Forest School - Seedling of life
Do I really want my kids to be whoever, however they are?
Our last year has been pretty intense. So has anyone else's, of course. Between moving to another country, settling into a new home with two small children and facing the pandemic, we figured it was time to start sprouting a community, and create new links to other people.
For the children, this new chapter meant spending more time with our family from here, but also to find a space where they could play and be with other children.
After much research and consideration, we decided to try a Forest School of sorts. Forest schools are wonderful to spend time outdoors, connect with Nature and socialize with other children in a playful and healthy environment. There is a strong focus on following the child and enabling their independence and sense of confidence, something that is shared with Montessori, a philosophy we follow in our home.
Luckily, we found one nearby. This is quite fortunate because there are only a few across the country.
We tried it out once. Our eldest decided he was ready to fly away from me, but the youngest was suddenly very shy and didn’t want to engage - he just wanted to hug his dad.
Eventually, I stayed for a little and took the opportunity to observe.
Things I liked:
- The overall ambiance. Kids seemed relaxed and positive
- The guides were engaging with the children
- One of the kids immediately started pushing another as he arrived. The guides were kind and assertive to both of them.
- They had their morning properly planned
Things that I didn’t like:
- One of the guides seemed completely absent, not even glancing at the children. Quiet throughout
- One of the guides kept correcting the children. Surely, an ukulele and a guitar are different things, but do you need to keep saying that and starting so many sentences with “No. No, that is not so.”?
Either way, these are hopefully minor things that I will keep an eye out for.
We are not social bees
There was more to this experience, though. At some point I left with my youngest and the eldest stayed until the end. When it was finally time to pick him up, the main guide approached me to say our kid was lacking in terms of “social autonomy”. It turns out that meant he was invading towards the other kids, pushing and provoking everyone, on multiple occasions.
This was hard to digest. Both of my kids have hearts made of gold and butter, they are funny and nice to be around. Hearing this was surprising and hurtful.
On one hand, the youngest was so overwhelmed by the situation, that he closed up and wanted nothing to do with anyone; on the other hand, the eldest was so overwhelmed, that he burst with his emotions.
Unfortunately, we are not in a chemical lab where one could mix and stir both materials and hope for an average output. How to help both children? Do they actually need my help? It is hard to know what to do, but bit by bit something that I heard multiple times is starting to make sense: when you have babies you don’t sleep because they don’t sleep, or you are worried about their health and so on. As they grow older you don’t sleep because you are worried about their behaviour, their friends and influences.
How not to worry but still be the support they need? I surely don’t want to push someone into socializing if they don't want to. That surely feels wrong. And I don’t want to refrain someone from dealing with their emotions. They are both learning, and so am I.
This episode tested one of my beliefs: that I want these kids to be whoever, however, they are. That both their dad and I will give them the space and support they need to be themselves, and not try to change them.
Is that still true when I am left with the homework of “work with him at home, so that he changes his behaviour”? Eventually, yes. This is about learning new skills, like reading, cooking, getting dressed. How to play with people, how to introduce oneself to others, how to manage intense feelings. Skills that will give them both the ability to navigate through the world.
One thing is for sure: this exposure to other kids was lacking. It was a part of their growth that we can now give more time and attention to, especially as the pandemic seems to be easing out, and we are settling in our new place.