Safety Value

Written by Coach M, (Mother of 2 Forest School Graduates, with Waldorf Background). She’s a core member of the Forest School Singapore Team

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.

(PM: She wrote this while withstanding immense stress in her personal life, her courage and will to drive through this movement at times of her own need, showered us all with inspiration, take that into the context and read again)