Applying the Forest School ways to Kids Yoga

As a school teacher previously, I greatly disliked the top-down and overly disciplinary way that most lessons were delivered and how students were automatically required to toe the line. Hence of course, the Forest School way of being more ‘hands-off’ and observing the child to guide them as they showed the way really appeals to me.

Now as a yoga teacher, I teach all kinds of students, from adults to prenatal to therapy and kids as well. One of the most challenging classes has got to be my kids’ classes. Even though I have been teaching kids for a few years, I still find that stepping into each class requires me to have some ideas, some tricks up my sleeve, yet be prepared to throw most of these ideas away and response naturally on the spot to flow through the class depending on the dynamics and energy of the kids for the day. Even if it’s the same kids that I’ve gotten to know well, it’s still never the same. If you know children, you’d definitely understand what I mean. A child is so naturally reacting and being themselves according to what happened earlier to affect them (or not), that they can be quite different from week to week. The younger they are, the more organic they are. So sometimes, all bets are off when I step into class.

Over the past one year or so, I’ve naturally integrated some of our Forest School ways into the Kids Yoga classes. When disagreements or conflicts occur in Forest School, I would ask them to directly tell one another so, no matter their age (we have kids from 3 to 12 years old). And when they play rough and hurt someone, I’ll pull them to face one another, so they can see for themselves the emotions felt by the other person and truly experience the how they have caused someone else hurt. These ways happen so regularly in our Forest School sessions that we sometimes take it for granted how our Forest kids just communicate to one another and stick up for themselves and others without needing adult interference. As a result, they become very much independent and confident, and also connect to each other much more deeply. Over time, they would communicate with one another directly without even needing the coach to pull them together.

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In contrast, the usual classroom or playground scenario is usually of the children running to the adults to be their ‘voice’ or ‘help’ far too often than necessary. When a lively boy snatches away the yoga blocks from another girl, she tends to come crying to the teacher for help. Some teachers may just discipline the boy, thus turning it into yet another authoritative context without much benefit to either child (and no doubt the same thing would happen again). Some teachers may pull the children together, but over-mediate it by just telling the boy to say sorry and such. In one lesson, I had a 3 year old girl who kept taking the different blocks for herself, and got upset easily when another kid accidentally pushed her or did something she didn’t like. Each time, I would pull her to the other child, and ask her to directly voice what she felt and what she liked or didn’t like. Within the one hour lesson, there arose about 4 to 5 occasions for such intervention to happen. And by the last incident, she actually started to understand the repercussions of her actions, and even voluntarily gave up her blocks to another child. No doubt, she would go back to her own ways over the week, and we would have to guide her again the next lesson. However, children learn so fast, and the more we guide them as such, the more they learn as they grow.

And even more importantly, my co-teacher also learnt about the Forest School way each time I teach with them, and they have also started guiding the kids in a similar manner whenever conflicts arise now. I have never actually explicitly told my co-teachers the Forest School way as such, but somehow, we learn from other, we flow so naturally in yoga that we rub off on each other as well.

And this is what is so amazing about Forest School pedagogy. It is so organic and instinctive, appealing to our innate learning processes that we imbue it gradually over time. Even in our yoga activities, I also learn to take one step back, observe the dynamic flow and inclinations of the kids, before I suggest something that seems already in tune with what the kids are doing. One 6 year old boy starting jumping across the room, using only the mats. I followed him, and we turned it into a game. A game of utmost focus and engagement. A kind of focus that he usually would be reluctant to give in a group class. He also liked to walk carefully within the tiles on the floor. Such carefulness and focus. Is this not his way of being mindful? We don’t all have to do a tree pose or sun salutation to ‘show’ that we are doing yoga. Yoga is so much more than just poses. Yoga is a kind of flow, whereby the energies and instincts of both the kids and adults matter. Just like how we interact in Forest School 😊.

Our Forest School ways can be integrated into all of our lives… whether parenting, going for lunch, playing at home… it’s all how we choose to nurture our children, and ourselves as well in the process. The kids teach us so much more.

By Coach Shimin
(Yoga Teacher, Forest School Senior Coach, Ex-MOE Teacher)

 

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