Our Multi-Faceted Educational Approach & Guiding Principles

Forest & Nature School

Forest School Punggol

The benefits of Forest & Nature School (FNS) are endless. FNS help develop the whole-child – social-emotional, physical, and cognitive skills. It allows education in a different context where children can carry out a range of practical and achievable activities. Going along with our values and principles, researchers have found that children who continually engage in outdoor settings typically experience an increase in their confidence, capacity to learn (motivation, understanding, and concentration); communication, problem-solving and social skills; physical literacy and emotional well-being. There is also a ripple effect through the community with children bringing what they have learnt and becoming passionate about home and their social networks. (Murray and O’brien, 2006)

Whole Child Approach

Whole Child Learning Approach

FNS encompasses a holistic approach to learning. The three domains of the whole child development include Physical, Social-Emotional, and Cognitive. Please note that the domains are interrelated and influence one another (Bushnell and Boudreau, 1993).


Includes the child’s emotional regulation, healthy attachment, self-image, ideal self, self-esteem, confidence, self-awareness, self-concept, managing strong emotions, self-efficacy, teamwork, community building, relationship with others (acceptance, love, kindness, ability to read others), social skills and competence, empathy, trust, perception, inclusion, empowerment, reflection, pushing comfort zones, connecting to land, nature appreciation, sense of urgency, and cultural appreciation.


Includes the child’s fine and gross motor skill development, manipulation of objects, relationship with others, spatial awareness, organising, interpreting and responding to sensory information, skill acquisition, perception and decision making, physical literacy, visualisation, and pushing comfort zones.


Includes the child’s decision making, higher order thinking, critical thinking and problem solving, deep knowledge and understanding of activity, intrinsic motivation, concentration, pushing comfort zones, emotional intelligence, eco-literacy, local knowledge and identification development, nature appreciation, empowerment, reflection, cultural appreciation, imagination, and planning.

Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning Cycle

This is the process of learning by doing. It is typically a hands-on approach to learning where skills, knowledge, and experiences are acquired. It can also involve guided reflection throughout.

Emergent, Inquiry-based & Student-led Learning

At FNS, learning is a dynamic and emergent process. Each day differs dramatically from the last. Students drive the learning process while coaches support them. Thus, we uncover the curriculum as we go with student interests at the forefront. We value the process, not the product.

Process, not Product

We strongly believe that there is no final destination or end result that we are trying to achieve – that learning happens through work and play. Our process is unhurried.

Place-based Learning

Our programme is rooted in what is local – our community, our unique history, geography, and culture. This occurs anytime and anywhere that helps personalise learning for our students. This could be our sit spots, special areas of the park that we explore, or while on a field trip to a familiar location. It happens in the form of repetitive visits to the same spaces, and develops deep connection with direct experiential contact.

Play-based Learning

We know that play is valuable in and of itself, but it’s also a marvellous vehicle for learning! Play theorist Bob Hughes (2002) said, “Play is a biological necessity that puts the child in the driving seat.” And we couldn’t agree more. He created a taxonomy for play and identified around 15 different types of play (Hughes, 2002).

Adventurous (Risky) Play

Adventure Experience Paradigm

For children, outdoor play is a basic need and inherent to play is the necessity of risk. Risky play takes on many different shapes but it always involves pushing limits and comfort zones in a thrilling and exciting way. It’s about testing oneself – and finding out what happens.

During risky play, children not only experience an element of danger – actual or perceived – but they also risk receiving the potential benefits. Risky play is integral to whole-child development, well-being and health. It helps children develop self-esteem, confidence and their socio-emotional self. Risky play helps develop physical literacy in children and foster cognitive skills. Moreover, it helps children learn how to independently manage risks and be safe – this is why it is so important!

At Mel’s Adventure School, we engage children in six categories of risky play (Sandseter, 2007):

Play at Great Heights

Ever notice that if there is anything to be climbed, kids will climb it? Playgrounds, trees, or even slopes, it will be climbed.

