Forest School in Singapore: The Connection & The Land

Singapore lands itself close to the equator, where our weather breathes warm humid air put together with a scorching heat that gives anyone who comes from a dry and cold country, a stuffy feel upon arrival at Changi Airport. Our motherland, also peppers buckets of rain and thunderstorm at times. These combination of elements give the organism an optimal environment for growth and reproduction.

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After 4 months of full forest school experience in the forest school campus area (Bukit Timah Nature Reserve & Rifle Range’s Kampong Trail), the observation and findings we realise from the woods, goes beyond the book and encyclopedia. It tells a story of what our forest truely is. Much like the adaptability of the people living in Singapore, the forest organisms in Singapore are strong and adaptable. Leave an urban space in Singapore untouch for a few years, and our dear plants and animals will take over very quickly. The story of Kampong Chantek of the Rifle Range Road is one that intrigues many people who visits there, not realising the hidden gem they have sat foot on.

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In forest school, we do walks in the forest, with our environment as our teacher every single day. We observe the plants and creature, and their way of life. We learn to live together in the natural rhythm of life, together with our friends. At times we will explore off-trail, but we also notice the way plants recover from the space we open up. The ferns and grasses cover back within one week of our absence on the land. The animals will come by to greet us at times, we see wild boars, snake, spiders, butterfly, grasshopper, tortise, crab, fishes, pond skater and monkeys. The predators are usually shy, but some of the insects and smaller creature are much bolder and would play with us. Those beautiful interaction and space is not one we can have if the connection and trust are not present. Children are pure, they have the most connection.

Nature teaches us the lesson we need. Animals in Singapore Forest comes down from the trees during the afternoon. The monkeys would be on the forest ground sitting on logs and chilling. Spiders come off their webs. Birds sing lesser. In a hot weather like Singapore, the afternoon heat and energy is overwhelming and drowzy to all organisms. Even at work, we all know how hard it is to work in the afternoon. Nature agrees with our body, not necessary with all our current way of life. And they do try to help, its up to us to feel and understand. The way the monkey rotates from land to land, seasonally, also teaches us to rotate our walks and school location in the woods, to let the land rest. But children knows, they move when they feel “bored”.

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In some of our sessions, some of our children would hit the tree or pluck the leaves. Before jumping into stop them, we ask our kiddos why they do it. Some of them said it was fun, some of them wanted to trim the plants. None of them spoke of hurting or destroying the creatures and their home. I could speak for the trees and plants, and they agree. When children cut or pluck leaves, they never intend to uproot the plant or take its lives away. Our dear plants will actually grow back thicker and stronger, after the trim, much like our hair on our body. When they hit the tree and branches, it is like a massage to the trees most of the time. If the trees do not like it, children will know. They really do. The sincere interaction between plant and children is one that sometimes goes beyond our human understanding.

Facing death happens at our session on days as well, children will at times meet with a fallen tree or a dead lizard on the trail. The immense connection inside them to understand that the organisms last breathe is done, brings a deep learning moment for all of us. That the fleeting steps of life is ever presence, but so is our moments living together. Our presence counts.

One of our forest kiddo would destroy some plants and insect, instinctively. His nature is one of destructive, but yet there is a peace in his spirit. He knows what he is doing. The interesting moments are when insects actually gravitate to him, almost seeking the end at times. Plants which he uproot, would grow back on the spot he threw them in. We wonder, is it destruction or re-birth he is truely connected. We wouldn’t know, but he does. That we trust.

Amongst the connection and deep-learning we experience in forest school, the most important element that we hope will continue on in all our children and families lives, is that they can always be themselves, that they always have a choice in life.

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