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 program. A consistent attendance will ensure the learner’s full enjoyment and development of their socio-emotional self. Projects and continuation of learning experience can also be enhanced through simply being around consistently.
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.
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.
Involvement and Independence through Making Choices
In Forest School, 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 of having full agreement 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.
Developing a Reflection Process through Questioning and 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 by providing guiding questions to empower their trust and confidence.
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 learners who are unaware of understanding their emotions are not 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.
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 naturally occurring challenges that will encourage them to experiment and confront their fears. We strongly believe that this motivation will come and has to come from within each individual and as such, we do not believe in ‘pushing’ them. Rather, we trust our children to overcome these obstacles themselves, at their own pace and in their own ways.
Building Resilience through Failures and Mistakes
In order to build resilience for the children, we encourage them to try, make mistakes, fail, and then try again. We want our children to continue trying despite 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’s conventional memorization and corrections approach, 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 looking through errors and 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 easily distracted.
What I (Darren) did was to revamp the process of spelling using the Forest School approach. I got the child to read the spelling words for 1 minute (instead of 20 minutes). Then I tested him immediately. At the start, he was very apprehensive, afraid of making mistakes and left many answers blank. The child has 2 out of 10 answers correct. I went through the spelling mistakes with him, told him to make a wild guess on the words when he hear them for the next one, use his instinct, and trust himself. We repeated this process and he was less apprehensive, scoring 5 out of 10 correct. After two more tries, he managed to score all 10 out of 10 correct. Compared to the conventional model of teaching spelling that took a total of 90 minutes to obtain full marks, 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 benefits of the child repeatedly trying despite mistakes and setbacks. This is what we call the practice of resilience.
Updates and 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 sharings 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.
Building Environmental Appreciation 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.