey with the environment.
TESTIMONIAL ON SAFETY
Written by Coach M, (Mother of 2 Forest School Graduates, with Waldorf Background). She’s an alumni coach of the Forest School Singapore Team, and a Parent convert to Forest School Coach.
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.
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. This also does not mean that we stop the children from attempting acts that contain risk.
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.