I learnt something from 5-year old Kyan today at Forest Trial session. I’ve known Kyan for over a year as I taught his mother yoga, and he frequently came with her to the yoga studio. He is a sensitive, child-like and affectionate boy, and once he overcomes his initial shyness, he gives you multiple hugs whenever he sees you!
It’s Kyan’s first time trying out Forest School, and his mum also signed up 3 of his friends, so that they would have each other for company. Like all good friends, they were highly excited and would chat enthusiastically throughout the session. Somehow, they would also like and dislike similar things. Oh look at that clay by the river, we love! Ewww, pond skaters, yucks!
And like all good friends, they also get into disputes over minor things. Being the youngest and most sensitive, Kyan does rely on the older kids more and mimics what they say and do quite readily. As we were walking back at the end of the session, he hands his clay over to another younger kid, and then wipes his hands on his friend 7-year old Russell’s t-shirt, almost without thinking. And equally as spontaneously, Russell naturally went Hey, and wiped the clay back on Kyan’s top. And this is when Kyan burst into tears, and turned to hug Coach Hui Yen nearby and bury his face. Luckily, Russell is an easy-going boy and said Sorry immediately, but Hey, really don’t do that.
After a while, Kyan stopped crying, he held hands with Coach Hui Yen, before letting go and suddenly walked quickly ahead of all of us. As he passed by me, he turned and looked at me momentarily. In that instant, I saw it. He was almost pre-empting that I would stop him, and question him on what had happened. That I won’t let him fume and just walk away. But it was his look that stopped me. I didn’t say anything. So he turned forward again, and continued walking ahead of us, a distance away.
One of the most valuable thing I learnt in Forest School is the importance of the quiet presence of coaches and adults. Children in regular lives are far too accustomed to adults telling them what to do, and what not to do, that they rarely have moments of independence and space for themselves. When we caution them to be careful, we are in fact projecting our own adult fears onto them. When we hover around them as they try new things, we are in fact signaling our lack of trust in them. They can sense it.
So when I let Kyan walk away, it was not without some fear. Like, what if he just went off and I lose sight of him? If it were a completely new kid I had just met for the first time, I probably would have kept closer just in case. But truthfully? A new kid would never have even reacted in such a way, as he would be more pre-occupied with the exciting new-ness of the forest, and won’t wander off by himself. But we are not talking about a new kid here; I knew Kyan well, and he knew that too.
So I let him walk it off. To walk off his anger and frustration. To let him be alone in his own space. To be the quiet presence lingering behind him, not too close. To trust in him, so that he may trust in me too, to give him that space. And he did exactly that. He would walk forward, seemingly not caring about the rest. But whenever he went just beyond where I could see him, he would stop, and look back at me, until I caught up. And we went on. And then he would stop again. And so on and on. Until we were nearly back to the main road. We sat down for a rest, and also to wait for the others. He and another boy took out their snacks, and ate silently. A huge change from their excited chatter just a while ago. And when Russell and the rest finally caught up, Kyan steadily lifted his strawberries and asked Russell if he wanted one. Russell just repeated he’s sorry again, and sat down to eat his snacks as well. And just like that, the dispute was naturally resolved. No enforced “Why did you do that” or “Shall you say sorry” by adults. They resolved it on their own, naturally, and as soothingly as is only possible in the spaces provided by the forest.
It was the most marvellous lesson that these kids have taught an adult, myself.