Forest School Training @ UK (Part 1)

Year: 2016

In April 2016, Coach Darren LLP sent Coach Darren to Sheffield, UK to attend Archimedes Forest School Education’s, Forest School Practitioner Training Open Award Level 3, it is a recognise practitioner certification to practice and lead forest school session in UK. In this, Forest School Training Series, we catch a glimpse of the activities and experience, that Coach Darren had, during the 5 days training.


Coach Darren – The Dragon’s Path

The journey started in February 2016, when I decided to sign up for the forest school practitioner course in UK, and somehow, the dates that were given for the Sheffield training, felt the most suitable, and then I book the dates followed by the flights. It was a courageous leap of faith from my point of view.

The trip to UK was a nervous and exciting one, because its the first time I travelled alone, and it feels so different to be able to send yourself on a trip to a land far from home land to learn and experience a way of learning and teaching that I truly believe in.

During the path to the outdoor activity centre for the course, I got lost on the bus, and had to walk 50 minutes up and down some hilly road, carrying a 15kg bag. When I finally arrive at the centre, my back was breaking, but I got to experience the hilly terrain and windy weather of the Sheffield landscape.

The Course started with basic introduction and housekeeping, which I will not go into detail of. But seeing, 11 other educator who like myself, believe in the effect of this pedagogy and ethos just made the journey worth it already. It is a great support and encouragement just to hear their journey in the Forest School ways. As most of our training will be done outdoor, everyone was ready with their gears and boots.

The start of the training outdoors begin with a little knowledge introduction of the woodland near by, then all of a sudden we were jumped into the land of the “little people and their nemesis, the fire breathing dragons”. The story led us to building our own little creations, and allow us to see the magic in carrying out our session, with stories that truly captivate. All that can only be done, by the creativity and animateness of the people in the group. In building our little den for the dragon with my group mates, we ended up making a trap and rehabilitation centre for the dragon. Hahaha.

In the second half of the morning, we were given wood logs, individually, each one given something that the instructor felt suit us and were meant specially for us. That was a magical realisation for us, because of the way that the wood log was given, it was not DISTRIBUTED, it was SPECIALLY GIVEN. The magical feelings, comes in the way that the log was presented to us, one at a time, individually, with much contemplation and thoughts. Creativity, from that point on starts to flourish in our mind, with the stories, specialness and just pure fun.

In the afternoon, we had tools training, where we learnt how to safely and efficiently use the BOWSAW and LOPPERS. We cut sticks and wood disc, to bring back for some craft work. (IT REALLY FEELS GOOD TO MAKE YOUR OWN MATERIAL FROM NATURE FOR CRAFT).

As the Sunsets for the night (at 10pm…), we turn in to rest, for more exciting learning, for the next 4 days.


Coach Darren – Snowy Sentiments

On the 2nd day of the course, myself and 4 of my classmates who stayed over in the log cabin, woke up to get ready for class at 9.00am. I settled into class, and started reading on the portfolio that was given for all of us, to prepare ourselves to be great forest school practitioner.

The morning begins with a reflection for everyone, our instructor told us to go around the woods at the back of the log cabin, pick up stuff we like from the ground, and build ourselves something to represent our reflection for Day 1. It can be our feelings, our thoughts, what we learn, what we do, or what this journey means to me… Anything. As long as it comes from ourselves. Many of us shared about the things we learnt, some of us decide to share about our feelings (sentimental here), some of us share about our vision and journey. I shared about the feeling of journeying there from SG, feeling lonely, but embraced within the forest school community there, and feeling home. And how that will energise my journey back to Asia to start the Forest School Movement.
Then we went on to learn about tools and the forest school methodology, experience in a weather, that kind of look like its going to snow again. The wind was blowing a little hard, the chills begin to kick in. So we move ourselves into a hut, and continue our learning and sharing. Everyone chip in with our perspective and experience with children and the woods. It felt so right.

We made our way back to the classroom to warm ourselves up and do lunch, before we head out once more to learn how to tie knots that hold under tension and releases easily, as well as a pulley kind of knot that holds well for pitching up tents in between 2 trees. We find ourselves tying knots and pitching tents in the snow gradually, this time the snow came down a lot, we even had a small bout of snow “ball” fight. Hahaha. It was crazy cool and absolutely amazing for me at the moment.

