Im an avid lover of the forest school ideology. But to fully comprehend the beauty and impact of forest school. One has to look beyond the tip of the iceberg… and dwell deep into the philosophy and purpose of the form of education.
My experience in the humanitarian and education field taught me that education only serves its true purpose when it helps the people of the land live on their land. In Vietnam, India and the agricultural places around the world, what is math and science to them. It utterly serve no purpose as compared with farming techniques and ability to start fire to keep warm and ward off the animals at night. So for the longest time I’ve been searching for an ideology to fits all environment and humanity. Thats when I bump into Atsuko Yamamoto, she introduced me to the education of forest school. She told me the school begin in Japan largely because of the high pressured school education system over there, people started to go into the woods, and learn from the environment through play and exploration, children engage more in depth with their spiritual self. Their mind became more aware, physically more adaptable. I was amazed at how it worked and the development of the children in this school drew me closer. Up till now, I still have the Japanese Forest Kindergarten manual she gave me. But I dont understand Japanese scripts. Hahaha.
So this kick start my journey to explore and research in depth what forest school is about.
I found out that it begin in the 1950s by an swedish ex-military soldier. He started bringing children to learn from the woodlands. It grew over time into a kindergarten and school. And right now there are so many forest school in the world, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, UK, Japan, Korea, USA, Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Philippines.
I wonder then what makes forest school tick. At first I was lile everyone, thinking that it requires children to be outdoor in the woodlands, and teaching academic subject through the environmental resources etc. Then I start to realise its deeper then that.
I join Atsuko and her family to trek the forest in Singapore, and saw how resilient her children were, even when they fall and mud themselves. The exploratory instinct, and fearless attitude. I was amazed. Even her 3 year old could do it.
I decided in 2016, to take a trip to UK to attend Archimedes Forest School Education Practitioner Level 3 Training, to 1) Certify myself, 2) Really understand further what is forest school.
And in that learning journey, I realise forest school, is basically a ideology that fits all environment no matter how tough or mundane it is. It doesnt even have to be in the forest. We can be at the space below an apartment block, and still do a “forest school”. The link went as far as a school in the war zone.
That is when it striked me.
My dream has always been about going to war zone to save children from the violence and destruction. But my experience in humanitarian work in India, Vietnam made me jaded, and question, these high moral code of education we subscribe to. So what if I save a child from poverty and child slavery, they still revert to it, because thats their environment. So what if I bring a child away from their community of violence, I didnt help them truely.
But in forest school education, there is this beauty of exploration and survival all put together into one. Where this philosophy can transcend all environment, no matter its mundaneness or devastation.
Because in “Forest School” education, 1) Learners lead the curriculum. 2) The environment provides 50% of the curriculum. 3) Learners learnt the necessary knowledge, skills and wisdom to tackle their environment. And in this whole process, they gain a competency that will validate their own self worth on earth. (Go start a fire on your own without any artificial/purchased resource, you will experience that survival competency)
So to put it in the most relatable sense, Forest School is the learning ways we apply and adopt before the idea of education (a governmental and control term was coin).
May be this style is what really makes someone postitive in life. It may be the style that keeps a being saint even when they fail and falter. Because they know they can survive regardless of the environment.
My journey took me to UK, Philippines, Australia, Japan and more to come. I found more connection with nature, the trees and the creatures. I trust them. And they have proven all the time to be protector to those who truely love them.
Maybe mankind needs more insanity from our ivoric tower behaviour to move us closer to our final destination, survival, living and death. This journey we all take.
And right now, is a start for this platform where learners and children can all embark on this path together as a community to be the human that is a part of our environment.
I aim to expand this philosophy across the southern hemisphere in 15 years. I dont know what is the true outcome. But I know i chose to live a life of dreams and aspiration. One man cant change the world, but I can try. =)
Darren Quek (aka Coach Darren)