Dr. Lomino in China: February 27
FEBRUARY 27: Forest School Teacher Training Begins
My weekend has become somewhat predictable. Saturday I make a presentation to potential school families at a Lions Education marketing event, and Sunday is my day to reconnoiter and prepare for another week.
So on this 23rd day of my China adventure, I am back in the forest—where I feel most at home. Even though the flora is different, I recognize many plants that I’ve enjoyed over the years as houseplants. Now I see them in their natural habitat. I hear birds, but rarely see them, and I’ve seen no signs of other wildlife, although I know there are certainly rodents and reptiles here, among other species. They evidently hide very well. I’m hoping to take a few trips into national parks and wildlife areas where it might be easier to observe the creatures of South China.
Today the first group of children are active. While waiting for the other group to arrive, they are climbing the lychee trees, running around the main camp and gardening areas and generally enjoying the outdoors. Breakfast will be served with the arrival of the rest of the children. It is cool this morning. I’ve learned my lesson about dressing properly, and have several layers on. I notice Dr. Xu clipping one of the child’s fingernails. She is very attentive to the children’s needs. I hear birdsongs and also traffic noise from the city. It seems louder this morning, but I think that is because there are fewer children here right now. I soon hear the second group approaching. Forest Kindergarten has begun!
I look forward to working with a small group of teachers while the children are napping today. We are going to do some basic nature journaling, focusing on using all the senses and why teaching children to be silent has so many benefits including learning to be good observers.
The teachers do an excellent job of knowing each child’s whereabouts. Something that I think is interesting at No Boundaries, is the assignment of teacher/caregivers. Each child is assigned one of the teachers as their personal caregiver. So when they have a specific problem or special need, the assigned teacher-caregiver takes charge. (For instance if a child is crying, isn’t feeling well, or needs a change of clothes, etc.) This creates a special bond, and I’m guessing is probably a parallel to having their nanny, which almost all have in their households.
There aren’t many soft surfaces here in the main camp area. The ground is hard because it is so dry, and the trail is cement. I wish there were soft areas for the children to enjoy—they do have grass in the hilltop site.
Today Boss Yung is going to show the children how to bake sweet potatoes in an earthen oven. He asks them to gather firewood at the campfire area. While half get firewood, the other half of the group bring back clay bricks that they made sometime ago, with clay from the ground, formed in wooden frames that were built in the Factory. Yung uses flint to start the fire and once it is going well, clay bricks are laid in a circle around the coals and built up like an igloo, with an opening in the front. Then the fire is fed from the front, with plenty of air to fuel the flames coming through openings in the bricks. While Jeff managed the fire, the children went to another activity.
After a hike to the rock-climbing area, the children have an English lesson with Michael about shoes and footprints in the dirt. He asks them to step in a cleared spot and see if they can recognize their shoe print. By this time the children were very active and having a difficult time focusing on the lesson.
When we return to the campfire area, Jeff places the sweet potatoes inside the brick oven over the hot coals. He then uses a shovel to crush the bricks and then heaps hot coals on top. This is the oven! I can’t wait to see the cooked potatoes!
With nap time comes my opportunity to do some Forest School teacher training. Four teachers get their journals and walk with me down the trail. I ask everyone to walk silently and to look carefully to see what they can see. I find some green briar vine and young buds—just like back home. I give them to one of the teachers to taste. We feel a variety of leaves and wonder at the giant fern with fantastically spiraled fiddleheads. I ask everyone to sit down and we talk (with Jecky’s interpretation.) I ask them what their goals are at Forest Kindergarten. What do they want for the children? We talk about the development of the whole child, body-mind-and-soul, and how important the spirit is. I tell them that my goals are to help children become lifelong learners and compassionate stewards of the earth. We talk about the need for silence and how we can help children learn to be silent observers and thinkers of their own thoughts.
We make sound maps together and then a “Looking Closely” activity. Our debriefing time is fun and very revealing. Like everyone in my nature journaling classes, these teachers have surprising and wonderful insights from their silent observations. Too soon we need to head back to the children!
After an ant study, using magnifying glasses, the children enjoy afternoon tea with sweet potatoes and other snacks. The potatoes have a delicious smokey flavor!
Today’s Insight: One striking difference between the children here and US children is the issue of aggression. From what I’ve observed so far, Chinese children are generally quite courteous to each other. I have seen only occasional play fighting, using sticks as weapons, much less real fighting. Unfortunately aggressive behavior has become a pervasive problem among children in the US. The first reason that comes to my mind is our media focus on violence. I discussed this with Michael, the American teacher. He agreed with my observation and said that Chinese media, including video games, typically revolves around cartoon super heroes and fantasy scenarios, but not military fighting and realistic crime like American media. I believe the Oriental view posits fighting to be an art form (i.e. Kung Fu) rather than the US view of bad people committing crimes/killing each other. This is an important topic that warrants further study, particularly how a FK education might counteract this growing problem in the US.