Jian Xi: The Skeptic

Before joining as an intern, I was quite skeptical about the effects of free play on the growth of the children that was described on the website of Forest School Singapore (FSS). Perhaps due to my cynical nature, the benefits seemed too good to be true. Self-confidence, resilience, empathy, can a little bit of play really help so much in childhood development? There are other kids that play at playgrounds and other locations all the time, surely playing in the forest would not have made that much of a difference, right? What I came to understand gradually is that while the locations also facilitate development, the style and atmosphere that comes with it also matter. The  “lessons”  in FSS have no structure and are entirely child led. When confronted with decision making, consequences and affirmation of their choice, the children get to “own” their play experience. This is where the freedom for growth truly takes place. 

In the short 1 month of my internship, I have worked on different programmes offered by FSS. The 1-day camps, the 3-day camps and both junior and senior weekly classes.  Based on my 3-day camp experiences, children tend to become more open, confident, and expressive at the end of the camp. Compared to their first day counterparts, they dare to try out different things and have an increased willingness to try out tasks outside their comfort zones. This growth and shift in mindset are quite amazing to witness, it is almost like seeing a flower bloom.  It’s also quite heartening to see them extend a helping hand for those more hesitant. To be able to witness the moment where they build up confidence by overcoming trials that they believed they couldn’t conquer is quite empowering. This growth, however, is not as prominent in kids that attend the 1-day camps, which highlights the need for continual interaction with nature for sustained and noticeable growth.

Imagine this growth and development compounded weekly. That’s what you can observe from the children of the weekly classes. Across both age groups, children of the weekly sessions are relatively in tune with the rhythm of nature and quite comfortable with play. They have a certain level of confidence and freely express their feelings. They are relatively self-aware for their age and will sound off when they feel that their personal boundaries are not met. I am sure that with the lessons and growth that they take away from the forest, these children will grow up to become more in touch with themselves, and of their surroundings.

I think I learnt a fair bit about myself as well, from the children and from the various coaches that I worked with. The spirit of play is an important thing that should never be taken away, even when you grow older. 

Written by: Jian Xi (2021)
NUS Bachelor of Environmental Science

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