sara in south korea south korea conference speakers

Last autumn the South Korean Education Broadcasting Company decided to make a film about Forest School, including in the UK, and got in touch with me to arrange an interview. I spent a half day with them putting the academic perspective, and then sent them on to Jon as the Chair of the FSA, to film him talking about how Forest School is supported in the UK and how the training works.

Next, one of my books was translated into Korean. Then Dr Chin Jiyoun from Samyook University in Seoul got in touch, would I host a visit from 28 members of the Korean Forest Kindergarten Association (KFKA), which I did in June. Members of the FSA Essex regional group nobly accommodated groups of visitors into a range of Forest School sessions, and the Greenlight Trust helped me to organise a day’s taster training at their headquarters.

From this came an invitation for Jon as the Chair of the FSA, and for me as an academic, to speak at two conferences over there during our October half term week, one for practitioners and one for both practitioners and decision makers (200 and 800 – respectively). The reason being that they wished to show the evolution of Forest School in the UK, how we have developed our ‘Forest School Framework’ and how it works in our primary and special schools.

During their summer visit they also visited other European countries and were particularly impressed by the ‘UK frameworks’ for Forest School and were interested in how we have managed to get Forest School further up the education system (at this point in time in Korea it is only present in their Kindergartens). This was to be the start of a partnership with the Korean Forest Kindergarten Association.

What a week (in late October)! I had a 10.5 hr flight through a long night, and the inevitable jet-lag that follows suddenly gaining 9hrs made the first day in Korea, Tuesday, a bit of a blur. I was still a bit blurry by the time Jon joined us on Wednesday, just in time to visit markets and a Buddhist temple (cultural orientation is very important). But during that time of orientation our gracious hosts made sure we were well fed and watered with traditional and modern dishes. We agreed that the food was definitely one of the highlights of the trip!

The glorious colours of Autumn were another joy to savour, particularly on Thursday when we spent time in two Forest kindergartens. Jon will write more for the next newsletter in his Chairman’s capacity, but it was clear that the early years teachers and academics in Korea have wasted no time in taking Forest School to their hearts. And children are the same the world over, playing with sticks and mud, and revelling in the joys of the outdoors.

On Friday and Saturday we spoke at two conferences, the smaller one at the National Arboretum just outside Seoul, and the other further south in the city of Daejeon, reaching the ears and eyes of almost a thousand Korean early years experts and education decision makers. I spoke about the principles we have developed in the UK and what they look like in early years settings, while Jon had the after-lunch graveyard slot on Friday. He did a lovely exercise with sticks to wake everyone up and bring the outside into a large auditorium. This was followed by his presentation on the UK education system (highlighting some of the differences between England, Wales and Scotland) and how Forest school attempts to work in this system with examples of practice in primary and special schools. I had the after-lunch slot on Saturday and did half of the same exercise, and half of my own, getting them to be trees in Autumn!
Dr Chin, who organised the conferences, and who will hopefully also write a piece for the FSA, had organised the collection of 800 sticks “as long as my forearm” by her University nursery staff and kindergarten children. She spoke at the conferences about her own recent research, which evidenced the commitment of the Korean Forest Kindergarten Association to Forest School – in just 7 years since their association has been formed almost 40% of South Korean Kindergartens are conducting some form of Forest Kindergarten!
Another speaker was Greta, an older lady from Denmark, who had set up her own Skogsbarnehagen in the 1950s, which is now run by her granddaughters!

The presentations were well received and this has provided the foundations for a long term relationship between the FSA and KFKA. What will emerge from this we shall see – at the very least a sharing of practice between the two organisations and countries. The trip gave us both lots of food for thought and many ideas on how we could be cooperating and collaborating with like-minded organisations and practitioners across the globe.

After a day off on Sunday, climbing the Namsan mountain in the middle of Seoul, adopting a dinosaur, and taking a ride on the Metro, we flew back on Monday. The flight was 12.5 hrs and we arrived back in the UK just three hours after leaving Seoul. How does that work?!?

Sara Knight.

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