Forest School Visit: UK, Manchester

1ST SITE : BAMFORD PRIMARY SCHOOL

On the 9th December 2016, I represented Forest School Singapore and took a trip from Manchester to Bamford to visit a Forest School Session @ Bamford Primary School in UK. Welcomed by my fellow FSE classmate Emma Coulson and Anne Gartside, and their reception (Nursery 2) and year 1 (Kindergarten 1). Bamford Primary was very much like a cosy primary school within the village, that is situated among beautiful hills. (Yes, a little secluded for sure)

I was being coined as the cookie monster that came from Singapore. No idea why, but it was funny so we stuck with it. I had an amazing time playing with the group for their weekly friday forest school session at the backyard of their school.

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I manage to arrive in time for their hot chocolate time. The kids were loving it very much,  like every kid out in the open. They sat around the fire for a whiff to warm up with the hot chocolate and darted off to play in the open green space behind their school. Pockets of them were sawing and nailing away at some wood, while a group were playing tag around the space. Some of the kids begin to build their dens, and self crafted stories and imagination brewed. It was really endearing to see the genuine play coupled with the natural learning happening in those little minds. Emma spend some time hiding in the den with the kids just listening and engaging in the conversation of those in the den. And you could hear them exploring math, science and language in their conversation. Learning at its most sincere way occurring right there, at that moment.

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Then the kids started to dig on some of the soil on the ground. A little boy brought pieces of wood together and built a bridge linking the trees to the tyres. It was magical to see children adapting toys and play, from their environment. I joined in. Chasing the kids around the space like the “cookie monster” that I am. They came up to me tempting me to chase them constantly till the end of the session.

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The kids packed up their own materials and carried them back to their classroom after that. There was a quiet sense of responsibility and humility in that moment. Though some were still playing, they eventually fall in on their own to pack up and head back to class.

At the classroom, parents came to pick their children up, and much like every school around, teachers and parents spoke about the children and shared little moments of laughter and joy. Parents were very encouraging and appreciative of the teachers work there. It felt warm to be in their presence.

Conversation with Emma

Before I left, Emma made tea for me and we chatted about our experience. Emma said that FS is basically returning learning to its most authentic roots, naturally from play and the kids own ingenuity. I couldn’t agree more.

“I almost quit education”. That was the exact line Emma voiced, sipping on her tea. She was on the brink of quitting education altogether after working at an inner city school with 600 over kids, who would come together during lunch all at the same time. She had to experience the kind of aggression and space of emotion and insecurity facing those nasty situation at the school during such moments. It made her feel really upset. Change of career was surfacing within her mind. Then she found this little school in the village, Bamford Primary School. It is a really authentic old british school in the village. Everyone knew everyone.

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Picture is from dailymail.co.uk

Just a glimpse of how it is different would be the pick up time. In the inner city school, adults who were taking over the parents to pick up the kids, have to provide the school with a secret password belonging to the kid. Whereas in the village school, parents would come in to pick up their friends kid, simply by telling the teachers, because everyone knew everyone.

A community for all, that’s the dream. Moving big conglomerate schools and institution to small but communal entities that truly give children the space to learn and grow up to be part of the community.

Isnt that what we all dream about. The village that helps to raise a child. Wont parenthood and teachers journey be much more fulfilling and endearing. Wont we be able to love and really connect back to ourselves more from there.

The experience really made me ponder deep about what forest school education really mean to me. Forest school is a portal to help build a community/village for our dear children and their families.

2ND SITE : LIME TREE PRIMARY ACADEMY

Coach Darren capped his time in UK, Manchester with a visit to Lime Tree Primary Academy (LTPA), where his forest school training classmates, Elena and Georgia works in. It is there he experience the way forest school is implemented in the common primary school institution in Manchester. Lets take a ride into his experience through his senses. (No picture of the children in the primary school could be taken,  school policy)

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The British education system is quite similar to Singapore, considering that both system ends inthe Cambridge GCE O’Level. In the previous episode, I found out about the tension and difficulties that the education community faces in the inner city school. LTPA is a primary school within the city reaches, close to Old Trafford, so it is considered a city school I would say. But over here, they have a comprehensive forest school set up within the school facility and learning development.

Janet (the head of the forest school department in LTPA), shared with me that 2 big part of the reason why forest school could thrive here, are because of the support of their leadership figure (Principal) and the involvement of local businesses around the school. The local businesses sponsored the school financially, and gave the school resources to build on its facilities and learning material. They have a beautiful school building and play compound. This is something I feel Singapore schools and institution should look into to better support the various institute and their communities, it is a bond and relationship that would truely bring together the village to raise the child.

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Story telling site

In LTPA, forest school was introduced as part of a enhancement to the existing education format. I reflected upon the how, the where and the who, of the initiative being solidify in the school. Firstly, you will need a space/location which children could venture and explore, pick up sticks and tumble around. Its not necessary to have an actual forest (though it is the best). A farm like space, with mostly natural material will suffice. In LTPA, they have an animal “sanctuary” with rabbits, guniea pig and hamsters. They also have a space where the school’s organic waste are poured into a compost bin, to feed the farm vegetables and fruits they grow in the garden. Children actualy come forward during their recess and breaks to help the forest school practitioner carry out those tasks. It was endearing to see. They have even build a log cabin in the school now for the forest school. Awesome stuff.

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Lovely and “hippie” – Elena the Ephalon

The second element, would be the commitment of a full-time forest school teaching team to conduct and maintain the resources. In LTPA, their forest school team consist of Elena, Janet and another part-time teacher, who are full-time handling and conducting the forest school sessions. They tend to the animals and the plants, but also works on all the necessary paperwork, to ensure the safety of the children and staff. Their presence helps brighten and give the education space a warm feel.

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This is R, Elena’s daughter who came around the site in the evening to hang around while her mummy clears up some of the animal duty

I volunteered with Elena and Janet for their forest school session, and help out with the daily operations for that day. I felt a good sense of going back to the old days of work and learning. In the session, the kids put on their rain coat attire and boots outside their classroom before setting off with the forest school teacher towards the forest school site. The kids came around to hear a story after arriving at the site, before darting off to the play area to do their own thing amongst the woods. Some of them were hanging by the branch, some were playing hide and seek, some just sat there imagining that they are cooking. It was absolutely amazing to see the genuine freedom and enjoyment from it. One of the kid, even came to hug me  at the end of the session on her own accord. (My heart warmed up inside, and I still remember about it till now).

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It was absolutely amazing to see the genuine freedom and enjoyment from it. One of the kid, even came to hug me  at the end of the session on her own accord. (My heart warmed up inside, and I still remember about it till now).

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