Darren Quek believes that education serves its true purpose when it teaches people how to live on their land. “I want to help bring children in a place between the earth and the stars,” he said, “and to open their eyes and senses to the natural environment”. To see this through, he founded Singapore’s first Forest School in 2016.
Currently spoke to Quek, the Principal of Forest School Singapore
, on how the school connects children with nature in the context of climate warming.
As of now, the school has weekly morning and afternoon sessions with about 10-20 children. They unanimously decide which areas of the forest they want to venture into and the tutor simply acts as a facilitator. The learning is organic and inherent in how the children play.
Quek said, “We focus on three main approaches – child-led, nature-led, and context-led (cultural context). Our curriculum is nature itself, she provides it to us. This is the sixth year of Forest School. Our older kids are much more aware of the changing environment, but of course, the three and four-year-old students don’t understand this. They can understand what’s closer to them – plants and insects. This is how they gradually build a relationship with the environment.”
Quek brings in the aspect of destruction within nature and how his students reconcile with it. “It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. There are moments when nature can be violent and cruel. Similarly, kids have a tendency to pluck leaves and destroy things, but this is how they learn. They are curious about what makes a thing. Of course, we don’t want them to destroy the forests! I remember one time, my kids saw the Mimosa plant’s pretty flowers, and they plucked them. Then they told me ‘look around, it’s common, it’s everywhere. We won’t pluck what’s uncommon, we know those are rare’. I thought it was a funnily simple way of looking at extinction and endangerment.”
A community is a lot like an ecosystem, says Quek. The ecosystem is something that keeps everything alive and functioning. To replicate this principle, the school tries to embody a community-based bonding in its sessions. He said, “We believe it takes a village to raise a child. A village doesn’t require everyone to be similar, not everyone is nature-loving. Some kids are scared of insects, some are scared of furry animals. But that’s okay, we all come together and make it work.”