Holding Space: A Session where we went No-Where

This story happened after the Forest School Afternoon Friday session of 2 October 2020. This is a message sent from Coach Darren to the parents in the whatsapp group. The text has been grammatically edited by Coach Huiying for publishing on a website (She cant stand his grammar lol).

“Today was a very emotionally intense session.

Firstly, I would like to give context to the method of decision making that we adopt in Forest School. We decide where to go as a group. Every single kid in the group has to agree on the destination before we set off. It’s something we call a total consensus. If one person doesn’t agree, we continue the discussion and stay put until everyone agrees. It is a model of decision making that is difficult to achieve even for adults, I must say. In our society, we are used to a “majority vote wins” decision making process, but the minority’s feelings and opinions tend to be left out in that process, causing displeasure and sometimes a change in behaviour as well. A total consensus allows children to explore others’ feelings and thoughts. It also empowers every individual and signals that their thoughts and choices matter.

Today the decision making stood at a standstill for the whole session. A full 3 hours. We didn’t go anywhere in the end – we just stayed at the discussion junction near the MOE Adventure Centre at Dairy Farm Nature Park. We have a total of 13 kids who had to make the decision together today. The choices included the field or the magic river (near Wallace Education Centre). Most of them wanted to go to the field. Only LR, ZX and JC wanted to go to the river. The discussion from there on brought out so much heartfelt thoughts and emotions from all our kiddos. For some, it was restlessness. For some, it was about sharing their inner motivation and enjoyment of the spaces they wanted.

What was impressive was how ZX held firmly to a promise made to him the week before by TM about going to the magic river. He valued the promise so dearly so much so that he teared when it was not upheld. It was not the place, but the importance of the value of the promise. We encouraged them to express their thoughts openly, but also listen to each other’s views and try to understand. It was a very emotional discussion between the boys – so much so that all the other kids felt it. There was a lot of care and concern shown between all 13 of them today amidst the high emotional context. NC, AL and LR would go to ZX to check on him. AX and IS would ask their friends if they were okay when they saw them tear. FD, BD and JM would go close to give support through their presence. CR and EL would chip in with a mature point of view. JC would listen to his friend and empathise so much – he cried so hard for the emotion that was held within his friend. TM & ZX would try to console their friends after their argument, knowing their strong point of view held the group together. 

Honestly, at some point in time while witnessing all the sharing and emotions, it brought tears to some of us coaches, because this level of empathy and emotion is so rare amidst our hustle and bustle of the busy city life. 

I really must say that I was so proud of all 13 of them today. They experienced and showed up in such a humane and real way. Their effort and genuineness was very endearing. We really couldn’t ask for more. 

The Junction that they stayed for the whole session… going nowhere…

At some point, I knew if the coaches stepped in to help direct them or make decisions for them, we will help in moving the energy of the group and easing the tension. But a part of me said “hang in there, hold their spaces” – because we will raise 13 brilliant and aware young souls for the future world. We, as the adults, have to be able to hold the self-doubt, anxiety and worry for our kids so that they have the space to grow emotionally. 

For a day that seemingly went nowhere physically, the emotional sphere of development went far beyond what I could imagine. 

This is only the second time in my five years of experience that a group actually got stuck in decision making. But it is all for a very good reason and learning. 

I hope everyone can let our little ones know how proud we are of them and their courage to show up emotionally and authentically. This is truly the spirit of Forest School. And we believe Nature’s space also gave the support for every individual in the session to be themselves today. 

Thank you parents for quietly supporting and holding space as well. I know we all hold some form of worry and anxiety for our little ones naturally, as they grow up in an uncertain and volatile world. This episode today showed us that our little ones will have the resilience and courage to face the future, come what may. 

Thank you everyone – coaches, children and parents. It truly takes a village to raise a child.”

“On a side note I was crazily fierce today due to the presence of 3 wildboar hundred metres away from our children while their bags and food are all over the floor (our kiddos usually clear up at the end). I had to stand in between our children and the boars, and really yelled out loud to our kiddos to pack up quick and move off, as the boars began to approach too closely, even with our volume of sound. With food around they may be aggressive. I probably frightened a few of our kiddos and coaches in the process. I’ve apologised to them but also explained the situation to our children about the fear and danger that is present due to our behaviour with food and trash in the woods. If not for safety issue i would not raise my voice as well. Thankfully the boars move away from us after we started moving off. This experience is part of Nature as well. So hope everyone will understand and do share with our little ones. I would usually get stern with them on road safety issue as well. Thank you for understanding.”

Parents responded to the text with so much love

NC’s Dad
“Thanks for sharing, Darren. This is really inspiring and truly something our kids won’t get the space and time to learn in any “normal” situation these days. I hope that in the end the kids reached an understanding and that next session will be joyful and rewarding after being able to reach each other’s feelings.”

TM ‘s Mom
“Yes thank you D , I feel so thankful that TM has you . You are able to hold TM’s emotion far better than me and for that I am grateful. Maybe there should be forest school for adults too.”

CR’s Mom
“Thank you, Coaches. Safety is priority and our family appreciates that CR is under your safe care. After reading your message, we can only imagine the mental exhaustion of listening to every child’s point of view for 3 hours and working out their state of mind and persisting in working towards group autonomy and consensus. Such an opportunity is truly golden. The group dynamic, the space, the environment and the precious 3 hours, I suspect, are not replicable in any local school/home environment. 
They may or may not remember this session in their lives but it would add on to their developments – emotionally, socially, and perhaps, it could even strengthen the core values within them. 
I hope you coaches also feel supported by us parents, that you feel encouraged, we are aligned and that we value your philosophy, hard work and discipline. Have a good rest! Gratefully, The Sims”

IS’s Dad
“Was moved after reading your message on what transpired today.  Allowing the children to really sort out their emotions and feel their way through this decision making while difficult was definitely an invaluable experience.  I think the children will remember how they felt even if they don’t remember what happened, and that will shape how they view their world. This is why we value their time at FS with the coaches. Thanks so much for this. As for the wild boar incident, totally get you.”

ZX’s Mom
“Thanks D , it sounds like it was a good learning experience for the kids”

EL’s Mom
“Lovely words, Serene… totally agree 🥰 Hehe u did the right thing to keep our little ones safe! EL told me that Coach D had to shout very loudly to get the wild boars to go away and he sheepishly said it was coz of the snacks they were having there, that probably attracted the boars. Can sense the trust he has in you and the coaches to keep them safe!”

AL’s Mom
“Thank you, coach Darren for your thorough explanation. We really appreciate it. What I heard from AL was a very very short version and also edited… the summary that I heard was It was a long discussion so she felt tired and let the other kids discuss so she just ate her snacks and drank all her water�.
Thank you so much for taking care of the kids, physically and also emotionally. We’re grateful that these kids can do this together with the coaches 😊. Looking forward to more adventures and heartfelt stories to come 🥰. Pleasant rest to all 🙏🏼”

JM’s Mom
“Echoing you CR’s Mom. Thank you D for this deep sharing and for the coaches patience and guidance. Space and time is often what the kids need but hardly get in our daily rush. This 3 hrs dedicated all for the kids is so precious. 💓”

AX’s Mom
“Thank you D and all coaches for the love, care and guidance always, and especially for this very intense and unusual session. We share the same feelings as many of the parents here in this group and honestly couldn’t have said it better. Thankful for this channel and opportunity for our kids to learn with such an open, tolerant and nurturing community, in a space that allows them to 🤗🤗”

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