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Trekking onward. 

Dr. Lomino in China: February 15

February 15: The Forest at Last

I’ve been waiting all week to see No Boundaries Forest Kindergarten.  The best word I can use for this site is unique.  The entry road is a private driveway belonging to the chicken farmer who rents the land to the school.  It is a rough ride in the school bus, with many potholes.  Upon arrival Michael, the American teacher, leads me inside the courtyard for a quick look at a traditional Chinese farm house. There is an open cooking and dining area with doorways leading to the inner rooms of the house.  Outside along the walls are many bundles of firewood and several new, expensive parked cars.  Michael tells me that this family must be wealthy to own a large property in the middle of Guangzhou.  The free-ranging chicken yard is behind the house and we see many fancy varieties.  Banners on the fence list the price for male and female.  I think maybe they are for purchase to breed and provide eggs, but am told people come here to buy their chickens for eating, already dressed, or taken home live to be killed by the purchaser.

We follow the fence line, up the road to the Forest Kindergarten site.  Boundaries are marked by a thick rope fence.  Large tarps serve as shelters over several table and bench sets—all rustic in appearance.  Two military tents with mosquito netting are set up as sleeping tents.  The wooden floors are raised with steps leading to the doors.  Soon children’s happy voices fill the air as they gather in two circles with their teachers to talk about what they will be doing today.  School guards stand watch along with their guard dog, staying with the children wherever they go. 

Our first walk takes us up a series of concrete steps to the hilltop sports area.  From here we have a 360 degree view of the city.  Among the skyscrapers I see several old temple towers, many abandoned buildings and what appears to be ancient ruins.  It makes me excited to see the historical areas of Guangzhou.  This hilltop site is cleared and planted with sod. There is a playground and basketball court.  This is not a typical Forest Kindergarten, but Michael tells me that it has been designed for children to have an area for morning exercise.

While we are there, several men walk by beyond the perimeter fence.  I am told these are the snake-hunters, hired by the school to make sure the area is free of the venomous reptiles.  There are 35 species of venomous snakes in South China including several varieties of cobras.  I am actually quite relieved to know the school is taking precautionary measures.  Up here there are very few trees and no shelter from the sun.  We don’t stay long.

The children are brought back to the main camp where they enjoy free play.  I am also discovering that children’s play outside here in China looks like children’s play in America.  Playing themes are cross-cultural because children have always learned skills for survival and growth this way—I’ve noticed several basic themes in America and now in China:  1) survival—fighting, war, 2) daily life—cooking, cleaning, etc., 3) artistic play singing, dancing and making things 4) building 5) , The teachers soon move them away because of the dust in the air. They bring out water hoses to moisten the extremely dry ground.  I am told that winter is the dry season here and that is very evident for sure.  I’m sure the whole forest comes to life during the rainy season, soon to come.

Dr. She, who is the full-time medical supervisor, takes care of a little boy who got mud in his eyes.  She is very professional and soon has gently and carefully resolved the issue with water and tissues.  After a wonderful meal, many of the children take naps in the sleeping tents along with several of the teachers.  I have learned that typically lunch hour for everyone here is about two hours and includes a rest time, reminiscent of the Latin American siesta.  The roots of this tradition appear to be related to the intense heat that often comes during the middle of the day in South China. It makes good sense!

While the children sleep, I tour the rest of the site with Astrid and Jecky.  We go to the Hidden Jungle where Astrid plans to hang the birdhouses children made at the Factory last week. This is a splendid area for the children to explore with many climbing trees and perfect shelter-making opportunities. 

This has been a good day for a general survey of the FK program and the site.  I have taken many notes and am excited to help the school further develop their Forest Kindergarten.

Today’s Insight:  Seeing children playing and learning in nature here in China reminds me that nature immersion education has benefits far beyond what can be observed.  Becoming friends with the trees, flowers, animals and even the ground itself creates a bond between humans and the rest of the earth. This relationship is being lost in today’s modern world, and Forest Kindergarten is not just a good thing for children, it is absolutely essential for the health of our planet and every part of its ecosystem!

Wauhatchie School