Rough and Tumble Play

Think back to when you were a kid – fencing with sticks? Wrestling with friends? Rolling around in the mud? This type of play is a balance between play and real fighting.

Play with Dangerous Tools

Saws, knives, hammers and drills. Whittling or cutting firewood. Though supervised, these are potentially dangerous and we learn to respect and use these tools with care – and never before 10 AM (too sleepy!) or after 2 PM (again, sleepy time).

Play with the Chance of Getting Lost

This happens when children are given a chance to be alone, disappear, and even perceive being disappearing.

Play at Great Speeds

Paddling a river, or riding a bike – the risk of crashing or flipping or just simply falling off.

Play near Dangerous Elements

Water, cliffs, rocky trails and forests are all part of our landscape and where we play every day.

Challenge by Choice

At Mel’s Adventure School, we believe in the concept of Challenge by Choice where students are presented with an opportunity (or challenge), and they are empowered to decide how they will participate or engage in the activity. We encourage students to challenge themselves and participate fully in the experience at hand. However, we fully respect the decision of the child and their personalised level of engagement. All students are asked to add value to the experience by finding a way to contribute to the group’s efforts in a way that is meaningful and authentic for them. Creating a space that reflects a Challenge by Choice environment enables students to feel comfortable expanding their comfort zone by moving into their growth zone without stepping into their panic zone. We believe that this is the zone of optimal development where great opportunities for growth and learning exist.

Planning & Observation

We always have a plan at FNS – if only so we know just what we are deviating from. Some days unfold following pre-planned themes and ideas, and others go in the opposite direction. Given the nature of our programme and the learning approaches mentioned above, a lot of our focus is student-led and that can take us just about anywhere. Students set goals in the morning and generate ideas and this help guide our day. Therefore, rather than having a strict plan, the coach’s role is more observation and reflection. A great coach knows the right questions to ask, when to intervene or step back, and how to draw out the learning.

Tool Use

At Mel’s Adventure School, students are provided with the opportunity to engage with various tools throughout the day. These opportunities are presented by experienced mentors who have a thorough understanding of the specific tool and can introduce the student safely to the tool experience to ensure a safe, successful and soon-to-be mastery experience of the equipment. It is important to note that there must be high-trust with the student in order to operate the tools independently. Unlike our Loose Parts, tools are kept in a secure and locked space in the schoolhouse and are inspected before and after each use. Some tools include a hammer, hand drill, knives, ropes, and hand planers. After a comprehensive lesson and students feel confident managing tools safely, students are allowed to use the tools independently. Students are responsible for their signed-out tool (and returning it), understanding and following all safety guidelines (no warnings), and using the tool in the appropriately established tool zone.

Loose Parts

Loose Parts

Loose parts are any open-ended materials that can be moved, redesigned, constructed, combined together or broke apart by the learners (Kable, 2015). They can be natural (stumps, stones, twigs) or synthetic (buckets, baskets, boxes, ropes, balls). The essence of loose parts is to empower students to expand their creativity and sense of play and this can be directly correlated to the number of variables in an area (LECS, n.d.). Students are able to manipulate and adapt our loose parts to suit their needs and change their environment, cultivate their curiosity, and combine them with other material to support their imagination. It is often an open-ended and self-directed experience.


Every day at FNS, there are opportunities for storytelling – myths, legends, poems, children’s books, personal stories and more. Storytelling broadens horizons, invokes understanding and empathy, encourages creativity, and listening, and so much more. The tradition of oral storytelling is a way to spark interest and invoke learning, and share ideas. Students are encouraged to tell stories of their own as a way to express their emotions, enhance imagination, and entertain us with experiences.


Tweet Us

This is one of the best piece of news for us here at Mel’s Adventure School! Kudos to @nparksbuzz for this initiative! We certainly hope more of such nature playground will be rolled out in Punggol! https://t.co/EYN2r7xacn

This is rather appalling. Water is the driving force of all nature and in almost every country that I’ve been to, the river is where great cities flourish. https://t.co/nzhsATKeVT

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