Getting Back to Nature with Hong Kong’s First Forest Pre-school. Hollie Allman explores the concept of the Forest School and talks to the principal of Malvern College Pre-School, Hong Kong.
Forest School is a style of education that is focused on learning in a natural outdoor environment. The concept is thought to have developed in Scandinavia in an effort to give children living in cities an experience of the natural world, and was adopted in the UK in the 1990s. As well as educating children in academic subjects, there is a strong emphasis on personal skills such as teamwork and problem solving in order to build independence and self-esteem.
Malvern College Pre-School, set to open in August 2017, will be the first authorised Forest School in Hong Kong, with all educators possessing a Level 3 certificate. “This world-leading programme is unique in Hong Kong where most children live in an urban environment,” says school principal, Jacqueline McNalty.
“It’s really important with the emphasis on sustainability that children can get out into nature and experience tangible, hands-on, multi-sensory experiences in the great outdoors.”
Children will be taken to a commissioned seafront site in the New Territories twice a week, where they can explore the pebble beach, the forest and the nearby organic farm. “Rather than just studying the water cycle in a classroom, we can go out and see it for ourselves. If we’re looking at insects in the classroom, then let’s go out and investigate them in real life. Let’s grow seeds, produce our own vegetables and then make vegetable soup. This provides a very rich learning experience for the children,” enthuses McNalty.
While the philosophy of a Forest school is
“there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing,”
children in Hong Kong will spend the remaining three days a week at the school site in West Kowloon. “The architect has been very innovative with their use of the environment,” says McNalty, “the building is cleverly designed with a large indoor sandpit and other great features which mean we really can run an indoor/outdoor programme all under the roof.”
Children will still be able to spend plenty of time outdoors, running and moving around to ensure a good deal of fresh air and exercise.
McNalty says she was drawn to work with Malvern College due to its 150-year history and the solid curriculum foundation this entails. The preschool will use the UK government’s Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework alongside the Reggio Emilia approach from Italy, in which teaching is guided by the interests of the children.
“There will be plenty of firsthand, real and practical learning opportunities, which require collaboration and teamwork,” says McNalty, “we know that this is how young children learn best and that leadership is built from these experiences.” The Pre-School will employ Mandarin-speaking staff to take advantage of young learners’ ability to soak up language, as well as providing regular Mandarin classes.
Topics will be taught in a cross-curricular way, meaning that learning is fully contextualised for children and providing a good base for those continuing their education with the Primary Years Programme and the International Baccalaureate. Malvern College will also open a primary and secondary school through to Year 9 in Hong Kong in 2018.
This article appeared in Playtimes January Issue 2017.
More about schools in Hong Kong here