2019, a year of quiet focus and slow build towards our vision of being the village to raise our children together. We started the year at a new location, Dairy Farm Nature Park as our current home and a heartwarming TV coverage from Channel 8, Media Coverage (2019): Channel 8 News, 森林学校” 提倡无拘束教学 on the very first session of the year.
In January, our Principal, Darren flew to Japan to visit the Forest Kindergarten in Kamakura, Japan. Their Forest School has been around for 35 years, and forms a symbiotic and deep connection with the community and environment. Darren stayed and trained with his mentor, Atsuko during his 9-days stay in Japan. He spent 4 days following the Nagoyoshika and Yangchao (Forest Kindergarten programs) groups. He observed how the Japanese kids do their FS session in 7 degrees celsius cold, with just 2-layer attire. He even followed one of the groups for their session from 9am to 3pm (6-hour). The Yangchao kids showed amazing stamina. Darren also had the honour of attending a Japanese Forest School Conference in Yokohama during his visit. It was a very rewarding and insightful learning journey.
In March, we were blessed to be invited to Malaysia, Port Dickson for the Annual Raptor Watch by our Malaysia Beach School Founder, Kent Leong. We had the honour of attending a pre-party where other nature-education-entrepreneurs came together for some good food and insightful conversations. In Malaysia, they also share our passion for a Forest School like education. Many families send their kids into the wild Malaysia jungles under the facilitation of Orang Asli and well-trained Jungle Guides. There was also a conversation about an equilibrium and balanced world with nature; how we can raise the value of nature-education programs. We were also wondering how some are being paid to destroy and exploit, while the works of the well-intentioned individuals are expected to be voluntary or free. We hope to change this mindset together over time =)
In late March, Forest School Singapore represented our region to attend the International Nature Pedagogy Conference in Melbourne, Australia. The biggest takeaway was the impact of the indigineous people of the land on the FS movement. Bubup Wiliam, a school with indigineous curriculum, people and root was the keynote speaker sharing their stories and battle since the colonial rule.
One of their speakers said this, “What you all are doing now with these nature education and forest school, is what we have been doing for thousands of years. You destroyed our world, and now you realise the importance.”
This realisation gave us a hard knock, as we evolve in our journey of Forest School in Singapore. The knowledge, wisdom and ways of the indigineous people of our land is paramount to the evolution of our education and attitude to nature. We need to reflect and bring these “magic” back to our way of life. Connecting us back to ourselves.
We also met an associate in conference, who visited us in Singapore in 2017. She was amazed to see that Forest School continued to survive and excel in Singapore despite the initial struggles. But her initial doubt led to a revelation; we realised we have done something beyond our imagination. We made Forest School possible in Singapore by breaking fixed mindset and status quo. We adapted to our environment of limited resources and land. We gave value to our work.
In June, we were invited to give a sharing at the Outdoor Education Conference organised by the Ministry of Education and Outward Bound Singapore. At the event, we were pointed out by the Keynote speaker, Colin Beard, a Professor from Sheffield. He mentioned the Forest School movement as probably one of the crucial steps towards outdoor education and an education in raising and developing our young ones for the future. We were able to help connect children with the their authentic expression of oneself, without artificial structure via nature.
We were also invited to a con-current sharing session of 30-40 audience. Many local education professors and curriculum heads were in attendance. Though it was a nervous moment for us, we are glad to inspire others in the community through an insight into the FS ways and and the stories of our children. A very rewarding sharing and journey.
The second half of the year was filled with many new inventions and old connection.
We innovated with the inspiration of Camp Twilight from Sprouting Seeds and Ground-Up Initiative (Both sister community), to create the “Overnight HikeCamp”. It was an overnight sleepless hike through the southern ridges of Singapore to challenge our tweens whom we feel, were seeking for something more challenging physically than their usual public school experience. It was a success! Our pioneer OHCs excelled amazingly. They love it.
We also initiated the Anak Hutan Singapore (Children of the Forest Singapore) school, in July 2019 to launch in 2020. It was created with the inspiration from the indigineous people of Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. The school was slated to be a 3-4 days outdoor kindergarten, a combination of a forest school and indigineous school where we have the guidance of the trees and the ways of life.
However in October, we had a realisation that Anak Hutan Singapore was not to be. There is something missing. Our land is not ready. We are not ready. If not done in the way that we feel “right”, it will be very different, as much as we want it to happen. With this mystical and neurological understanding, we took a step back and halted the launch of Anak Hutan Singapore, to much disappointment from some, but everyone understood. We are glad.
November came, we were finally invited to an official Ministry of Education event. This time we were invited to give a workshop sharing for the Gifted-Education Program Conference for fellow mainstream educators in schools. To us, this marks the start of our progress to help create the change in mainstream school; to gradually adopt versions of Forest School and the ways into the mainstream education. We share and remedy the concerns of our fellow teachers. We also find connections with many of them, as they share similar inspiration and moments of nature and children =) It was a joyous sharing.
We also had our first Universal Graduation season of Forest School Singapore. All 5 FS weekly session groups organised their own version of graduation with inputs from families and our kiddos. Some had an overnight camp while others had a BBQ cum Certificate presentation. Every graduation is unique to the group and our dynamics. It was a heartwarming season for us all.
In December, we started planning for 2020. In the process, we announced the closure of the Thornbill Thursday class. It was our longest standing weekday program of Forest School Singapore, 3 whole years. https://forestschooleducationseries.wordpress.com/2019/12/26/the-legendary-thornbill-thursday/
2019 was quiet and less tumultuous than 2017 and 2018. It is with a humble and confident heart that we progress throughout the year. We know our children, families and coaches felt the progress and share the common connection of one-ness with all. We thank you all for these beautiful year.
2020 will be a year of less certainty, as we look to let our communities take the lead. We will flow and support while focusing on our core missions with our children and families.