Chinese Forest School Training

I'm nearing the end of my stay in China now and have mixed feelings about leaving. Although I'm very excited about coming home to England to see family and friends, I will miss the excitement and energy of this place. It's not like anything I've experienced in the UK before. Everything is growing and developing so quickly here, some companies are growing 100% every few years so there is a lot of new money around and the gap between rich and poor is very stark. Everyone here seems to work and even if it's just collecting the rubbish off the street to sell for recycling, most people have some sort of job to keep them busy. People are out to make changes in their lives and are very focused on work and making money, which does mean that the environmental aspects are sometimes overlooked.

The new Forest School practitioners I am working with on the training are very enthusiastic and all understand the importance of maintaining the connection between children and the natural world. They have been a pleasure to teach and I will miss their enthusiastic attitude when I leave. These will be some of the first pioneers of Forest School in China, an idea which I hope will continue to grow and develop here. The company I'm working with (UK-China Education) are working really hard to ensure that the approach is made sustainable here whilst at the same time maintaining the core elements of the FS approach. The idea of Forest School and the unique way it aims to connect children to their natural surroundings in needed across the world at the present time, but especially here, where most children living in urban environments live in high rise tower blocks with no access to any outdoor space, pollution across the city and such major environmental problems facing China's future.

At the same time as this, China has a rich and ancient history and culture, with many of the old ways being kept alive through story, games and myths. Many people here still live very closely with their extended family and often grandparents will live in the family home to look after the children while parents go to work. The people here have been very friendly to me, always interested in westerners, especially with my strange hair! Have had a lot of photos taken and shocked expressions!

I will be returning home soon, but hoping to be back on China in the future to carry on with the work here.


One week in China

Have now been here a week and feeling much more at home. It's a crazy, exciting place to be. There's so much work going on, building everywhere, new roads, cars and cranes. I'm in a city called Ningbo now, much smaller than the last place, only about 3.5 million people here which for Chinese cities is not that many! It's a really nice city with lots more green spaces and parks. Every morning if you're out early enough you can see people practicing Tai-Chi in the parks. There are always little stalls selling fruit, mostly Watermelon, at the side of the road as the hundreds and thousands of electric motorbikes whiz past, barely missing each other and the traffic. They really don't seem to mind taking huge risks, darting out in front of cars and buses. Apparently lots of people get knocked off them in the cities.

The weather here is still really hot. We had 36 degrees the other day and working outdoors in that heat is really not very pleasant. We have had to alternate between indoors and out for the training as you just can't stick the heat for too long, it's not safe. Luckily for the rest of the training we are in a beautiful woodland site, right up in the mountains outside the city. It's so lovely, proper wild China with only a few old tumbledown houses where a village used to be. We've seen some amazing wildlife - butterflies as big as your hand, hornets, lizards, huge caterpillars and 25cm long centipedes.

The food has been amazing. Every day is a new experience. Lots of different meat with stir fried veg, tofu, loads of soupy noodles, rice and spicy broths. Have also been to resaurants where you barbeque your own meat at the table and had local specialities like moon cake and lotus flower. They place such impoortance on food here and every meal is a shared experience with people helping themselves from the big round tables. Am also getting pretty good at using chopsticks now!

Off to sleep now in preparation for day 1 of the Level 3 training tomorrow. Sam 

First impressions of China

So, I've been here in Zhengzhou for 2 days now and am slowly starting to acclimatise to the culture and the temperature! It's around 30 degrees c at the moment and really humid and muggy. There's a lot of pollution in the city because over 9 million people live here in very close proximity to each other and many of them have cars. This, linked with the fact that a lot of the electricity generation is by coal fired power stations, means there's a lot of smog and lots of the local people wear masks to protect themselves from breathing it in.

The people here are friendly and very interested in me as a westerner, especially looking the way I do! There are a lot of people and a lot of new money, many more new cars than you would see in a British city with even very young men driving brand new vehicles. On driver we took a car with didn't look much more that 16! The nursery where I am delivering the training is also brand new and state of the art. They have invested so much money in the physical environment, that it would rival anything in the most expensive nursery schools in the UK. They have a rooftop garden, fully stocked art room, recording studio, real working miniature kitchen for the children to cook their own food as well as a roller skating room and fully stocked woodworking area! This is all in addition to the separate Forest School site they own outside of the city which used to be an organic farm and is fully equipped with climbing areas, fire circles and an artificial lake for the children to paddle in!

It was day 1 of the first Forest School conference today and a group of around 30 parents, nursery staff and owners had assembled from various preschools to listen to me speak for a whole day about the UK model of Forest School - something I have been planning for for a long time, but still approached with a certain nervousness! The day went well, although the Chinese students have a very different way of approaching their training to those in the UK. They expected me to talk for the whole day, giving all of the answers and telling them exactly how to run a FS session. I tried to encourage debate and comment from the students as we do in our UK training, but this wasn't something they were comfortable with! They did eventually start to discuss the ideas with each other and came up with some good concepts. However, rather than giving a few words in response to my call for feedback, they felt they needed to make a whole speech to put their point across, another cultural difference I hadn't anticipated! We're outdoors all day tomorrow, so I'm hoping this will allow them to get a first hand experience of what Forest School is and how it can be applied in practice.

The food here is amazing, such variety of flavours and styles. Lots of noodles, rice and meat as you'd expect, with fresh stir fried veg alongside. I am slowly learning how to use chopsticks! Will seem odd going back to a knife and fork when I return home!

I'll update this blog soon, signing out. Sam


Rooted Forest School in China

This Saturday, I will be travelling to China to deliver introductions to Forest School and Forest School Level 3 training to Early Years practitioners in the country. This News section will serve as a blog for the trip and, time allowing, I will publish regular updates on the experience here. 

I look forward to sharing the experience with our followers!


Outdoor Maths and Literacy

On Thursday, we delivered a one day activity session at Madley Primary School, Herefordshire. The focus of the day was to look at the ways we can deliver areas of the Maths and Literacy curriculum using the special nature of the Outdoor environment.

During the morning we discussed some of the benefits of learning outdoors and looked at the ways we can make learning accessible to all children. We then went outdoors and took part in lots of Maths based activities, looking at number recognition, sorting, measuring, 2D and 3D shapes, data collection and counting. As most of the practitioners on the course were working with Early Years or KS1 groups, the morning was angled towards this age group.

After lunch, we briefly discussed Risk/Benefit assessment and how this applies to Outdoor Learning. Then it was back out for an afternoon of literacy ideas. We looked at word games, adjectives, scavenger hunts, poetry, using stories and creating stories with groups of children.

A lovely day, thanks to all those who attended. More of this one day training coming next year!

Level 3 Training in South Gloucestershire

What a lovely week training an enthusiastic group of Level 3 trainees in South Gloucestershire. It was a beautiful venue too - Old Downs Country Park. We had use of a lovely mixed woodland (great for the comparison of broad leaf and coniferous woodland) a wildflower meadow, double-decker bus and a yurt to deliver the training! Certainly the most varied training venue we've ever used. The group took to the training brilliantly and demonstrated their existing skills in Early Years ideas and observation. Thanks to the staff at Old Downs for making us feel so welcome and Jane and Karen from South Glos Council for their valuable input in co-tutoring the course. Really looking forward to being back in a few weeks for the practical days!!