Our Children’s Mental Health: Little Steps to change our Education

“Good afternoon everyone, welcome back to forest school.”

Another week, another friday afternoon forest school session for our kiddos. Some of them greeted the coaches while others shrugged. 

Forest school session in the afternoon is always different from the morning ones, as the setting sun works a different magic for our body, mind and spirit. The setting sun brings with it a conclusive and consolidative energy that our afternoon mainstream school children bask in. 

But what bewildered us for some time has been the amount of pent-up energy and sometimes frustration that our school-going children carry with them. In particular, the ones who just “knocked off” from the Public Primary Schools. 

We observe more needs to unload, unpackage and decondition for the first half an hour. They go about with higher audio volume (aka shoutings) in communicating with their friends. They also bundle about like a ball of energy physically. 

Decision making and taking ownership are a tough shift in mindset for many of our new kiddos initially as they are so used to instructions and reliance on authorities

But as the session flows on, they simmer down and start to embrace the forest school ways. They know they get to make decisions. Their opinions, preferences and boundaries are respected equally, as much as anyone in the session. 

But here is a big reflection. Why are our primary school-going children showing more repression? They seem to need to unwind more than preschool-going children or homeschool children. Is there something inherently wrong with our public school structures? 

I think we need to reflect deeply on how our education is causing more stress and tension to our young ones. 

Many times I hear from school-going children that they love forest school because they get to experience freedom (we let them do and learn what they want at their own time and pace). Does that mean that generally most children are not having the sense of freedom in all the structural learning that they receive? How about at home? 

Now we are not saying that parents or teachers are not doing enough, I think everyone feels trapped at some point by the structural system. But inherently, our systems disrespect the innate human instinct for freedom and expression. Can we improve it? I think we can. 

Firstly, not everything in school requires permission from authority. Some permission needed to be adhered to by the individuals, not the authority. (Safety of course lies with the care-giving adult) But things like going to the toilet should be an accountability informing process, and not a permission asking one. (Where in the adult world do we ask permission to go to the toilet?) We expect young teenagers to make decisions about their life choices and careers, when basic needs like toilets still require permission. I don’t think we would go far with that. 

Secondly, learners need to spend more time outdoors. Even prisoners have more outdoor time than children nowadays. Now try removing outdoor time from the prison and we will probably see a rebellion in the incarceration facility.  People get driven crazy when cooped-up inside for too long (think the lockdowns of COVID-19, which would exemplify this aspect very well for everyone). Our young ones are evidently repressing all their rebellion amidst this huge pressure to stay indoors. They surface through a disconnection from the world into the virtual “outdoors”. 

All these are absolutely unhealthy, and would surface 20-30 years later as severe disconnection, addictions, abuse or mental health issues.

What we propose here is not to revolutionise the education system and have everyone do forest school. We just want to bring balance to our young ones’ lives. I understand that we have land restriction hence space is a luxury. But I’m sure, we can introduce in small pieces… 

1. Choice
2. Individual Permission
3. Added Outdoor Time

Let’s start with something basic…. 

Maybe start with letting teenagers decide their toilet time… 

Maybe start with doing the bio chapter of science letting children feel the sun while talking about the sun and clouds…

One step at a time, let’s give our children a life that they can choose and be free.

Image credit to Ministry of Education of Singapore. Consolidated opinions from a public forum with Second Minister of Education Dr Maliki Osman by MOE Engagement division.

Written by: Coach Darren
Editted by: Coach Shimin
Forest School Singapore

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