Interview with a Local Forest School (Singapore Ver.2022)

These are some of the honest answers and responses from the representative of Forest School Singapore, while addressing a bunch of questions from a media engagement previously. These information are not shared in the content of the news engagement previously. You are Welcome 😉

What is forest school? Why is it so popular in Europe?

Forest School is a pedagogy that entails Education, Lifestyle and an Authentic connection with the environment and ourselves. It’s origin stems from Sweden and Denmark with their outdoor culture and lifestyle, pegged with an intrinsic rhythm of letting children lead their own learning and interest. 

It is popular in Europe, probably due to the fact that some of the countries have the culture and lifestyle to pair with it. It is probably also due to the evolution of society away from the industrialized ways of living and learning. 

What do you think are some of the main benefits of such classes?

The benefits of Forest School stretches beyond our imagination. I would say in what I experience, there are probably three key aspects that we observe. Firstly, children are empowered to make their own decision for practically everything in the session, from where to go, what to do, when to do, how to do and why they want to do it. The only thing that adults are heavily responsible for is safety in terms of accidents that may cause hospitalization. Sometimes, kids manage their own safety in terms of how much risk they want to take in climbs and all, they experience the very commodity of the modern world, FREEDOM. Secondly, forest school provides a safe space for vulnerability and connection, that means children, parents and the other adults in the community, get to share their stories and not be judged. We learn from Nature, she doesn’t judge, so we try to pay attention to that too. Lastly, children who attend Forest School are healthier. They spend so much time outdoors, rain or shine, their body builds an immunity and resilience to the elements. Parents also share with us how they sleep, eat and behave in much more balanced ways, after Forest School.

‘I feel I’ve come home’, can forest schools help heal refugee children?

How often should children have such classes?

Children should probably have these classes almost everyday, I always remember what an educator once said, even people in prison get one-hour of outdoor time a day. What about our children? And we expect our children to behave and be mentally healthy after putting them through the industrialized lifestyle. Try removing the one-hour outdoor time in prison, I doubt the wardens will have time for a rest.

Our Children’s Mental Health: Little Steps that will Change Education

And how old should they have these classes until? 

In an ideal setting, I would say until the child, he/herself calls time on their journey in Forest School. However, in most settings, up till the age of 7 would be ideal, as the foundational years of a human being are largely built between 0-7. In the indigenous people and community that I visited and learnt from in the past years, many of them practice the “Forest School” ways of education and growth for thousands of years. Their children only formalize into a craft or work after 12. Before that, they play and learn through “Forest School” ways most of the time. They say, that’s when a young one initializes into their society. 

Nagayoshika in Session, a Japanese Forest Kindergarten (2019)

How can it be adapted to Singapore? What are some of the features exclusive to Singapore that are not seen in the US or Europe?

I think we have kind of adapted it to Singapore, in the past 5 years. It really takes listening to the land and the people of the community, keeping an open mind to how and when to evolve as a community. It’s kind of like practicing the Forest School ways in the growth of the school / business / organization / community. (E.g. We have to take into consideration the pressure all our children will face with regards to the compliance testing PSLE, while doing our session, paying attention to their nuances). Of course the most prominent adaptation will be our Hot and Humid weather (Very unique to the tropical FS). In temperate countries they can take afternoon naps outdoors as a group. If we do it in Singapore, we will be feeding mosquitoes, and be baking ourselves. Even the animals take shade in the hot weather of Singapore during the mid-day. (Yes, we learn from our local Forest “residences” on how to better our Forest School). There are some exclusive features, like our weather as I mentioned above. We also have very accessible wilderness, which many of the countries I visit do not have. Our Nature Reserve is just 10min walk from the MRT. In other countries, wilderness will require most folks to travel at least an hour, unless their homes are situated in the woodlands and parks.

Forest School in Singapore: The connection & The land
Circle, Arrow & the Flowing Water

There aren’t lots of nature in Singapore – is deciding on a forest school site a challenge?

