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ITS EDUCATION ASIA ARTICLE


THE FOREST SCHOOL REVOLUTION IN HONG KONG: EXPLORING THE OUTDOORS AND ACQUIRING LIFE SKILLS


In Hong Kong, the ‘Forest School’ concept is spreading organically, spurred by concerns about children’s loss of contact and understanding of nature. Schools such as: Discovery Bay International School, Forest House Waldorf School, ICHK Hong Lok Yuen, Malvern College Preschool, and Wilderness Preschool have all incorporated the approach into their Early Years Programmes.

This is not a means for children to burn off energy outside, instead the divide between indoors and outdoors is broken and children learn in and from nature. Forest School embraces an approach of nurturing, supporting and developing the self-esteem of students. It is an ideal environment in which to develop innovation, problem solving, risk taking, creativity and teamwork. So no wonder, it is becoming so popular.

A Forest School is an inspiring place where children do their learning outdoors in a practical and fun way. They learn about the unique environment around them, how to keep themselves safe, how to use tools and create things. They learn the importance of operation and communication in team work, of perseverance and using their initiative in problem solving. 

Forest School Programmes in Hong Kong

At Forest Waldorf School in Sai Kung, practical and outdoor learning are essential features of the curriculum, like any Steiner Waldorf school and are integral parts of students’ education. Students are engaged in hands-on-activities, which link thematically with their academic classes, such as bees wax modeling, woodwork, clay work and gardening. Children explore local topography through their nature walks and examine their biological environment.

http://www.foresthouse.edu.hk/

Connie Kenny, Director and Founder of Wilderness, says: ‘Nature and the ‘outdoors’ are integral to child development. Our entire team is passionate about creating a beautiful, innovative healthy environment for ourselves and our children.”  We have a spacious outdoor garden which offers a natural sensory experience with herbs and flowers. The open space is perfect for socializing, playing games, developing gross motor skills, being active and releasing energy. Every day the children play and learn outdoors and are introduced to different activities and learning experiences.

“Our daily routines remind children to take care of themselves and our planet. Children who engage with nature are far more likely to want to look after the environment, have advanced sensory development and are simply happier and healthier”.

 

 

Discovery Bay International School (DBIS), adopted the Forest School programme at it’s Early Years campus last September. DBIS has created it’s very own garden based around typhoon-salvaged wood and a range of other recycled materials. ”Through imagination and play the children are introduced to far-reaching concepts that ignite a true desire for learning and a respect for the outdoor world that simply cannot be achieved through traditional classroom lessons,” says Eleanor Loran, the head of Early Years at DBIS.

Each Forest School session is packed with social interaction, developing each member of the class in a holistic way. The challenges the students face during Forest School sessions promote an ethos of teamwork by focusing on developing effective communication at a young age. “Students understand how to use the environment around them as a stimulus for fun and enquiry that ensures the most positive outcomes”, Eleanor adds. Fun is of course the emphasis of all the activities in the Early Years, and children often do not even realise that their construction or art projects are making them better mathematicians or collaborators. Whether it is building bridges, fairy houses, dens or sculptures, the students are always being stretched in their abilities to think critically, apply reasoning, problem solve and develop their own next steps.

DBIS is extremely proud and happy to be implementing the Forest School approach but no one is happier about it than the Early Years students.

http://www.dbis.edu.hk/

ICHK Hong Lok Yuen is also delighted to unveil its vision to be a leader in outdoor learning and Forest School education.

The beautiful green campus at Hong Lok Yuen provides students and teachers with the perfect location to develop this pioneering approach. Innovative work is now underway to establish their very own Forest School and outdoor classroom in our grounds.

Principal Ruth Woodward said: “We have a beautiful campus at ICHK Hong Lok Yuen, and we are passionate about providing quality outdoor experiences for our children.

The aim is to engage students in learning activities and harness skills which involve respecting the environment, whilst looking after themselves and others around them.  As well as developing a deep appreciation and empathy for nature, it will encourage our students to become independent, use their imagination, take appropriate risks within boundaries and initiate learning for themselves.”

Over the next year, this approach will be embedded into the curriculum, and teacher Ho Mei Chau has started working towards becoming a qualified Forest School leader. As part of a pilot scheme of work, his students are already experiencing weekly lessons in the beautiful location of Tai Po Kau.

Links have also been forged with Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens, where plans are under way to integrate our Units of Inquiry with workshops led by the experts at KFBG. Through these weekly sessions, students will be able to gain a deeper understanding about sustainability, animals, biodiversity, trees and plants, whilst exploring the beautiful natural environment of the farm.

ICHK Hong Lok Yuen will also be working towards becoming the first school in Hong Kong to gain a Learning Outside the Classroom Mark. To gain this accreditation, schools must show a high level of commitment towards providing quality outdoor learning experiences for their students.

https://www.ichk.edu.hk/home/our-school/primary/

 

Malvern College Pre-School Hong Kong (MCPS) and Malvern College Hong Kong (MCHK) will also run the Forest School programme from August 2017. It will be run by qualified Level 3 practitioners trained by the U.K.’s Forest School Association.

MCPS and MCHK believe that children need to learn to manage risks.  Under careful supervision, children are taught to identify a potential hazard in nature, and evaluate what the consequences are for them in engaging with it.  They will also learn to think, question and problem-solve in mini projects, communicate, collaborate and lead in small teams. 

Providing a Forest School learning opportunity was not easy in the densely-populated neighbourhoods of Hong Kong, thus MCPS took the unprecedented step of commissioning land in the great outdoors that is designated to become an integral part of Malvern’s educational philosophy. The programme covers Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) through all the activities.

“Our Forest School programme runs in all weather conditions as long as it is safe,” said Ms. Jacqueline McNalty, Founding Principal of Malvern College Pre-School Hong Kong, “as children extend their education beyond the confines of the classroom walls and are exposed in the suburban life, they will grow in confidence and self-esteem, as well as increase their physical and social skills, allowing children to develop holistically. These benefits have positive effects on all areas of their life and learning.” 

http://www.malvernpreschool.hk/

 

Lastly, if your child attends a school which does not offer the Forest School concept, there is still ways to enjoy this experience. A break from wooden puzzles, electronic devices and pretend toys, and into the forest and water for some play is the focus of Hong Kong Forest Adventures. 

The HK Forest Adventures, (formally known as the HK Forest Kindergarten) specializes in taking toddlers and young children, ages 1.5 - 6 years old into the Forest to play. It is an all-weather activities company, meaning they mostly play outside regardless of the elements, if it's hot, they play in the water! If it rains, they play in the mud and the puddles. The programmes are child-led and not curriculum driven. Visit: http://www.hkforestadventures.com/

In an age where we are concerned that children are more sedentary, the Forest School programme, supports all the physical development goals, encouraging children to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, explore nature and acquire life skills. 


Dulwich College Singapore

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

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