Every night when children go to sleep the Forest school opens it’s doors. They are not so much doors but are more like barriers, which sometimes appear as branches and vines knotted together between two of the tallest trees at the entrance of the school. At the beginning of every night the doors magically swing open and they close again in the morning. When the doors open children from all around the world wander into the school and some even fly through riding flying animals, like butterflies, bats, birds of all sorts, dragonflies and many other animals that don’t have names yet here on earth.
As soon as children start at the Forest school, they do only as they please. There are no classrooms, no periods, no bells, no school assemblies, no school announcements, no curriculums, no guidelines, nor will you find any learning objectives. If a teacher from earth could visit they would see the Forest school as utter chaos and would feel so out of control they would have no choice but to leave immediately. This is also why there are never any teachers found at the Forest school but only ever students. Yet if even smarter teachers could visit, which they can’t, they might see it as an environment full of childhood sensory experiences, or in other words what kids call a playground. However these teachers would still see it as an inadequate place for real learning. But the real secret by earth standards that most of the kids don’t even know about is the most valuable lessons of all are learnt here and it never feels like work to learn anything at the school either.
Kids learn by trying things and asking a lot of questions, so when a question needs an answer there will always be a guide who loves the subject being asked about, right there and then to help. So some guides spend the majority of their time at the school not because they work here or anything like that but simply because kids are always the most curious about a number of these guides’ particular interests. One of these as mentioned is animals and particularly the flying and riding variety because flying and for that matter racing via animals is just what most kids like to do. Not to mention that the Forest school is rather large and flying makes it easy to get around too.
On that point, it’s worth mentioning that the school doesn’t have fences or really boundaries of any sort either. In truth the school itself grows and grows every night and how much it grows only depends on the children’s imagination. So if you ever come to visit the Forest school don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll only be seeing trees, while the school started out with mostly trees, hence the name “the Forest school” which kind of stuck, as it grew, lakes appeared, oceans in fact; mountains; deserts even cities of every description are now found here. In fact everything you could possibly imagine and more is found at the school, simply because there is so much to learn, and kids being kids just have an insatiable amount of curiosity that no boundaries could ever contain anyway and that’s exactly how the school’s Principal designed it to be, so everything is perfectly set to plan.
But we could talk on and on about how different the Forest school is from regular schools on earth and even draw up a table of comparisons showing how significantly more things and for that matter important and yes practical things are learnt in a far shorter period of time but that would digress too much from the story we are here to tell. Besides that type of thing is not how things are learnt anyway by Forest school standards so we’d be doing our readers a disservice by going down that path. Instead the story itself will illustrate those things in a far more interesting way. It’s a story of two of the more recent entrants into the school, how they came and how they learnt some of the most valuable lessons, even by Forest school standards, in a very short amount of time.
The story starts with a little boy named Ardie. Ardie lost his parents a long time ago, so long in fact that it felt to him almost like forever. So if he tried to remember what happened back then, he couldn’t, since remembering forever ago is a hard thing for anyone and that’s why Ardie was sure there was no point even trying.
But as much as he could recall, he knew he wandered from place to place, mostly hiding away from others, away from crowds or really away from adults in general who just confused him. For that reason he had to rely on kids for company but often kids too wouldn’t spend much time with him because he was different looking, or they’d lose interest in him because he couldn’t play their games, or some kids even thought he was just part of their imagination. We’ll at least that’s what the grown ups told them but the thing was sometimes he believed it himself. And if they were right, if he was imaginary, that suited him fine because he didn’t like to be seen and if one day he’d just fade away, at least he wouldn’t be anyone’s burden. Because for Ardie, being a burden was the very last thing he would ever choose to be.
But if he was going to fade away, he would put that on hold for a while since he met Hala. Hala was a little girl who when she first saw him, smiled at him and asked him straight away if he wanted to play and instead of wanting him to play her games, she wanted to know his games and play those. Only Ardie couldn’t really remember any games because it was so long ago anyone asked him that and it was too so long ago that he played anything of his own. So Hala asked him what he likes doing and all Ardie could think of saying was “I like to hide”.
“Maybe…” said Hala “we play hide and seek?” “What’s that?” asked Ardie for which Hala explained that he had to go somewhere she couldn’t find him then she would look for him. “When I find you” said Hala, “then it’s your turn to find me.”
This was the one game Ardie knew he could excel at, as from time to time people he didn’t know went looking for him and they could never find him.
So Ardie jumped at the chance and said “OK” with a smile, “I’ll hide, see if you can find me now” and then he disappeared.
Several days later Hala decided she couldn’t find Ardie, he was the best hider she’d ever met even better than her daddy. So she called out as loud as she could “come out Ardie, I can’t find you” but Ardie didn’t come and not until a few days later when Hala first went to the Forest school did Ardie finally leave his hiding spot.
