“In one situation, an 8 year old autistic boy was trekking on a nature trail. He picked up the stones and rocks lying on the ground, and tried to put them into his bag. He was adamant about putting all the rocks in (He loves rocks). The common action taken by facilitators or adults will be to tell him to put the rocks away, or for a slightly better approach, tell him that it will be difficult to put all of them in.
But applying the Forest School approach, our teacher stood there with him for 20 minutes, while the boy continued to explore different variations of ways to put the rocks into the bag. At the end of it all, he realized the weight of the rock, understood the shapes and size couldn’t fit into the bag, and considering that he has to carry what he wants, the young boy decided not to carry the rocks, and left all of them aside.
Now had we not allowed him to explore, he won’t understand the weight, shapes and size of the rocks. He would not be making his own decision, even though he could. Sometimes it is more about the time we give children to explore their own learning in the program.
In another situation, a group of children were playing with sticks while taking a short walk along a green corridor, they were having “sword playing”, the parents at the side were concerned. They wanted to step in, but the adult interventions were held back.
The teacher went forward to ask the boys if they intended to hurt their friends during the swordplay, all of them shook their heads and said “No”. They just wanted to play with the stick like a sword.
After that they comprehended our concern, and took initiative to be more careful with their play. The common approach was to stop them from playing because it is dangerous, but the Forest School way will empower the learners to acknowledge the risk, and manage it by their own behavior and action.”
What is Presence?
Presence is “a person or thing that exists or is present in a place but is not seen“. Defined as per dictionary. The key here is “present but not seen”.
One of the toughest thing to do in forest school as a coach/leader initially, was to learn how to be there but not seen. Every time an occasion arises that I feel like a risk is heading towards becoming dangerous, my heart will race, my muscle tenses up. Doubts and imagination starts to run in my mind. Standing there, “hands behind, lips sealed”, I took a deep breathe, and laid my faith in our forest kiddos, and do my best to let nature take its course. (Even writing this makes my heart pounds faster, LOL) I believe all the adults who have been to forest school session would agree with these reactions.
We feel a strong need to step in to break up an argument, or instruct our children what to do, or simply pull/carry them away from the slippery slopes. All these are what instinct and fear taught us innately. And that is where we explore what presence truly means.
A forest school mentor, once shared with me, when my child is 18, we will then see what forest school has given them. They will take those values and realisation into their life, even when we are not there anymore. Her No.1 and No.2 used to be in Japanese Forest Kindergarten.
A brave mum once shared with me, the only relationship in the world where we are building towards separation for the younger party to be independent and happy, is that of a parent-child relationship. All other relationships are building towards staying together as long as possible. She lost her child when he was 12 over a fever-fit.
Both ladies love their children, their love is no lesser than everyone of us. They braved tough internal struggles through their parenthood. Both of them showed me something more powerful than fear and worry. They showed me love.
When love is in full display, we can overcome the fear we have about losing or having our child hurt, because we know the connection from our love goes beyond the physical body or mental barriers. When love is in full display, we can let go of wanting to have our children with us all the time, and trust that they will find their way. When love is in full display, we will overcome the judgement we have about ourselves, about how good a parent/teacher we are to our children. When love is in full display, we can be in presence. Cos love is always present.
What exactly is presence? Well that will be defined by you and your love. It can be a nagging mum whose love shows through her quiet understanding but naggy exterior. It can be a dad who stands back quietly and calmly, when the child attempts a climb, and trusts his child to do it. It can be a teacher, giving his hand to be punched by an emotional and aggressive child, because that’s the expression he knows now only. It can be an uncle, encouraging a child walking on the trail, with a nod and a smile. What defines presence to you?
(P.S. I speak of this with tears in my eyes, because this is probably one the toughest changes in any teacher/parent life, to let go and let love through. It is one of the most beautiful and toughest journeys of my life. It feels like a ride through hell and heaven, to realise the faith I have in me and everything around. But the smile and resilience in our children’s muddy faces is well worth it.)