We capped the day off with our one last tool, the billhook. We learnt to split wood using that tool and a hard wood to knock on the top of the blade. We had quite a good bit of laugh and fun there, trying out the billhook, splitting our wood. My group laugh a little too much, cos we ended up the last of the lot to end the day.

The class ended, and we kind of kick back and relax (those few of us who stayed over in the cabin), while the rest braved the weather to return home. The weather can really sap lots of energy out of everyone. A good cup of tea can really warm up the spirit and mind in those weather. After dinner (Tea – in Manchester lingo), we kind of hangout a little while together, getting to know each other, haha. But there are some tinge of silence and slow warming up there from everyone. But I still feel home =) It was warm (Though snowing)

Coming up …… DAY 3


Coach Darren – The Grindle Wood

Day 3 was exciting, because for the first time I will be entering into the woodland of a temperate land. Its name was the Grindleford Woodlands (I think). Its located at about a 30min drive, up into the Peak District, a Forest area in Sheffield. So right from the morning, we packed up our gears and our necessary tools, squeeze into the cars my dear classmates drove in with, VROOOM…. !!! Off we go, in a convoy towards the woodland area where forest school are actually conducted. The drive was really scenic, I wish Singapore had some. LOL.

When we arrived at the woodlands, we unloaded the tools and brought them over to the campfire site in Grindleford. The weather, started to go real cold, I was taken back a little, guess that’s the weather changes in the wood in Sheffield during Spring.

We arrived at the first campsite which look like it was utterly abused. Our instructor told us, that it used to be a nice cosy place, with beautifully laid sitting logs, with a central campfire area and many working space around. But in the recent times, there were like non-Forest School people, who turn up at night, used the campfire location for their barbeque and stuff. These people, would leave the campfire without cleaning up or putting it back to the original shape. They basically leave a mess, which the park authority kind of pin on the Forest School Community there. But most importantly, they leave the woods with more damaged to ecosystem in the forest. We learnt about the management of woodlands, and how our presence itself, has already made some impact in the forest. And how it is important for us to have good and caring ways to make sure we leave as little impact in the woods after we left (I make my kids pick up rubbish and dispose them after the trek). Every small little step counts.

So with that mess in sight, we move to another campfire site deeper into the woods. And we learn how to use a knife, to carve wood sticks into wooden pegs. Cool stuff there. =) The feeling of carving a tool or item is very therapeutic, trust me. After the carvings, we learnt to start fire, using fire sticks, cotton wool, long dried hay, and twigs, plenty of twigs. It was a little tough for me at the start, because I used short dried pines leaves, so my fire could start, but couldn’t hold long enough for the wet twigs to catch fire. Hahahaha. But it was all a great learning experience, now I have a better understanding of how to start, catch and maintain a flame on log. Oh, there was also the huff and puff and blowwwwwwwing of the flame, to give it the “fuel” to rise and burn. I got caught at the corner of my left eye by a small spark of the flame while blowing, so people be careful. =)

After our whole adventure in the woodlands in the morning, we made our way back to the training centre, to warm up and grab some bites. We decided to stay indoor for the rest of the day, and go through learning theories and the holistic development of children. The communication, intellectual, emotional, social, physical and spiritual development of the child. It was a very insightful discussion and sharing by everyone. I learnt a lot about the existence and work of “Play Work Theories” as well as the huge array of knowledge amass in UK for the forest school community. The funny thing, as an individual who grew up in Singapore, and never had that Singaporean mentality of “Oh-that’s-how-it-is-in-Singapore, so we need to FOLLOW, even though we don’t agree in the benefit to the children”, I felt really at ease and even connected with the work and knowledge done over in UK and the Northen Hemisphere for Learning and Development. Well I hope my home country, wouldn’t need to see huge increase in suicide and mental illnesses among the children, before introducing a more holistic and slower pace but deeper, learning and development pedagogy. The session ended with an Animal School Video (CLICK TO VIEW VIDEO), which brought tears underneath my eyes (but hehe no one saw, I hope).

Day 3 Training, ended with a discussion on what to bring to Grindleford Woodlands tomorrow, as we are going to have a barbeque of sort at the campfire site. So everyone was chipping in with what we could bring, I quietly decided to bring butter corn corbs, while the plenty of ideas flew across the rooms. It was really fun and connecting.