You see, Hala couldn’t find Ardie because he was one of those children who could hide between walls. It was not something he was taught, he just kind of picked it up along the way and it was handy because when a person is between walls, they can still see in the room if they poke their head out ever so slightly and if they are careful like Ardie always was, no one can see them.
The night Hala went to the Forest school, Ardie was still in hiding, waiting to be found. Ardie was used to waiting, he did it all his life so he had no problem keeping extra still. But that night his fondness for Hala made him move, because what he saw was something he had been afraid of for a very long time and so, to warn her about it became far more important than being really good at hiding.
So, he stepped out of the wall to get closer to Hala but a light enveloped the room and was almost blinding him with it’s brightness so it was really hard for Ardie to see what was happening. He could see at least that the light came from just above Hala’s bed and that it looked like she flew into it. The same light then looked like it was moving closer and closer to Ardie and he felt he was floating into it, but the instant he heard those voiceless words telling him not to be afraid, he turned and ran.
It wasn’t the first time he heard those words, Ardie had even seen other children and sometimes adults get taken into that light and never come back, so he imagined his game with Hala was over because she wouldn’t be coming back either. He could have warned her he thought, but he was afraid if he came any closer, he’d be gone too. So he knew he must have done the right thing, although this time he couldn’t stop himself from crying. He really liked Hala and he thought she might become a real friend, but now he was alone again. And although Hala didn’t know what she was doing, she too had abandoned Ardie like all the other people that ever came close to him. He was better off alone he thought, so he wiped his tears away and sat down in the shadows waiting to fade away.
Hala didn’t remember the light in her room or that after floating into it that she flew into this strange place or even that Ardie was trying to warn her about what was happening. All she remembered was that mummy was reading her a story and she was feeling really tired and the next thing she knew, she was standing nearby the Forest school gates with Aphraah who told her all about how she got there.
Hala could tell that Aphraar was a really kind man and she was very happy that he was chosen to show her around the school. Because besides his kindness, he seemed to know so much and she didn’t have to go into any detail when she asked him anything, as every time, Aphraar just got exactly what she wanted to know, even when she herself was confused by her own questions.
And Aphraar really surprised Hala on that one because she wasn’t used to people being so happy about her curiosity about everything. He more than welcomed as many questions as Hala could think up and that was perfect because Hala always had at least ten times more questions for every one answer she was given. She had just never before meet anyone patient enough to answer every single question and still want her to ask more. So it took Hala a little time to adjust to this new situation but not so long that she didn’t jump at the opportunity because who could know, she thought, if she’d never ever again meet a person who loved answering her questions as much or maybe even more than she loved to ask them.
Aphraar told Hala all about the Forest school, how it wasn’t a school like she knew schools to be or in fact that it wasn’t a playground like she knew playgrounds to be but it was more like the best of both put together with more of the best of what no one on earth could scarcely even imagine added on top of all that.
“Can I play here?” Hala wondered out loud, for which Aphraar replied with a smile “Of course, because everyone can do only exactly what they feel like, nothing more and nothing less”… And this was precisely what she discovered, because as soon as she wanted to know what the school was like, she found herself there in an instant, seeing it all, almost like watching a movie with Aphraar by her side but unlike a movie, she wasn’t just watching or imagining what it would be like, she was in it, seeing every building, lake, cloud, island and tree, all in a blink of an eye. She saw games others kids were playing, books others were reading, inventions being made, animals being cuddled, everything she had ever imagined and even more she had never imagined was all happening there, and she saw it with her own eyes, exactly as Aphraar had said she would. And this was how Hala learnt her first lesson at the Forest school, when she felt like going somewhere or seeing something, without a moment to think about it, she would be there.
“That’s how things get done here”, added Aphraar. “We move by our feelings and soon you’ll discover with a bit of time, that we can make things with our feelings too and that’s why we don’t see a lot of grown ups at the school because many of them have just forgotten how to feel.”
“But aren’t you a grown up?” asked Hala. “Well, I suppose I am…” he replied. “You see there are two types of grown ups, the first are the one’s that see themselves as all grown up and often even look very old, but they haven’t grown too much at all. Then there’s the other type. These one’s don’t see themselves as grown up, in fact they feel themselves to be young and often look that way but many of these ones are actually very old, and in comparison they have grown substantially more than the first type”, explained Aphra.
“Why?” Hala inquired. “Because the second type know that they have only grown very little and that’s because there’s always so much more growing to do, for at the Forest school learning never stops just as the Principal designed it, so for both you and me and everyone else, the truth is, we are and always will be children.”
Hala looked up over the furthest mountains she could see and then she realized how large the Forest school really was, it was as if it went on forever and ever.
