We have been on Bali for 4 months now. It took us 2 months to find a house and start properly settling in – much longer than we expected! In the meantime both our laptops broke down overnight, and we had problems replacing them. Hence why my blogging has been sporadic. Things are becoming a little less pear-shaped, so I can finally tell you if life on Bali is what we expected it to be. In particular the Wood School Bali, which is the main reason for our move here.
What the Wood School Bali is really like
During our first weeks here on Bali we have been talking to other parents about the Wood School. One of the dads stood out in my memory. He said that ”Wood School is where kids wander around waving sticks’’. He quickly added ‘’which isn’t a bad thing”. I do agree with him that aimless wandering is a good start to exploring the world, but I did get me thinking whether that is all the kids do. Just wander around, with distant supervision, but without specific learning or direction.
I was very keen to spend a day at the school, and my wish was granted – this was quite some weeks ago, but I had no laptop or reliable wi-fi to tell you all about it.
The day starts with 30-odd barefoot children from all age groups gathered together in a circle singing and doing yoga (if a teacher is available). The airy hall is decorated with vivid wall paintings: under the sea, volcano, flowers. Older kids are purposely put between younger ones to help look after and discipline them. This creates a family atmosphere. The teachers seem endlessly calm (but firm) in all this happy chaos.
After vigorous activity children lay down with their heads pointing to the center of the circle to meditate and focus. Teachers walk around reminding to close eyes, or calm a noisy youngster. Some kids are lucky enough to receive a quick head massage. Once everyone is in position only crickets break the silence, while green air flows in through wide open windows. A lovely bonding and a great way to start the day.
Now children split into age groups to do different activities. They will intermingle again at different points in the day. Some do gardening and pet care, others head to classes. I have spent most of my day with the youngest group – Little Seeds – as this is Big F’s group.
As in any school, presence is checked. Learning begins, through simple daily repetition: Ibu Yeyen counts all the pupils in bahasa Indonesia. I have heard Big F singingly recite the numbers while playing at home, though he can’t actually count. It’s clearly working!
Now the little ones play. Ibu Yeyen and her assistant Ibu Lily call up children for one to one attention, to complete age appropriate activities or make crafts. Some letter work and making a ladybird when I was there. The one to be called up is usually the child who causes most disturbance in the group at the time. A simple technique to keep peace.
While kids are busy I had time to look around the well kept grounds. Coming from space squeezed London it’s lovely to see that there is more outdoor than indoor space. It’s all green trimmed lawns, perfect for running barefoot, and mature climb-worthy trees.
Since the school is vegetarian I was surprised to see animals in captivity. In less than perfect conditions. There are birds in large open-air cages, fish in a complex series of ponds, long eared goats and fluffy puppies in small concrete enclosures.
When I asked Arul, the founder and principal of the school, about the animals, the answer was simple. The birds are a part of captive breeding program of Jalak Bali, run by a charity who shares school’s grounds. Once mature they will be released on Nusa Penida (a neighbouring island). The fish are part of aquaculture, and the nutrient rich water they produce is used for fertilising fields. The puppies are there temporarily, as the owner of the land was having some ceremonies conducted in his family compound and didn’t want dogs getting in the way. The goats also belong to the owner of the land.
For snack-time children are offered a plate of juicy fruit. All shared from two large plates and eaten with fingers. No need for cutlery here. All the children have their own bottles and are reminded to drink throughout the day.
Then it’s time for more play. Ibu Yeyen and Ibu Lily keep a close eye on the 12 youngsters and step in whenever there is need to help resolve conflict. School’s motto is ‘Today I will cause no harm’ through words or deeds and teachers help children put it into practice.
After tidying up together children settle down for story time.
and before you know it it’s lunchtime
All prepared fresh in school’s kitchen. All ingredients are veggie and mostly organic, with some items straight from the school’s veg patch.
There is quiet time to let the food settle. No running allowed, though some kids are so full of energy they struggle to stick to this rule.
There’s more classes to be had, but first it’s time for everyone to play. Teacher’s included! It’s wonderful to watch their energy and genuine enjoyment, while interacting with the kids.
In any other school climbing a tree might land you in detention. In here no one bats an eyelid.
Older kids return to enjoy their airy classrooms. There is no shortage of fresh air here to oxydise the brains and help absorb the knowledge.
Though it might be hard to focus with a view like this…
Little Seeds are learning about flavours today. It’s all about bitter (cocoa powder) and sweet (sugar).
Cocoa powder is also employed to make invisible wax drawings magically appear on a white page.
The day ends as it has started, with everyone gathered together in circle singing.
The day passes smoothly, without bells, as it is the teachers who announce change of activity. There are periods of chaos and calm, but there is always good energy flowing around. There is structure and direction, but no rigidity. It’s not limiting, it is there to help kids grow in a way suitable to each of them as an individual.
The philosophy behind the Wood School Bali
It seems to me that the underlying philosophy behind the school is teaching big things, through small everyday actions. For example:
Responsibility and care for others – older children are encouraged and expected to look after the younger ones
Internal discipline and control rather than excessive health and safety – as anywhere in Bali within the school grounds and buildings there are big drops without barriers. Children are expected to be mindful of the potential danger, rather than being wrapped in cotton wool of health and safety. They have to think for themselves rather than relying on the fact that someone else has done the thinking for them and removed any potential danger.
Be grateful – Before meals children thank for the food with a song in Sanskrit
There is no wasting food – portions are plated out by the staff, but students are asked throughout the meal if they want a little extra of something, or if they want to swap one part of the meal for something else with another student
Responsibility for self – even the youngest children clear and wash their plates by themselves.
Is Wood School Bali green?
The school aims to teach children about sustainability and protecting the environment. There is a lot that the school does:
metal, rather than plastic plates
a water filter, rather than buy gallons of water in plastic bottle
wood is a prominent building material
food is mostly organic, and fully vegetarian (it has a smaller carbon footprint compared to eating meat)
some of the food is grown on premisses
teaching children about importance of caring for environment. The school run a bee awareness program recently, teaching kids why it is so important to protect the bees.
conserving energy, for example not using air-conditioning in classrooms
I am not quite clear about the recycling practices, but recycling here in Bali is a tricky subject. There are recycling services available. They are quite pricy compared to normal rubbish removal: 100’000 IDR compared to 600’000 per month. And I’ve heard plenty of stories, where the rubbish supposedly destined for recycling ends up in a rubbish dump anyway.
Is Wood School Bali all we hoped for?
I think the answer has to be ‘yes’. Most importantly because Big F loves it so much. He is nearly always happy to go to school – we all have our bad days. He comes back changed. It is hard to describe, but it is a very positive change. He is still the energetic boy up for playing with the other kids on our street, but when he is not running around he is calm and articulate. It’s like his energy has been channeled. He is also more affectionate towards Little S, though this might be because he is watching Daddy and me giving her lots of love.
PS. This is a sponsored post.