Kids' nature activities in December: A romp in nature

Forest School Singapore conducts two-hour journeys through forested areas. Nature Play, supported by social enterprise Chapter Zero Singapore, takes children to a forested area at Tampines Eco-Green or Dairy Farm Road area for child-led play sessions
Nature Play, supported by social enterprise Chapter Zero Singapore, takes children to a forested area at Tampines Eco-Green or Dairy Farm Road area for child-led play sessions in nature.PHOTO: CHAPTER ZERO SINGAPORE
Forest School Singapore conducts two-hour journeys through forested areas. Nature Play, supported by social enterprise Chapter Zero Singapore, takes children to a forested area at Tampines Eco-Green or Dairy Farm Road area for child-led play sessions
Forest School Singapore conducts two-hour journeys through forested areas. PHOTO: FOREST SCHOOL SINGAPORE

Every Friday morning in a forested area off Dairy Farm Road, children get very, very dirty.

Barefoot or with shoes on, they jump onto puddles and wade into streams. They swing from low branches or scramble up trees.

The end of the session looks like a chaotic scene out of Lord Of The Flies, with some of the children's clothes and bodies covered with dirt or soaked in mud.

But their parents do not mind. In fact, they encourage these wild antics as they believe in "child-led play", where adults allow kids to follow their own play urges instead of imposing rules.

The sessions in Dairy Farm Road are organised by Nature Play, an international group which promotes child-led play in nature. Nature Play was started in Britain and, in Singapore, it is supported by Chapter Zero Singapore, a social enterprise with a similar agenda.

 

Chapter Zero runs two groups for free: Nature Play East Singapore and Nature Play West Singapore. The first group takes children on alternate Saturdays to a forested area at Tampines Eco-Green while the second group takes them to the Dairy Farm Road area every Friday morning.

The areas are carefully chosen and consists of "play elements" such as trees with low-hanging branches, logs for children to balance on and slopes for them to climb.

Children are allowed to play with what they want so long as they do not hurt one another and the environment.

Ms Yong Caiwen, 34, a facilitator at Nature Play East Singapore, has been taking her 14-month-old daughter to these sessions since August. She coordinates the sessions, which can involve tots as young as four months old.

"Singapore lacks open spaces where children can play and move freely about," she says. "But children need such spaces to explore and build up their confidence."

Child-led play groups are becoming popular in Singapore as some parents believe this method of play encourages creative problem- solving and healthy risk-taking.

Mother-of-two Tan Shwu Huey, 36, who is a facilitator at Nature Play West Singapore, says: "Children are free to follow their own interests and learn at their own pace."

Besides Nature Play, another such group is Sprouting Seeds, which was started by three mothers with young children.

Since August, they have been running a weekly playgroup in Mandarin for children aged 18 months to three years old at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Each caregiver and child pair pays $30 a session.

Children are encouraged to interact with the environment, such as running barefoot on grass and playing with dried leaves on the ground.

The group is inspired by nature pedagogy and Waldorf education, which nurtures children through natural rustic play.

Another organisation, Forest School Singapore, has a more formal programme in an outdoor setting.

The school was founded by Mr Darren Quek, 26, who has been an educator in various fields for the last 10 years. Since November, he has been taking groups of children aged three to 11 for a two-hour trek through a forested area along Rifle Range Road. Each child pays between $35 and $45 a session.

Children can choose where they want to stop and what they want to do. For instance, if they are at a stream, they may wade in it, lie down in its shallow water or build sandcastles on the sandbed.

Mr Quek says: "When children are allowed to direct their own learning, whatever they learn from the experience will stay with them for life."

When they face a problem, for instance, how to climb onto a boulder with grassy patches, they resolve it themselves, such as by trimming the grass with a pair of scissors.

Parents are not to interfere with the children's play unless safety is compromised.

If these sound too free-and-easy for some parents, there are always more conventional guided nature walks geared for children.

