Forest Schools: Call of the Wild

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Despite the common consensus that outdoor living is hugely beneficial to young people’s development, Hong Kong’s combination of extreme humidity, high population density, and inconsistent air quality means kids often find themselves staying inside for days on end.

The pioneering forest school learning initiative has become an increasingly popular antidote to the dystopian aspects of modern education. Originally a Scandinavian approach to learning, forest schools were introduced in the United Kingdom in the mid-1990s. Since then, the movement has flourished in the UK as an alternative to the conformity of national curricula.

This year, Malvern College became the first school in Hong Kong to introduce the forest school programme with a Level 3 certified Leader by the Forest School Association (FSA), Yvette Cheevers. Ms Cheevers believes that outdoor education provides benefits that will not be possible in the confines of classroom walls. “Our Forest School allows enormous scope for active and hands-on learning where activities are shaped to fit children’s differing needs: physical, emotional or cultural. Children learn how to take responsibility for their actions, and are allowed to take small risks in a safe environment. Parents recognise that being outdoors has a positive impact on well-being and helps all aspects of children’s development.”

Roughly 70% of Hong Kong is made up of countryside, so the ease of access to wilderness areas makes the city a prime locale for forest school initiatives to flourish. Ho Mei Chau, Forest School Leader at International College Hong Kong, says, “We are passionate about this [forest school] approach because the learning is real. It helps students to develop a deep appreciation for nature, encourage them to become independent, solve problems, and initiate learning for themselves.”

Parents have long suspected that excessive screen time has a detrimental effect on children’s imaginations. The forest school method provides the perfect solution for this problem. Mrs Jacqueline McNalty, Founding Principal of Malvern College Pre-School Hong Kong, explained, “The Forest School provides enormous opportunities for children to engage in quality fantasy or imaginative play with peers in an outdoor environment. It also provides endless opportunities to explore and discover mysteries of the natural world. Repeated sessions allow for the practice and consolidation of new skills, which is deal for kinaesthetic learners. Children’s critical thinking and inquiry skills are developed through the Forest School as it provides great scope for problem solving