Hahaha. There is alot of Nature actually. We have more flora and fauna in Singapore than the whole of North America combined. Most people wouldn’t know about our Nature, because we were not exposed to it as much. Excursions and Holidays are spent in the Zoo or Universal Studios. Enrichment Camps are usually in the Shopping Malls. You get my point =)

Anyway, in my experience and recce of the various Greens in Singapore, there are at least 44 locations in Singapore that Forest School can happen. And if we understand fully how Forest School adapts to the land and the people, it can also happen in the HDB estates. (Considering that a version of Forest School is happening at Tak Takut Kids Club in the Boon Lay rental flat area. There is also a Cave School in Iraq, where bombing happens, and the education goes underground instead.)

How about cultural differences? What are some challenges schools in Singapore face

Culturally, we have a more academic focus in Singapore, hence in the beginning when we first started, there was a lot of explanation to do, to help people understand how a program with no clear itinerary and curriculum can work. (It was a 6-month article pumping, communication intense period) But actually to my surprise my fellowship in UK, Japan and other CIty centric communities, they share similar experiences. In a way, it is more a cultural difference of the city VS village folks, that is the element at play.

Little Sharing by Forest School Mentor: The Japanese Forest Kindergarten
Forest School Visit: UK, Manchester

What are some challenges schools in Singapore face?

I think the major challenges in Singapore for any fully outdoor Forest School, will be the restrictive legislation that we have to manage the greens in Singapore. Not the fault of the people in charge of the enforcement, but more of the rigid mindset that Singaporeans have about rules and regulation. We had many run-ins with NPARKS, but over the past few years, we have built quite an amicable relationship, where we respect and value each other’s contribution. 

2017 in Review: Against all Odds
Rifle Range Forest Natural Heritage ConServation Initiative
Defending National Parks Board: Different Approaches to a common goal

Will climate change become a challenge in the future? 

Climate change will definitely pose challenges for us. The increase in temperature causing extreme heat will affect us heavily in terms of being outdoors. Though thankfully we have the shade and respite of the trees in the woods. The increase in developments due to population growth, will also affect the health of the Forest and Greens that we have, hence affecting the area that we can venture in. (E.g. Recent Landslides and Erosion, due to heavy rainfall, nearby road construction and the MRT nearby. The vibration and excessive wetness do have a huge effect on the soil structure)

Educating for a Climate-Crisis World

Will forest school become dangerous in the future when pollution in Singapore worsens?

I will say, Forest School will probably be the safer option of Education as pollution and climate change strikes us as a society. With all the COVID-19 and Climate Change going on, Forest School is growing exponentially everywhere in the World. People are realizing the multitude of benefits that being in a Forest School community has. You name it, we have it; Physical Health, Mental Health, Balance Lifestyle, Environmental Awareness, Independence & Interdependence, Connection, Spirituality. To top it up, you can ask all the practitioners of Forest School out there, they will tell you that the Forest is way safer than the urban environment we have. Not because we won’t have the risks, but because the community is more aware and ready to face challenges. Also I still remember when we had the haze season in Singapore once, and we didn’t smell or see the thick gray smoke around, when we were deep in the Forest. I sincerely believe that the Forest and Greens are our natural filter and solutions to many climate issues. We are an interesting generation of Humans, we buy air purifiers not realizing the greatest one (the trees) live just beside us. 

A view of Haze, by Forest School Leader

What do you think is the future of forest school in Singapore and Asia? 

I think Forest School has spread across Singapore rapidly over the past year of COVID-19, it went from 9 Forest School-ish programs and initiatives to 24+. In Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Forest School is already quite a trend. And from my knowledge interacting with many of the fellow practitioners, it is due to the high pressure of schooling and city living, that many families and teachers turn to Forest School. Forest School is the relieving solution to the pressure cooker society that the Asian Tigers are foundationally built on. Singapore, being one of them, will gradually lead towards Forest School ways being practiced across many more establishments. In the 5 years that I have been working at Forest School in Singapore, I’ve seen FS being set up in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, as well. They are particularly popular with the City folks. I guess we all know why. 

Dimensional Training in Forest School @ Kuala Lumpur, Gombak Forest
Forest School Visit: Japan, Kamakura

Forest School, when done well, will cease to exist one day, for it is already part of the lifestyle of the community. And I hope that’s what all of us are working towards at the end of the day…

Our goal is for Forest School to be obsolete

Content Produced by: Forest School Singapore

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