For instance, environmental education group Cicada Tree Eco-Place, set up in 2007 by five long-time members of the Nature Society (Singapore), conducts night walks for children at places such as Pasir Ris Mangrove boardwalk.

Children can spot nocturnal animals such as bats and owls.

Once every two months, the society's education committee also runs nature walks in forests and parklands for children aged four to 12 years old. Some of them are led by children as young as 10 years old to inspire other children.

Besides introducing the children to different habitats, the tours also teach skills such as nature photography and sketching. Each walk costs $2 for members and $10 for non-members.

Meanwhile, the Singapore Botanic Gardens has been conducting a children's programme for those aged between four and seven.

The guided tour is based on the story of a dinosaur named Sara who left her eggs behind in the gardens. During the hour-long tour, the children are led around the Tanglin Core to hunt for the lost eggs. Along the way, they learn about heritage trees, among other things.

The gardens' group director, Dr Nigel Taylor, says: "The storytelling elements allow us to teach children about nature in a fun way. We believe that children can learn better when they enjoy themselves."

Kids' nature activities in December

NATURE PLAY OFF DAIRY FARM ROAD

At a forested area, children are encouraged to explore their surroundings which consist of trees, logs and slopes. For children of all ages.

When: Every FridayTime: 9.15am

Cost: Free

Venue: Meet at the carpark at 2 Dairy Farm Road

Info: Go to www.chapterzero.org/nature-play

KIDS RAINFOREST EXPLORATION AT LOWER PEIRCE RESERVOIR BOARDWALK BY CICADA TREE ECO-PLACE

This walk, which is suitable for children aged five to 10 years old, takes them through the Lower Peirce Reservoir rainforest, which is home to many animals, including the colugo, a gliding mammal, and the adorable lesser mousedeer.

When: Dec 14 Time: 10am to noon

Cost: $13 a person. Free for children aged five and below.

Venue: Lower Peirce Reservoir Forest

Info: To register, e-mail contact@cicadatree.org.sg

KIDS NITE CRITTER WATCH AT SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS BY CICADA TREE ECO-PLACE

Look out for nocturnal animals such as birds, spiders and crickets in this adventurous night walk. Children can also learn to use the bat detector to hear the echo-locating calls of the bats roosting in the garden's palm trees and observe how they capture their prey. Suitable for children aged five to 10 years old.

When: Dec 10 Time: 6.45 to 8.30pm

Cost: $13 a person. Free for children aged five and below.

Venue: Tanglin Gate entrance of Singapore Botanic Gardens

Info: To register, e-mail contact@cicadatree.org.sg

ECOLIFE FAMILY TOUR AT THE RIVER PLAINS OF BISHAN-ANG MO KIO PARK

This National Parks Board tour takes participants to the river plains at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to see a diverse range of flora and fauna. The tour also includes interactive elements such as the chance to make an underwater viewing scope. For children of all ages.

When: Dec 10 and 17 Time: 9 to 11am

Cost: Free

Venue: Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park River Plains

Info: To register, e-mail pauline_tan@nparks.gov.sg

WILD KAMPUNG NATURE CAMP

This camp is for children aged three to seven. It is organised by two playgroups, Sprouting Seeds and Little Wildflowers, in collaboration with Wow Kampung, a social enterprise by the non-profit Ground-Up Initiative.

It follows a Waldorf-based programme with activities such as bread-making and creative play with toys and materials from nature, outdoor play, circle time and puppet storytelling.

It uses the space at Kampung Kampus, a community learning campus.

When: Monday to Dec 9 Time: 9.15am to 12.30pm

Cost: $195 (three days), $250 (four days), $300 (five days)

Venue: Kampung Kampus, Ground-Up Initiative, 91 Lorong Chencharu

Info: To register, e-mail thewildflowers@gmail.com


Correction note: A earlier version of the story said the facilitator at Nature Play East is Ms Ng Caiwen, which is incorrect. Her name is Ms Yong Caiwen. We are sorry for the error.  

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline ' A romp in nature'. Print Edition | Subscribe