Raising Emotional Awareness – Forest School by Darren

” There has ever been a session where the entire session was spent right at this carpark. The children did not make it out of here.” – Darren

“What? 2 hours just discussing what to do? How did this affect them?” – Me

“They learnt about negotiation. They learnt about give and take. It was so painful for them, and they learnt quickly, so the sessions that followed after that were much speedier, as they did not want to struggle again”. – Darren

This was my first time hearing about a Child-Led activity through Forest School Singapore’s Darren Quek.

“Have we decided where to go?”  – Coach asked

“To the Playground! …No! I don’t want to go to the playground!”- One child disagreed. After much banter an compromise, the group decided on one direction.

Enroute to the playground,  just about 5 minutes into the walk. Lay some concrete sacks stacked onto wooden palettes. Likely building material for future development in the park. The children naturally ventured in. They started picking up small pebbles and rocks and play-fighting with them. Using branches they did sword fighting. A brave kid tried to scale the mountain of sacks, which was taller than he was.

This was Children’s imagination in its natural form – unhinged and free. Organic and dynamic.

Darren, a humble, young and when speaking, seemingly rough on the edges shared why he wanted to start Forest School. Coming from an Early childhood background, he felt that outdoor education was lacking. He then enrolled himself into Forest School training and trained in Japan under a sinseh, who taught him more than the Forest School Pedagogy.

Darren had struggled running the business. He had experienced a steep growth once, and in his blog post “Becoming small” he talks about how, at the peak of growth he gained wisdom and took a bold move not to let growth for the sake of growth take over.

“We saw the amount of strain on the team and the environment had Forest School expanded so haphazardly, following the same business economic model that have driven our world into the unequal and selfish state that we are, on a corporate level. The decision was made to keep Forest School Singapore small and mobile, without any further full-time staff. “

Darren shared that it is important to be accountable to one’s direction. We spoke about the social enterprise community. He mentioned to respect whichever decision one should make – if one chooses to go commercial as Edible Gardens had done, it is absolutely fine. Sitting on the fence and holding on to a fantasy whilst reality bites on the other hand isn’t going to work out.

As I draw to the end of the session, they end off with a get together. Coach asks

“What did you like about today?”

Some kids gave answers which could not be rationalised, like ‘blah blah’, I thought was interesting that they were not pressured to answer what they did not want to.

Others, shared more heartfelt moment, like how they loved the session and did not want it to end. The coaches chipped in, and used the opportune moment to explain how certain previous actions could have been unkind to their friends, using them as teachable lessons.

A Excerpt from The Forest School blog summarizes my experience with the School.

“In Forest School, we let the children voice their displeasure directly to each other, as kids are naturally impulsive and they should not suppress their emotions. Usually, when they are given the space to communicate to one another in their own way, they start to recognise that the context of their emotions are sometimes unwarranted, or that things are not always black and white and they learn to see things from their friends’ point of view instead. “

First and foremost, I would like to thank Darren for taking time off on a Sunday morning to bring me along, and to have patiently and thoughtfully share with me his journey of setting up, running Forest School. I would no doubt highly recommend any child to attend Forest School for all the benefits it brings to a child’s awareness and development!


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