The wild world isn’t on our doorsteps anymore, and I’m not talking about the local manicured park which inspires path-walking and ‘look but don’t touch’. If we want our children to have nature in their childhoods, these days we have to go out and find it and grab hold of it and make it our own. Richard Louv, author of ‘Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder’ said “Nature was still out there. There was less of it, to be sure, but it was there just the same.”
So how can you help your child to thrive in nature, connect them with the natural world, ignite a sense of wonder at nature’s brilliance and an appreciation of its relevance and value to their lives?
This is where Forest School is invaluable for parents who would like their children to be comfortable within the natural world. Forest school provides fun, outdoor and learner-led experiences, and the opportunity for adventure and challenge and for the learner to expand their comfort zones. The Forest School approach excels at holistic development whilst reaping the multitude of benefits of being outdoors. The spirit of the Forest School approach can also be implemented by parents, or any carer, regularly taking kids outdoors into a natural environment. Here’s how to do it:
Create a home from home when you go into nature
These days there are many portable options for your creature comforts, from blow up pillows, and water proof picnic mats to USB fans, just go take a look in Decathalon. Take these things with you and be comfortable.
Meet basic needs first
The body needs to be protected from biting insects so wear long sleeves, long trousers and tuck trousers into socks. Nothing spoils a child’s outdoor experience better than standing on an ant trail as they going running and biting up a leg. Wear dark clothes which are meant to get dirty, take a spare set and expect your child to get messy and muddy (and you too). Plan for wet weather and don’t forget snacks and your flask of tea or coffee or whatever you need for you, always pack something for yourself.
Create a sense of belonging
Read stories at home about nature, especially children at home in nature (Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh spring to mind). Share your own stories of playing freely outdoors in the forest. Go with friends if you can who share the same goal to bring out the wild child in their city children. This will help to make it a social occasion where the children’s ideas about play with nature can spark off of each other. Children already comfortable in nature can show wary kids that it's OK.
Set the boundaries
When you arrive have a look at the map and be prepared to find a spot and sit a while. At Forest School we find a spot to stay put for two hours every session. Great places to stop might have accessible water to get immersed into, trees for shade, logs to balance along, a hill to roll down, and boulders to jump from. Avoid ant nests and traditional playgrounds, nature is the playground here. Discuss the options with your children and let them decide on the space to stop for a while. Have a walk together around the space available for play, check for hazards, know the risks and then relax.
“Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life.”
- Charlotte Mason, 1891
Once you’re all set up and ready to go think about the natural space you’re in and the holistic development opportunities it provides: Social, Physical, Intellectual, Communication, Emotional and Spiritual. Simple things you can do include creating a nature picture out of treasure hunted items, play a game of hide and seek and lie down and rest for a few minutes whilst listening to the sounds of the forest. You can take along story books about nature to read together, fruit for your snack such as rose apple, star fruit, jackfruit, durian, rambutan, mangosteen – all from trees found in Singapore - and you can download the Picture This App to identify interesting things that you find. You can check out trees.sg to search for stand-out tree species in your location such as Saga for it beautiful red beads, Kapok for its soft cotton, and Pong Pong for its floating pods which make excellent boats (but remember to return anything that you find to the forest). For more inspiration check out what we do at Forest School at www.instagram.com/wildlings_singapore. Always let your children choose the activities that they would like to do but be enthusiastic and they may feed off your enthusiasm.
Most importantly you’ll need to find your own inner wild child if you want your children to find theirs, and to benefit from the resilience that being comfortable in many different situations brings. As Richard Louv said “It's a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it's a lot more fun.”
Louv, Richard. (2005) Last child in the woods :saving our children from nature-deficit disorder Chapel Hill, NC : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Claire is a mum to two young (and sometimes wild) children and enjoyed a very outdoorsy childhood collecting acorns, making daisy chains and sifting dirt to get the perfect pile. Once upon a time Claire was an enthusiastic ultimate frisbee player and recently taught pre-school sports classes. Claire is on a mission to help City kids experience a wilder childhood through the Forest School approach to learning and founded Wildlings offering Forest School and environmental education in Singapore to do this.