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  • Trekking in a Subic Forest Serves as a School for These Kids Once a Week

    A work-at-home mom discovered that nature is the perfect space for learning and play
    by Eya Vicencio-Quintinio .

  • It was during our regular afternoon neighborhood walks with my daughter, Summer, that I thought about how fun it would be if we have a group of children involved in outdoor activities. One would think summer camp, but I wasn't quite convinced. I didn't know what I had in mind precisely until I found online the Free Forest School Organization, a non-profit organization that was founded in Austin, Texas, the U.S. in 2015 by Anna Sharratt, who is an avid rock climber.

    When her family moved to New York temporarily, Anna invited some neighbors to meet in a park. She wanted to recreate the experience of playing outdoors for her neighbors’ kids who grew up in the city. They got an overwhelming response of more than 100 members overnight! Anna put up the “Prospect Park Free Forest School” on Facebook, and when she went back to Austin, she created the Free Forest School (FFS).

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    I was immediately attracted to FFS' vision: a world where children grow up to be bold explorers. The idea was introducing the kids to a forest adventure where they can learn through unstructured play (with nature's help). We let the kids explore, jump in the mud, soak in the cold, flowing stream, climb trees, and be messy, all while having a lot of fun!

    FFS had no chapters in the Philippines, but the good news was anyone can put up a chapter in his community. I sent FFS an email, and it was very accommodating. It provided me with guidelines on how to choose a location, what to expect when doing FFS, and some FAQs that were very helpful.

    As we work on getting our chapter approved by the FFS organization, I now have a small forest exploration group consisting of 51 members made up of parents and guardians from Zambales, NCR, and Calabarzon. Our base is in Olongapo where we found the ideal location: Pamulaklakin Forest Trail located inside Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. (You can find us on Facebook Free Forest School of Zambales.The people who join vary every week, but we're now in week 9 of our forest adventure.

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    Our forest adventure is available to kids ages 0-6 years old as long as the parent or guardian feels confident to bring his child into the forest.

    One of the philosophies of FFS  is to allow children to take reasonable risks. But that does not mean children should do anything they want, or they should be unsupervised.

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    Often parents feel guarded and cautious with their children in nature at first. Over time, they develop their boundaries and style for managing the risks their kids face.

    The forest adventure helps the children enough to develop their decision-making skills, manage their tempers, socialize with peers, enhance their creativity, and use problem-solving skills in real-life interactions with nature.

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    We want our kids' curiosity to blossom with our forest explorations. Hopefully, it fosters the next generation of environmental stewards — children who grow up playing with nature and develop a relationship where they grow up willing to take care of it. 

    Yes, it is essential for our children to learn the basics of reading, writing, and mathematics. But teaching life skills, values, and love for the natural world build their character and prepares them for the bigger challenges in life. Learning should not always be about the children sitting at their desks and honing their mental skills. It should also be about building their emotional, physical, and spiritual skills. Letting them explore the outdoors can help develop these life skills.

    This piece was submitted by SmartParenting.com.ph reader Eya Vicencio-Quintinio who blogs at "Our Family Backpack." Edits have been made by SmartParenting.com.ph editors. Eya is a work-at-home mom and is homeschooling her 4-year-old daughter, Summer. On Saturdays, you'll find her trekking in the forest with little kids for Free Forest School of Zambales. Sundays are spent at her local church where she serves as a Sunday school teacher.


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