Forest School Training @ UK (Part 2)

In December 2016, Coach Darren sent our chief coach and founder Darren Quek himself (Yes, he sent himself in other words), to United Kingdom to complete the Forest School Training with Archimedes Forest School Education Practitioner Level 3 at Sheffield.

In the second part of the Forest School Journey series, we look at the forest school way that was imparted during the Training in Sheffield, and how the thoughts and learning were realised.

Forest School Training Assessment was held from the 12-15 December 2016. I came to the training centre along with 2 of my classmates from the April 2016 batch, Elena and Dee. It felt home once again for me. Everyone else there, had completed their 6 baseline lesson. It gives all of us a real understanding of what forest school mean to our children.

The assessment was conducted by Simon, one of the few instructor in Archimedes. He was a fun and engaging instructor, who never fails to add in a few of his banter and joke among the lessons and assessment. We started off the training revising and learning about some of the theories and method we practice in forest school.

In Forest School, we impart to our children to notion of choice. That they have a choice in their life to respond to the events in their life. No one can truely force them to do something they do not wish to. One of the method taught was on how to move on to another activity without breaking a child’s engagement in his/her own play. When a child is immersed in a certain form of play (say drawing on the sand), and we may need to move on to the next activity (say tying ropes). We can tell the child, “I see that you are enjoying yourself with the sand drawing, we will move on to tying ropes over there, you can join us when you are done and ready”. The child will be given the choice, not dictated into participating based on our adult agenda, but on their own immersive play and willingness.

Throughout the first two days, there was alot of emphasis on the silent presence, a term coined for one of the most powerful form of education in the forest school way. In silent presence, we give the child a space where no commentary or adult induced participation are present. As the educator, we step back and let the child explore and immerse. We only step in when a child request for assistance. But even then, we have to be able to recognise the difference between a hurdle or a help. In hurdles, we may suggest or pose question to the child to lead them to their own destination of choice. In help, we demostrate to them the way of execution, and give them back the space to try it themselves. It all depends on our sense of which does the child needs.

In the moment where silent presence exist, children would be in their most deepest form of learning while they are playing, they will be in the zone. It is a level of experience, that puts the physical, cognitive and spiritual component of the moment into an intuition that will be seeded into the child’s subconscious, and stay as a deep rooted knowledge or memory that they will never forget. (An explanation from my own experience of it).

In my view, the silent presence places a significant role in the education and growth of a child much greater than what external knowledge and teaching can bring. But only the child/person can lead himself to that state of deep level learning. We as practitioner just have more sensitivity to that state. Silent presence will help give more space for the state to surface. And that is what we do in forest school.

In addition to the sharings and theories, we did alot of outdoor tool practices and indoor paperwork preparation, which are crucial “homework” to be done, to fully prepare for the forest school in an urban society like ours. They also give a solid foundation and confidence for the forest school session to be run without worrying about some of the nigly little pit falls in operation.

All in all, the first two days was very much well spent in learning how to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for the running of forest school session.

ASSESSMENT DAY !!! After months of preparation and practices, it is time for assessment at the forest school training assessment @ Archimedes FSE for Forest School Level 3 Practitioner. It was nerve wrecking initially, but the background homework done in Singapore over the past 10 months gave me a good sense of how to go about the assessment in terms of the planning and execution. Especially on the key points that we need to focus on… Safety… Patience… Presence.

Day 3 of the course was practical assessment on the forest school skills and safety protocol. We had to do a list of activities safety and show conscious competency. I will let the picture tell the story for our practical skills assessment.

At the end of it all, we came together around the fire, and shared our deepest gratitude and thoughts about the experience of the practical assessment. All of us felt this sense of assurance about our competency to carry out a forest school session safely and with the presence of mind to observe and explore. We had a great time playing and taking the “test”.

At the end of Day 3, the group of us who were staying in the log cabin at the site, decided to go for a dinner and a few pint together in a nearby town bar. It was my first experience of the authentic British pub night. We had plenty of good laugh and banters at each other and about our experiences in school and overseas. I got to experience Quiz night challenge, where by the pub organises a quiz-bingo competition, and the winner gets a prize from the pub. It was really fun, for me that is. The folks in the pub were mostly elderly, they really enjoy their pub quiz. On that very night, the moon was up high and bright, shining over the quiet land, with chilling breeze gushing over our face. We head back to our stay after a fantastic session of letting down our hair together.

Day 4, was the assessment for theory and conducting of session. We had four group of three attending the course for the week. So we took turns to conduct a 1 hour forest school session for adults. Though we all planned our session separately, but somehow the scheduled timing for everyone, laid the sessions in a beautiful flow from Energetic to Consolidating to Reflective. It was magical. Myself, Dee and Elena did the last session, and we put together a session on reflecting on our childhood memories of play. It was really beautiful to see the different play moments of our life playing a part to how we behave and believe in the journey of our life. It really show the importance of play in everyone’s life. They show how character and intelligence are formed. Once more pictures speak a thousand words here.

During the 4-days training, we explored many of the paper work skills and experience we had over the past few months. Those hours and late nights working on dry safety assessments, operational checklists and the dreaded protocols and handbook all came to light. We agreed that a true forest school session doesn’t really require a pre-plan of curriculum but the pre-operations are crucial to enable us to run a session safely and with full intention of giving that space for exploration and realisation through children’s deep level learning and play. Here are some of the “dry” and crucial paper work.

At the end of the assessment, we bid goodbye to each other, but know that we will meet again one day in future. It was bitter sweet this time, as Elena offered to let me stay at her place for the remaining days in UK. And that means I will be visiting her school during their forest school session. (Hand rubs, hehe) I was exhilarated. And once more, I left the Sheffield Training Centre one last time, to embark on the forest school journey in Singapore full fledge.

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