The climate and lack of space in Hong Kong aren’t always conducive to outdoor education. But some schools are embracing what they have around them, and finding ways to get kids outside and engaged with the local natural environment. Discovery Bay International School has done just that with its Forest School approach.
Head of Early Years, Eleanor Loran, has been in Hong Kong for 11 years, and has worked at DBIS for just as long. She started as a Year 1 class teacher and Year Group Leader, Deputy Head of the Primary School and today is Head of Early Years. Her knowledge of Discovery Bay and its surrounds as a local gives her a unique perspective on how the school’s backyard can be brought inside. The Early Years campus recently introduced the Forest Schools approach.
Eleanor tells us, “DBIS is extremely proud and happy to be implementing the Forest School approach but no one is happier about it than the Early Years students!” Based on a programme from the UK, Forest School is all about getting your hands dirty, having some fun and learning important skills at the same time, so it’s no wonder the kids love it.
Of the programme, Eleanor says, “Exploration and investigation are at the heart of it, linking perfectly to the fun, enquiry-based philosophy running through the DBIS Early Years curriculum. Through imagination and play the children are introduced to far-reaching concepts that ignite a true desire for learning and a respect for the outdoor world that simply can’t be achieved through traditional classroom lessons.”
In the purpose-built garden on the Early Years campus, the students have access to sticks, logs, pebbles and mud, giving them the opportunity to create and build in a way many of them don’t often get to do when they live in apartments. But all of this messy fun does serve an important purpose, says Eleanor. “Fun is of course the emphasis of all the activities in the Early Years, and children often don’t even realise that their construction or art projects are making them better mathematicians or collaborators. Whether it’s building bridges, fairy houses, dens or sculptures, the students are always being stretched in their abilities to think critically, apply reasoning, problem-solve and develop their own next steps.”
As the students engage with the great outdoors, they also interact more with each other, and this kind of learning-by-play also fosters each child’s communication and teamwork skills. Each of the five nursery and five reception classes at DBIS takes part in Forest School outdoor education sessions. While the sessions are currently held on campus, there are plans to take them further and to utilise the beach, the rock pools and the country park that are part of DB and its surrounds. Given the success and popularity of the outdoor education programme thus far, we’re sure the next step is going to be a big hit with the little explorers, too!
Discovery Bay International School is in Discovery Bay, Lantau Island
This article first appeared in the June/July issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.
Want more ideas on where to get the kids outside? Check out our round-up of parks, playgrounds and outdoor centres for the kids