We embarked on our first ever Forest School holiday programme on Tuesday 6th August. Over the following five weeks we connected with nature and with each other. We gained confidence in the forest and did things we never thought that we would (like lifting up rocks deliberately looking for creepy crawlies!), and who was brave enough to try the cricket flour brownies or the fried grasshoppers? We explored places we had never been before and spent time with people from all over the world. Forest School brings people together and uncovers (or rediscovers) their adventurous spirit. We're all about sharing experiences and making memories.
Here is a summary of each group's journey, the key learning points to take away, the things our learners took home from the programme, and the points that we have also noted to improve our practice for the future.
WEEK 1, 6th, 7th and 8th August, Bukit Batok Nature Park
We started off by going on a bug hunt with our new bug catchers which proved to be a big hit even though the dry weather made the insects illusive. We talked about what insects are and where we were likely to find them. We found a lot of 'angry ants' and learn't that quite a good command of fine motor skills were needed to catch these creepy crawlies, in fact, if we just sat still for a while they often came to us!
We introduced a new interactive and physical game to get the kids more aware of the risks of being outdoors, we jumped off boulders and explored our stream as well as got familiar with the rules around walking at Forest School (which are relaxed for the toddlers a little) and the idea of taking a few moments just to be quiet and mindful of our surroundings.
We got arty with some playdoh modelling using items we found on our nature walk and tried some rock painting with painting pens. We practiced the idea of allowing the children time to socialise and converse with their peers during social snack time and finished up with a story, either Superworm or I Love Bugs.
Week 2, 13th, 14th and 15th August, Bukit Batok Nature Park
This week to help us to explore insect behaviour and the value of insects we took an in-depth look at bees. We played a physical game to act out the pollinating habits of bees where the children worked in teams to visit 'flowers' (cups of coloured water), and used their nectar collecting stomachs (pipettes) to store the nectar and take it back to fill their 'hive' (hexagon shaped ice cube trays) the first team with a full hive won.
Our younger group had a go at jumping in piles of leaves and bashing them with sticks before an impromptu nature themed yoga session. The learners were shown some graphics of some of the most amazing insects in the world (check out the Tarantula Wasp if you get a spare moment).
We looked at the value of bees and practiced managing risk by making candles out of bees wax which we had to melt first. We used our hexagon shaped ice cube trays for our moulds to make tiny honeycomb candles. We had the chance to try a variety of honey types to illustrate how honey is made from plant nectar and its taste is determined by the type of flower which the bee visits. The kids even got to try chewy honeycomb made of both beeswax and honey!
We hung a huge log swing, a couple of learners decided to practice tying knots, our younger group did some leaf painting and overall it was a very busy week!
Week 3, 20th, 21st and 22nd August, The Learning Forest
This week all three groups visited The Learning Forest in the Singapore Botanic Gardens, all managing to find it with varying degrees of success! This is a quieter part of the gardens which sees fewer visitors and it was a first time visit for many Wildlings. The Learning Forest was designed to recreate a mature forest and wetlands environment using techniques to transplant mature trees and reviewing historical maps to reinstate the natural wetland. The Learning Forest boasts stunning views across the lake from an overhead bridge, a Wild Fruit Tree forest, climbing nets and lots of opportunities to view dragon flies, butterflies and sunbirds.
Our older groups got busy on the climbing nets, pretending to save butterflies caught in the spider's web. They used the butterfly shaped leaves from the butterfly tree to create artwork where the wings of the butterflies are mirrored and we found some good dirt amongst all the really dry dirt to plant our caterpillar plants (has anyone's begun to grow yet? Send us your pictures firstname.lastname@example.org).
We had collected the seed pods from the pong pong trees and we ended our session throwing them into the water, watching them float gently away and making a wish. One learner wished for chocolate ice cream, only for us to walk across the boardwalk and find a new kiosk had opened since our last visit, which was selling chocolate ice cream! Wish come true. We also managed to find time for bug tattoos and a story.
Our younger learners went in the different direction to our older groups. We got down on our tummies to take a good look at what we could find in the water, we made some things to wear out of skeleton leaves and came across a secret bridge none of us had seen before which took us to a quiet place where we threw in our pong pong seedpods and made our wishes. We went on a treasure hunt to find some simple forest items, planted our caterpillar plants and also found time for a bug tattoo. Some of the rocky pathways and the leafy slope were a challenge for the young toddlers, we're looking forward to seeing how they adapt to these kinds of challenges in the coming months at Forest School.