As training ended, and the rest of us staying in the cabin wind down our day, I took a walk with Georgie and Elena to the supermarket nearby to get our food for tomorrow. And we had a really beautiful conversation, which got me closer to them. Though we are now thousands of miles apart, I still feel the connection. I hope they feel the same. After Dinner, I had a long conversation with Dee, on education and business development, I shared with her about my business and journey in the education and learning field, she shared with me about her journey and a great teacher in Japan, who does had great contribution in play works. We just clicked off so well. And yeah, I know shes onto some great stuff right now, with a her first group session going on. Gambatte!!!

Day 3 felt really surreal, not for the forest school learning, but for my own development as a human being, learning from friends and families from another land. Hmm… that’s forest school too isn’t it? Learning from one another and the elements on the lands we inhabit at the moment.

As the night fall, thoughts and emotion fill my spirit as I stared on at the beautiful stars laid across the night sky. (Im sentimental). Beautiful.


Coach Darren – Cold Warm Laughter

Day 4, begin with some theories and further understanding of forest school ways, followed by our trip back to Grindleford Woodlands, for our setting of fire, den and the awesome barbeque lunch. (I was in luck, as Sarah Blackwell (Founder of Archimedies, Forest School Education), came by, and I managed to speak to her a little about having forest school in South East Asia, and her trip to China and possibly Singapore this year. Everyone was so caring and considerate, because we have vegans and vegetarians in the group, so the food brought over for the barbeque were largely non-meat.

Upon arriving in the woods, we brought our gears and items to the camp fire site, lit the fire together, as a team, using woods sticks, from small to big, in the order, so to kick the fire off, and sustain it. It was beautiful. Another group of the team, went about to build a den beside the camp fire, to keep our items and food away from the weather. We then, begin to barbeque all the food we brought, it was real good, having start and make your own fire and food. I felt like it gave me a sense of revival of the basic competency as a human, to be able to survive naturally. I wonder if that applies to the young ones as well?

After the barbeque, we had a tool making session, where we were taught how to make a mallet out of the wood we find around. The weather during that session, turn really cold, and started to rain. That combination, really made it so difficult for me to hold the knife and tools to work on the mallet, so I gave up, hahaha, and decided to help keep the fire burning to provide warm and heat for myself and everyone. It was a really cold day.

We ended the day and course at the Grindleford Woodlands, hop onto Elena little sunshine (car), and poof, Off we go, to make our way back to the training centre / cabin. On our way back to our training centre, Elena, Georgia and myself had a ball of a time talking about all sort of funny stories and moments. The epiphany of this magical moment, came when we exploded in laughter, with the way I pronounce Nor-FOLK hotel. Hahaha. (You can try, sounds similar to the way they say the F word there apparently). Our mood was initially really down, due to the cold wet weather, but as our conversation grew within the group, we sat around closer to each other, talking about anything, from family to military to politics. We even started to design profile pictures for each other, LOL.
This moments etched in my heart. Feels like family.

As our night came to an end, we bid each other good night. We all felt the tinge of sadness, that tomorrow will be the last day, and may even be the last time we see each other. We never know, but for this day, I enjoyed those moments with these great and simple ladies of the forest school learning journey.


Coach Darren – The Beginning

The last day of training, was filled with lots of question and answer about how we can prepare our portfolio and book our return assessment for the completion of the course. We were also reassured about the support we will receive from Forest School Education, the instructors and the online materials. Everyone was discussing about the time to head down for the assessment, probably this year end, November or December. But it is a little tough for me, as I have business and travel plan for next year, that would conflict with the assessment trip back to UK, if I were to do it this year.

Alright with Administrative things aside, the emotion felt among the group was real, I wrote a card for everyone, sharing my sincere words to them. Elena, gave me a SOS kit, as a farewell gift, I dont know what to say, cos there is other way to express this feeling except a hug there and then. And I still miss the hug haha. I am so happy to have been able to know them, and have a family here in UK, one that I could call home. The forest home.
The journey back in Singapore and South East Asia, begins. Time to take on all the doubters, and embrace all the believer. This will be my never ending journey to help earth, mother nature, children, community, and our families. One trek at a time, One moment at a time.

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