With the ever-changing rules and restrictions due to Covid-19, the impact on an outdoor nature education program like Forest School in public parks and forest becomes more evident.
To understand the struggles, we need to look at the context that we (Forest School Singapore aka FSS) are set in. FSS sessions are based in the large public Nature Park, that is Dairy Farm Nature Park (situated within the larger Bukit Timah forest region). It happens under the eye of the public, with high visibility. This can be both good and bad, as it undergoes a higher amount of scrutiny during a time of high restrictive measures.
FSS sessions are conducted with respect to Nature and the community (coaches, parents, children and other stakeholders). The importance of engagements and interactions ranks high in the practice of Forest School. Without a community, Forest School would just be another run-of-the-mill enrichment/education program, and not a lifestyle-changing pedagogy that it has the potential to be.
In this article, we like to share with everyone about the struggles that Forest School faces in the context of FSS in Singapore during the trying times of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike many overseas Forest Schools, which are situated in the more secluded woodlands, with lesser scrutiny and more freedom, FSS has had to endure the environmental context that a City in Nature presents. We do adjust and adapt well, but the struggles are not to be taken lightly.
The struggles (3):
- Size and Dynamic
For those in Singapore, we would all know the social gathering sizes that have been put in place (Group Size Limitation) It has made quite a dent in the range of engagements and activities that can possibly be conducted in FSS. With the group size limitation, children have to be organised into smaller group sizes at times. This changes the group dynamics of the session. There is less personality range in a smaller group, causing the social interaction range to be reduced, thus affecting the balance and psyche of the individuals involved in the session.
The group size limitation also puts unnecessary pressure on the coaches when they are on the ground, as they deal with public perceptions about how we function. This can sometimes take away their attention from the awareness of our children’s developments and issues while in the ongoing sessions. However, this is the context we are faced with, and the coaches have been managing it fantastically, while still adhering to the values of Forest School, and this is something we are very proud of.
- Training and Experience Bandwidth of Coaches
Coaches are the key component of an FSS session. Their abilities, personas and states of mind are infused deeply into the delivery of an FSS session. Hence their well-being and growth is one of the key focuses of FSS.
However, due to the mounting restrictions and measures, there are many opportunities that we have previously been blessed with in pre-covid times, that are sadly not available to coaches who join us during the covid times. And they would not be able to experience and develop from these opportunities as a result.
An example will be the opportunity for peer learning (from senior and more experienced coaches to more junior ones). This affects the passing down of the FSS culture and ways, and resulting in reduced chemistry among coaching teams. Although many of the coaches do make extra effort to connect and learn further – which we are heartened by – we do recognise a stark difference in the covid batches and the pre-covid batches of coaches in their sense of awareness and comfortability of the FSS ways. This has to do more with the ever-changing restrictions rather than the coaches’ own individual bandwidth. It is only natural that when one’s eyes are kept on ensuring the measures are adhered to, that one’s own self-awareness takes a back seat.
- Parent Connection and Relationships
In pre-covid times, FSS would hold many Family weeks (where FS weekly families will come along with their children in a session). Parents have the chance to better understand the FSS ways through observing the children, where the kids are now the ones leading them in the session. We also become more connected as coaches and parents are able to have more conversation in the 3 hour session, versus the usual short 15 minutes before and after each session.
We would also have get-togethers outside of the 3-hour weekly FSS sessions. Ranging from BBQ to overnights to simple picnics and dine-outs. These give coaches, parents and children opportunities for deeper relationships to be formed. These deep relationships support the development and initiatives that protect and connect us with Nature and our little ones.
Families who join us pre-covid would fully understand this phenomenon. Many of them miss the deep connection we would usually have through our many conversations and engagement in and outside of FSS sessions.
We share the struggles of how we are balancing the covid-19 measures, not to gather sympathy, but to allow greater awareness amongst our communities, with understanding of the inner workings of a Forest School in real times. It is not rainbows and unicorns all the time, but we do grow a lot from it, and become better, more balanced individual and communities together.
We are very proud of our FSS children for their resilience, awareness and willingness to adapt so quickly to the ever-changing situations. We know many of them miss the experience and freedom of Forest School during these restricted times. Many times, they will surprise us with their wisdom, knowledge and behaviours in such trying times, showing so much more empathy than we could.
We are also proud of our FSS parents, for their unnerving support during the tough situations and imperfection of all the coordination that happens due to the change in dynamics from the heightened measures. They showed up, and proved to be the foundation of FSS, for they believe in the ways as much as we do.
Lastly, we are proud of our coaches and the FSS team. The many late nights of planning contingencies, figuring out how to better conduct the session, ensuring covid-19 safety while also addressing the multitude of challenges that come with the struggles in the local context. The coaches showed up, and delivered their session professionally with sincerity and grit. Their passion for FSS ways and the community welfare knows no bounds. It takes a lot to be where and who they are.
As the motto goes, It takes a Village to Raise a Child, and we as a community will ride the storm for our little ones and Nature, all together.