Author’s Blurb: My dad always tells me about how much his childhood revolved around playing in the dirt and amongst animals, and how kids of our generation never do that anymore. And I always wondered, would that even still be a norm for kids today?
Both Pui Lin and Dahlia toyed around with this idea, as the two shared a passion for children being able to have a nature-filled learning experience.
“Being in an increasingly urban setting has reduced the time that children spend in nature. The less time children spend playing outdoors, digging soil, finding worms, playing with sticks and rocks, and harvesting veggies, the less aware they are of mother nature,” they shared with Vulcan Post.
In 2018, the duo founded Rimbun Montessori, a forest school for kids to have a nature-filled learning environment in Bukit Damansara.
Teaching Goals Aligned With The Montessori Philosophy
Since their syllabi are focused on immersing the kids in nature, Pui Lin and Dahlia felt that the Montessori philosophy resonated with their goals for childhood early education the most.
“We felt that the focus on early childhood education these days are getting more and more academic and competitive,” they explained.
“We sometimes see that children are being pushed at such a young age to excel only in academics, so they miss out on other aspects that are so important in a child’s early years.”
To build their ideal forest school, they scouted for a couple of things: a house with a huge garden that felt homey and had a nice landlord, which they found with their current Bukit Damansara location.
Though they were founded in 2018, Rimbun officially opened its doors to students in January 2019. They currently operate with a team of 7.
Because of how small their team is, they only take in 20 to 25 students at a time, between the ages of 3-6. Most of the kids in their school stay around the area.
“Our intention at this point isn’t to expand beyond our comfort level, we like having a close relationship with our students and their families,” they shared.
Learning Everything They Can Under The Sun
Every day, the kids in Rimbun will be out in the garden for about an hour to do pretty much anything you can learn from in a garden.
They compost food scraps, learn to plant and how to care for plants, harvest them, etc. None of the kids is forced to participate in any of these activities, as they can join whatever activity they like according to their interests.
Apart from food scraps from their school, they even encourage parents who don’t have a compost bin at home to collect their food waste and put it in the school’s compost bins.
Rimbun organises weekly gardening sessions planned and facilitated by Eats, Shoots & Roots, an organisation that helps urbanites convert their spaces into edible gardens and creates outdoor classrooms for environmental education. They’re also a partner of Rimbun and part of their core team.
Besides facilitating these outdoor classes, the team is also responsible for maintaining and looking after their garden to make sure it’s always lush-looking and fruiting.
This is because the kids at Rimbun enjoy picking fruits from trees and eating them straight or bringing them home to share with their families.
On how this approach has impacted their students, Pui Lin and Dahlia noticed the kids don’t fear bugs or worms or even getting dirty while playing in the garden.
“They are also more aware of where their food comes from, how much effort is taken to produce their veggies and to have more appreciation of it,” they shared.
Taking Outdoor Learning Online During MCO
While outdoor learning had shown wonders to their students, MCO unfortunately made all that fun short-lived. They had to start thinking about how to incorporate outdoor learning for their kids virtually.
“With our approach, children learn using different physical/sensorial materials, and everything is very hands-on. Going virtual made it very challenging as this was just kind of going against what we had strongly believed in.”
They still wanted to maintain a two-way interaction between themselves and the kids, and didn’t want to just give them worksheets.
Hence, they created weekly learning kits which parents would pick up from school and have the kids do the hands-on activities together with them on-screen.
For a planting activity, they included soil and seeds for them as well as some fresh mints from their garden to teach them how to make their own lemon mint cooler.
Another kit they gave had dough in it for kids to learn how to make their own pizza. Sometimes these kits include art and craft materials, like their batik painting kit.
Once the pandemic is over, they hope to be able to run school holiday programmes with Eats, Shoots & Roots for more children including those who don’t go to Rimbun.
“It’s important for a parent’s belief in this approach, as well as maintaining a trusting relationship with them,” Pui Lin and Dahlia shared with Vulcan Post.
“It really takes a community to raise a child, shared efforts, and we are very thankful that our school’s parents have been very supportive of us throughout the MCO period and been very open to all the changes that are happening.”
Bottom Line: Turns out, my dad wasn’t the only one who loves the idea of kids being able to play outdoors as part of their learning experience. These kids are already off to a great start with experiences that I only got to learn about in college.
- You can learn more about Rimbun Montessori here.
- You can read other education-related articles we’ve written here.
Featured Image Credit: Pui Lin and Dahlia, co-founders of Rimbun Montessori