“As far as we know the school is bigger than anyone has ever imagined, because if we can imagine it, it’s usually because something just like it already exists at the school. In fact, the Forest school is just one classroom of many many classrooms, and you know where you came from, the place you know well, the place you live with your mummy and daddy? Well that’s another type of classroom too”
At that point it came to her, a question that she asked Aphraar, which even he couldn’t answer for certain…
“So did the Principal once learn at a school too?”
Aphraar paused a little and then replied, “Yes, that’s a real possibility and it’s one of those things I can’t answer for sure. You see, because we know the Principal made all the classrooms and all the schools that we know of, we know she must have been here before all of this was made. But because we’ve come to know things only as we’ve learned them here, it’s hard to understand what things could have been like before. One possibility is that maybe there was a time and a place the Principal learnt like we learn now too. We don’t know for sure but we can imagine about these things…”
“We could ask the Principal?”
“That’s right” answered Aphraar. “That’s the most important thing we learn here, that the Principal is always ready to answer our questions, and asking her is the fastest way to learn everything we’d ever want to know too!”
When Hala heard this, it was almost impossible to believe but her big curiosity got even bigger. Knowing how easy it is for us to learn immediately about absolutely anything from someone who knows absolute everything just by asking, filled her with so many more questions. All the the questions about why everything was made and how everything all works could all be answered.
Yet out of all the questions she could think of, the first thing she really wanted to ask the Principal was not about all those incredible secrets of everything, the most important thing she knew she must ask was how to help her friend, Ardie. If there was one question more important than knowing secrets that even Aphraar didn’t know about, it was that she decided.
You see, Ardie was Hala’s friend and Hala realised that the Principal must be a very busy person because the one school she had seen, the Forest school was so big, and it was just one school of maybe even thousands of others. So if the Principal did have a chance to answer one of Hala’s many many questions, she might only have a chance to answer one, and if that was the case, it would have to be one that would help her friend.
Also if there was one person who would know best how to help Ardie, it would have to be the Principal, so Hala resolved in her mind what she would ask and before she even got a chance to find out where to find the Principal or how to ask, she felt suddenly very different. She looked at Aphraar wondering what was happening, but at the same time she knew exactly what was happening, and so did Aphraar, who smiled at her in acknowledgment, it was the Principal, she had come to answer Hala’s question.
Suddenly Hala wasn’t any longer at the Forest school she was back in her room, standing next to her bed, and in her bed she saw herself sleeping. She wasn’t afraid though because not only could she feel the Principal with her but she knew right away that she has nothing to fear. She knew suddenly too that when was ready to wake, she would be back in her body and could hug mummy and daddy like she always had done in the morning. But first there was something she had to do.
Hala looked around her room and saw her friend, Ardie who was still hiding. He had his head between his knees in the corner and looked very sad. As soon as she saw him, and wanted to be beside him, she was right next to him.
“Found you” said Hala.
Ardie looked up and saw Hala standing next to her, she somehow looked different, taller and brighter than before, even in the dark. Ardie had seen people like this before and always hid away from them, but this was Hala, his friend and rather than feeling afraid, he felt happy to see that she was alright and back with him.
Hala and Ardie embraced and Ardie began to cry. He cried like he hadn’t for such a long time. He sobbed with tears of sadness but also happiness and as he cried, something in him was changing. It was like the darkness that was a blanket surrounding him evaporated away suddenly, like a cold dark steam and that’s just what it looked like too.
Something in him knew that Hala came back for him, he didn’t know why or how he knew but he knew it was true. Because of that, he felt for certain that Hala also really did love him but you see, love was for Ardie something he felt he never deserved but Hala was showing him otherwise. And that made him cry.
After crying for a while, Adie began to notice it was not only Hala with him but another person who looked like he was made of light. Today he wasn’t afraid of this man because he knew that Hala loved him and couldn’t bring anyone with her that would harm him. He looked up at him and he understood without hearing a word that his name was Aphra and that Aphraar wanted for a long time to help him.
He let go of Hala and she watched him take Aphraar’s hand and start walking into the light that he was always afraid of before. Ardie looked back at her for a moment with apprehension but she smiled and that encouraged him. He knew suddenly too that she would visit him soon and play many many new games. He had the biggest smile on his face as he saw in the distance the Forest school with its mountains, rivers, forests and happy kids playing all over the place. He felt like he was finally coming to a place he could call home. He was so glad Hala came when she did, because he really believed just before that it was his time to fade away. Now that was just a distant memory.
When Hala woke up in the morning she ran to mummy and daddy and gave them the biggest hug ever. She had just learned one of the most valuable lessons that’s taught at the Forest school and that was that dong things with real and simple love is all we need to help our friends and the entire world too.