Shanghai 'an experience of a lifetime' for Claire
April marked the end of our final assignment in Shanghai, with Claire Kinstrey returning to the UK after her sabbatical working with the FSLI team to develop Forest School in the city.
Now back at work as a teaching assistant for Dovers Green School in Surrey, Claire has been reflecting on her Shanghai experience: “It’s proven to me once again that Forest School is a brilliant tool to develop, shape, teach and encourage children to become self-confident and important beings. They don’t realise out in Forest School that they are learning and problem-solving, and there is no right or wrong way or achieving the end goal. It has reinforced my belief that Forest School is about children learning to take calculated risks -China Forest School has simply showed me how powerful the impact can be.”
The three-month stay in Shanghai brought some challenges, not least adapting to the cultural change, as Claire explains: “Although my first impressions were that there were few cultural differences, the longer I worked with the children, the more I appreciated the areas where they most needed support. Children in China are almost revered, with the grandparents mostly bringing up the grandchildren whilst their parents work. It’s noticeable how the children do not seem to walk particularly far anywhere, and they are often carried. Some children, for instance, have everything done for them and so, not surprisingly, they have no life skills or problem-solving skills at all. Simple tasks proved problematic, and so a Forest School approach is a great way to reduce this gap in knowledge and experience and teach them slowly to become more independent and confident.”
“Fears about safety for their children were also far more noticeable in Shanghai than in the UK. Parents and grandparents fear for them getting dirty, touching nasty things and getting sick, and play is watched carefully in case children fall and hurt themselves. They don’t seem to worry, however, about riding with children on a scooter without a helmet or riding in the car without a car seat or even a safety belt on!”
“Having said all that, the children taking part in all the sessions were enthusiastic and willing. Children who reportedly would normally have had a nervous breakdown if they got their hands dirty, were seen digging in the mud with their bare hands not batting an eyelid! Children who were usually loners became involved and worked with other children without having to be coerced or persuaded. To me, these were all signs that Forest School has had a positive and progressive impact.”
“As far as adapting my practice, I have had to be more careful about the safety aspect, and be hyper vigilant when using tools and being near the fire, for example, as the Chinese children do not seem to fully appreciate the danger at times, as it is all a new experience. I also had to allow for the parental anxieties regarding safety, and explaining exactly what the children are learning during the Forest School sessions.”
The positive impact on both children and parents has been powerful: “Parents became more accepting and tolerant of the whole concept and loved the fact their children were enthusiastic about the sessions. Parents also reported their children coming home and repeating English words learned during the course of the sessions. And teachers noticed the children participating and doing tasks they would never normally do in the classroom environment.
What have been the highlights of Claire’s time in Shanghai? “I have loved working with the children, watching their faces when the realization dawns they have achieved a set target or understood what has been asked of them in English! I will be sharing my experiences with my colleagues in the hope that it will reinforce the importance of Forest School for children and their development. All in all, it has given me such a confidence boost, an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. “