Week 4, 27th, 28th and 29th August, Bukit Batok Nature Park
We asked the question this week of a few of our learners - "What can we do to help insects to thrive?" So we made houses for solitary bees so that the children could take these home and hopefully watch as bees start to come and go from their balconies or gardens. Find out more in our tutorial.
We made good use of our shelters this week by rigging up our own spider's web and watched as the children made their way across trying not the ring the bells and alert the spider to their presence! A great exercise for working on balance and spatial awareness.
We ventured further up the PCN path this week than we had before and found a nice steep hill to climb. All the learners in each group tackled it with enthusiasm, some even racing to the top or climbing down backwards.
Some of the learners had a go at modelling or making a butterfly plaque with clay which we had taken from the stream a few months back and processed so that the children could have something to take home and dry in the sun. Our youngest learners had a go at creating joint butterfly artwork with their grown-ups, with one child proudly announcing that she was 'painting with Mummy'. A lovely relaxed week for two groups and a more challenging one for the Tuesday morning group who tackled the bee houses - well done all!
Week 5, 3rd, 4th, and 5th September, Labrador Nature Park
The finale of our holiday programme took us to Labrador Nature Park to try our hands at safe fire lighting and working as a team to make a meal we could all share together. We began by collecting small dry sticks and bark from the nearby paper bark tree to fuel our mini practice fires. We stopped off by a patch of touch-me-nots before making our way past the Barringtonia trees where we paused to check how well the seed pods (also known as box fruit) float in the water.
After our snack we built and lit our main cooking fire. We used prepared pulai wood in a pyramid shape to heat our coals, the reaction was almost too fast with the flames fanned by the sea breeze. Today we were aiming for low smoke fires to help the young learners remain comfortable and the quality of the fuel - the combination of extra dry and cleaned pulai and coconut charcoal - worked really well.
Then it was everyone's turn to have a go at lighting their own one-minute practice fires. We built waffle shapes using the fuel we had collected and helped along with cotton wool pads and petroleum jelly. We had a nice breeze to fan our fires and we used scout approved fire strikers to ignite our fires. The children were armed with water to douse their fires after a minute or two.
Next it was time to prepare our food. Chopping ingredients for a vegetarian chilli (without the chilli), mixing the ingredients for gluten free corn bread and cutting up tropical fruit for our Forest Fruit Salad. We took a break to try cricket flour brownies or fried grasshoppers, we'll all need to change our mindset and get used to eating insects in order to meet the world's protein needs. We also read a story or tied up a log and rope swing from the nearby tree for some free play.
Finally it was time eat and chat, the corn bread being a definite favourite of almost everyone and almost impossible to get wrong! We finished our outing toasting marshmallows (another hit with the children) before a small fire extinguishing ceremony where we got to practice our communication skills. Success all round, we can't wait for the next round of cooking sessions next term!
Learning Points for Us
Reflection is an essential part of learning and the practice of a Forest School Leader. We've noted the following points from our recent experiences to inform our future practice:
Adults often struggled to find the meeting points - we are considering how we can help to make the meeting points easier to find or provide clearer directions.
Sometimes our sessions felt too long so we shortened the Tuesday and Wednesday sessions by 15 minutes and effort was made to wrap up earlier if necessary.
Reflection is essential, but saving reflection time to the end of the session wasn't working. Going forward we will come together after each activity to reflect before moving on.
Activities where carers are meant to work in partnership with the children need to be more carefully assessed for feasibility for carers responsible for more than one child and available alternative activity options need to be made clearer.
We received feedback that fire lighting sessions were more fun on Pulau Ubin, therefore our Tuesday morning group will have their session on Pulau Ubin next term, with those unable to attend this longer session able to attend the Wednesday session instead. Only the Tuesday morning group currently has the scope to complete an extended session in this location.
Adult carers could benefit from regular activities which help to illustrate the Forest School ethos which will be built into next term's programme.
For those of you who joined us, we hope you had fun in the Forest, for those of you who missed it we still have a few places remaining to join us for Term 3.
"Let them once get in touch with nature, and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight through life"
Claire is an environmental scientist by training and an environmental sustainability consultant and educator by trade (aside from being a busy mum to two young (and sometimes wild) children). Claire 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.