Why I Switched from Teaching EFL Online to Forest Preschool

Why I Switched from Teaching EFL Online to  Forest Preschool

My Journey Teaching EFL Online

Teaching EFL online with VIPKid
Teaching EFL online with VIPKid’s mascot, Dino

Shortly after Arturo and I got married, we moved to Mexico City to live closer to his family for a while. I had a Bachelor’s Degree in Anthropology and Spanish under my belt but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it.

In school I had always excelled in English classes as well and had worked with children at summer camps and at a kid’s party company in the past. Naturally, I figured I could get a job at a language school to help teach English (EFL = English as a Foreign Language) to Spanish speakers.

In order to get hired, I first completed my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Certificate through Coursera.

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Teaching EFL at a Language School

The first EFL teaching job I got was at a language school just outside Mexico City and I really enjoyed it. I was able to teach both children and some adults in private or small group classes. I also got assigned to teach group classes to adults in a factory once a week through the school. There was a lot of variety to what I was teaching but it was a very long commute and the pay was quite low.

Teaching EFL Online

From there, I moved to teaching EFL online and loved it. I switched to mainly teaching children on platforms like VIPKid, SayABC, KonnektKid, Outschool, and Cambly. I loved teaching English online as it allowed me to interact with children from all over the world and have the flexibility to work from wherever which made it easy to travel more.

Why I Needed a Change

While I loved the flexibility of teaching online, I was starting to get burnt out. Teaching English online meant that I was mainly teaching to children in other countries, often ones in different time zones. Since I was living in Mexico and then Canada while doing this I often started teaching at 4am or 5am to align my schedule to the time zone of my students.

Additionally, new law changes in China made it impossible for foreign teachers to offer classes there if they didn’t live there which meant that the companies I had the most regular students with and where I earned the most money went under for a while before they were able to start offering classes to different countries instead. Thousands of online teachers lost large chunks of their income and had to look elsewhere to supplement it.

The Decision to Work at a Forest Preschool

Something I realized through teaching EFL online was that I really loved working with young children around the ages of 3-6. Right before we moved back to Canada I watched a video that talked about forest preschools in Europe and how they were becoming more popular around the world.

As someone who loves the outdoors and is passionate about education, I was immediately interested. I decided that I would go back to school to become a preschool teacher in the hopes that I could teach at a forest preschool one day in Canada.

What is Forest Preschool Anyway?

Forest preschool is preschool that takes place outdoors, often in a forest, at a beach, or in a natural landscape. The idea is that since children, on average, spend less time outdoors than they used to due to parental fears concerning safety as well as the increase of digital technology, forest preschools can help kids get outside again.

Benefits of Forest Preschool for Kids

Spending time outdoors allows children to engage in unstructured play, provides beneficial risky play opportunities, encourages creativity, provides important sensory experiences, and encourages more physical activity than if they were indoors. Playing outside also provides children with mental health benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety. This, coupled with the fact that many forest preschools value unstructured play time, is why forest preschools are extra beneficial for neurodivergent children.

Schooling & Training for Forest Preschool

ECEA and ECE Certificates

In order to work as a preschool teacher I learned I needed either an ECEA (Early Childhood Education Assistant) or ECE Certificate (Early Childhood Education Certificate). To get an ECEA you only needed to complete one course but I chose to pursue obtaining my full ECE Certificate through UBC.

First Aid Certificate

In addition to an Early Childhood Education Certificate, you will also need to obtain a first aid certificate which usually takes one day to complete. You can often get this after you have been hired as well.

Getting Hired

I was a bit bummed that I needed to wait to get certified before starting to teach at a forest preschool but then I realized a forest school in my city was hiring people to lead their after-school care programs for school-age children. This meant I could get my foot in the door before being fully certified as I only needed the ECE for teaching preschool.

I applied in December of 2022, got hired in January of 2023, and have worked at a forest school that I love ever since. Since then I’ve obtained my ECEA Certificate and will be completing my full ECE Certificate in about one more year or a bit less. I’ve been lucky to have been hired by a forest school that has multiple locations throughout my city, so I’ve been able to complete two of my practicums at two of their locations and am hoping to do my third practicum at one of the forest school’s other locations as well.

Since I have my ECEA I now work full-time as a forest preschool teacher and afterschool care leader. The school I work for actually has programs for preschool up to grade 5 so eventually I also want to get my Bachelor’s of Education so I can teach kindergarten outdoors as well.

Why I LOVE Working at a Forest School

Sharing a Love for the Outdoors

Hiking at Salt Spring Island

Working at a forest school is so rewarding. Growing up I was always playing barefoot outdoors, climbing trees, searching for seashells, camping, hiking, skiing, kayaking, and more. Some of my best childhood memories are from spending time in nature. I feel so lucky to be able to not only share my passion for education with so many wonderful kids but also share my love for the outdoors with them.

Optional Work in Spring & Summer Breaks

While most schools close for the spring and summer, the forest school I work for puts on spring break camps and summer camps.

Teachers who work during the school year can choose to also work at some of these camps if they want to but it is not mandatory as extra spring and summer staff get hired to help out at the camps each year too. This means I can plan when I want to travel but also sign up to lead at camps to make some money during the summer months without having to look for another seasonal job.

Diversity & Inclusivity

Currently, I teach on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples and I have the responsibility to help teach my students about the land we get to live and play on and why we must respect and care for it. Thankfully the school I work for is proactive about this and provides us with lots of books and resources we can share with the children that teach about topics including Indigenous art and culture, the history of residential schools, and more. We also follow leave-no-trace principles and regularly go on garbage walks along with teaching the kids to pack out whatever they bring into the forest.

The school and staff are also gender diverse and LGBTQ+ inclusive. Something that made me so happy was that they held their first Gender Diverse Kids Camp this past summer.

While forest schools are not as easily accessible to children with mobility disabilities, they are quite accommodating and inclusive for immunocompromised children and neurodivergent children as well.

How to Find a Forest School To Work At

outdoor education

If you are also interested in working at a forest preschool and have the certifications required in your province or state, simply search for ‘forest preschools’ or ‘outdoor preschools’ in your area.

If you want to work at a forest school but don’t have any certifications, look for ‘forest preschools’ or ‘outdoor preschools’ in your area that need leaders for after-school care programs. You may need something like a Responsible Adult Certificate (easy to obtain) or have a certain amount of experience working with children. You’ll also need a first aid certificate which you should be able to get after getting hired anyway.

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