Is a Certification Necessary to do Forest School?

Certification is the item we turn to when we do not know the ability and character of a person. The paper document is proof of the effort and commitment that an individual has put in to achieve the evidence that they have a standard in that particular field. However, the context is that we do not know this person, and have never seen them in action before. So if we have the certainty of the context, is certification necessary anymore? Let us bring you through the journey of realisation, on whether you should get yourself certified as a Forest School Practitioner. There is no right or wrong in your decision. You choose your path. 

A picture of the Japanese Forest Kindergarten Book

In the arena of Forest School or Forest Kindergarten as some cultures would coin it, there are a variety of philosophies and ways, they are usually rooted in the land and culture. A forest school in a more structured culture will turn up with more structural delivery and understanding. One that bears fruits in a larger environment with huge space, will appear more free-spirited. The land and the community dictates the forest school ways to fit their needs. In Forest School Singapore, our approach is based on 3-led. Child-led, Nature-led & Context-led

In child-led, the participant decides how they want their session to be like. In Nature-led, we rely on the environment to provide the curriculum and modules of learning organically, day by day. We trust that Nature knows best. What we learn from Nature is what we need to exist on this earth in balance. In context-led, we flow with the events and culture of the land, and allow ourselves to adjust, adapt and learn from these events and traditions. All these are the pillars of Forest School Singapore. It is not the absolute truth of the forest school ways. It may even evolve as the context of the world, or if the Natural environment changes. 

So now begs the question, SHOULD YOU GET A FOREST SCHOOL CERTIFICATION in order to do Forest School? For that, we need to explore what a Forest School Certification means and what it is

In the current world, Forest School is practiced around the world in unique pockets of the society. The only English-medium forest school certification bodies are in the UK, US and Canada. I do not have the language ability to find out if the other non-english speaking native tongue countries have English-medium certification, but I’m pretty sure most of them have some sort of training and recognition body, just that the whole program will be done in their native-tongue (something I personally support and respect). 

My Forest School Practitioner certification is done in the UK, Sheffield, under Forest School Education (FSE), Archimedes. In the UK, the awarding body is the Open Award. It is the organisation in charge of quality checking and approving the training and assessment process. A Forest School certification in the UK, is split into 4 levels

Forest School Practitioner Level 1, is for volunteers and parents who wish to learn more about forest school, at a touch-base level. The training program is light, which is usually done wholly online now. 

Forest School Practitioner Level 2, is for teaching assistants and teachers who wish to learn how to do forest school. It is quite light as well, except with practical skills and some layers of child development understanding. 

Forest School Practitioner Level 3, is for leaders and teachers who wish to run their own Forest School programs. It is heavier with emphasis on the organisational and managing aspect of running a Forest School program. (Elements of L1 and L2 are embedded with L3) 

Forest School Practitioner Level 4, is for trainers who wish to be in position to train other Practitioners. Level 4 individuals can certify and assess others. However, in order to undergo Level 4 training it is heard that one has to be practicing forest school for 2-years at L3. 

From my previous understanding, you can choose to take L1, L2 or L3, without progressing linearly. I selected to take L3 straight away, in 2016. 

The content in the L3 practitioner training consisted of Environment Understanding, Children Development Understanding, Practical Skills Competency, Delivering Actual Session with Deep Reflection & Setting Up Protocols and Management Structures to run your own School. 

The first stage of the training consists of attending a 5-day in-person workshop, followed by a one year preparation of a 60 questions portfolio that we have to submit within a year, followed by another 5-day in-person assessment workshop to qualify one to be a FS Practitioner Level 3. The training program cost SGD$1600, about there. If you include my flights, accommodation and all, it totalled up to about SGD$6,000 for me. 

You can read these articles on my experience in undergoing the FS L3 training. 

I certainly agree that anyone who is certified Forest School Practitioner Level 3, has put in quite a fair bit of effort and commitment into the training and learning. He/She definitely possesses a very basic skill level with regards to fire starting, safe usage of tools and some element of knot tying. But I certainly do not think that a person who is certified understands the forest school way fully. I know I did not, until I practiced and evolved with my learning. I feel that the practice and learning from the community, children and land plays a bigger role in understanding Forest School ways

So why then did I get the certificate? Well, contextually I live in Singapore, where certificate is a thing to recognise another individual’s ability and commitment, because we live in a city where we have more walls than bridges. And I will be starting Forest School in Singapore, where none existed before us. So it was quite a mountain to climb. I recognise that the certificate will support our position in pioneering the movement. I also love the notion of Nature as the main source of learning, and hey who doesn’t want to go overseas to learn and experience a different environment and community. I still hold dear my UK forest school training family. Definitely not a wasted experience for me. 

Are there people who practice forest school without the cert? Yes. Usually either they don’t believe in the structure of the certification (which can be quite rigid), or they do not have the financial resource yet to embark on that journey. But this doesn’t make their program lesser. Sometimes it can be more beneficial, because the leader/teacher will actually be paying attention to details and evolving appropriately to the context, then leaning on protocols and rules. 

The Forest School session actually has more meaning to the community than had it been structurally delivered, with modality and strict standards. Isn’t that why we chose to do Forest School, to balance away from the urban structures that have ushered us towards the Forest School ways. You can check out The Beach School in Port Dickson, Malaysia. The founder Kent Leong and his wife Yu Ling are amazing. Their mindset and believes absolutely exemplify the forest school ways. They live and breathe the spirit of Forest School truly in the context of their land. 

One of the interpretation of the work we do with Nature & Education, What is your take?

In my personal conclusion, I think the certification is good for basic forest school understanding. If you wish to start your own, the organisation and preparation of a forest school will be better supported with the learning from the FS L3 training. 

In Forest School Singapore, we came up with our own Singapore-contexted training, but it is not a certification, it is a learning for growth and development of an adult individual to understand the forest school ways, to practice in their work, their family and life. We choose to do this not to undervalue the work of the certification, but to enhance the movement of forest school across the region of Asia. We know many children and families need this space, and we can’t do it alone by ourselves, we need more individuals and community to come onboard to grow the movement beyond. 

The ball is in your court. At your own time and pace ponder upon the question to yourself… “SHOULD I GET CERTIFIED FOREST SCHOOL?”

Written by:
🧙🏻‍♂️ Coach Darren
🌳 Forest School Singapore

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