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‘It’s Like Going to School in a Treehouse’: Why This Family Picked Up and Moved to Green School Bali

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Ever been tempted to escape the hustle and bustle of Singapore and just decamp to Bali? This family of four actually did it! And The Green School Bali is every bit as amazing as it seems…

It’s a well known fact that we’re a big fan of sustainability here at Sassy Mama. We also know a thing or two about the best schools, and have even combined those two things with our roundup of the greenest schools in Singapore. But, as The New York Times points out, “While some schools might employ the word ‘green’ in the context of their LEED-certified building or cafeteria recycling effort, [The Green School Bali] takes green to another level.”

Whether kids are raising farm animals (and selling eggs), building bridges, or designing hydroponics systems, the hands-on, back-to-nature ethos of the school is unlike pretty much anywhere else on Earth. When we heard that longtime Singapore resident Amanda Smits and her family – including sons Jackson, 9 and Hugo, 5 – had moved to Bali and enrolled in the school, we were dying to find out more. And it sounds like the school is every bit as amazing as it seems! As Amanda says, “So many of the parents here all came for a 6-month or a year experience and are still here five years later. We came for a year but are also wondering if that is long enough…”

If you’ve ever fantasized about leaving the rat race and moving to paradise, Amanda and her family are living proof that it can actually work! Here’s how they made it happen…

What made you decide to move to Bali?

Our time in Singapore had come to an end sooner than we were planning so we thought we would go on an adventure for a year somewhere before returning to Australia while the boys were young. Originally it was going to be Amsterdam, as our boys are Australian Dutch. But at the time we couldn’t get a place in an international school there so plan B came about and the idea of Bali.

What industry are you/your partner in that enabled the move?

My husband retired from his career in the hotel industry, which gave us the flexibility to move anywhere while he worked on his next opportunities. I had wrapped up my small business in children’s bed linen but can still operate the All About Kids events with my business partner in Singapore remotely.

How has it been adjusting to life in Bali compared to Singapore? What are the challenges? What are the best bits?

Singapore and Bali are complete opposites in nearly every way! Adjusting was quite easy actually. The boys were happy so that was my main concern. Mostly you feel like you are on a permanent holiday. Not working changes the day to day life also.

We are focusing on our health and fitness, which is something my husband struggled with while working in a high pressure job with extensive travel. I have been able to continue with my hobby and passion of horse riding so that has been my biggest grounding element.

Challenges are mostly around buying food to cook at home, but even our eating habits have changed and we eat less meat so it’s manageable. We can get most things when they are in stock. Visiting friends can always bring those thing we are really missing. Eating out is cheap and the quality of food and variety is absolutely amazing. So eating out a lots works.

The rubbish and pollution gets to us a bit. It is sad to see this happening in such an amazing place. Best parts are living near the sea again, showing the kids a new culture, living in a very relaxed and mindful environment, the food, and the Green School, which is a big part of the experience.

Where did your kids go to school before the Green School?

Both boys were attending Australian International School. This is an IB school which actually really suited both kids and they were really enjoying it there.

How did your kids’ prior schooling prepare them for The Green School? In what ways did it not prepare them?

I don’t think any kind of school can really prepare kids for joining the Green School, as it is just so different. But I do feel that experiencing the IB system beforehand had its advantages around the self exploratory aspect of it. The setting alone of the Green School is so unique being built in the jungle, totally from bamboo with bamboo furniture. It’s like going to school in a tree house every day with the sound of the river running by. They still do their ABC’s and classroom work for the basic subjects but there are so many more exploratory activities available.

Jackson is in year 4 and their projects this year include caring for chickens and growing a rice field and harvesting it. There is a lot of connection to the local community and they learn from their way of life as well.

A great example is in, say, maths — other schools may look at how a bridge is built and the calculations that would go into this. At Green School you would just go and build it. Hugo is in Kindy and has a vege garden in his classroom and they care for it, water it, cultivate it, learn about the insects and weather that help it grow. Composting their leftover lunch scraps to feed the garden. They created a bamboo irrigation system to water it.

There are 35 different nationalities plus they celebrate all the local beliefs with ceremonies and learning Bahasa. The difficulty now is going to be getting them back into a mainstream schooling system.

As a parent, what do you appreciate most about the Green School’s unique approach?

Just the fact that the school is so unique is what makes it for us.

We love the mix of nationalities mixed with the local environment. The self discovery and learning is wonderful. If they learn enough to change even one small thing about the environment then it’s worth it. The school was originally founded on the idea of creating a new wave of students that will go out into the world and make a difference in how the environment is being managed. They have had students travel internationally to speak at United Nations and environmental conferences to share their learning and ideas. 

What do your kids like most about the Green School?

The fact that they don’t have to wear a uniform would be high on their list, and shoes are optional, haha. They are just so in tune to how they work and interact at school I think sometimes they forget they are at school. They both have never talked more about what they are doing at school. I used to bribe them back in Singapore to find out even the smallest thing that they were learning.

It uses a lot of the idea of the kinaesthetic way of learning; they are always moving, nothing is ever boring. Outdoors, fresh air, no doors, great teachers, freedom to move.

And what do they struggle most with?

Nothing really has been a struggle with the school for them.

Any tips for parents who are intrigued by this option? Does the Green School allow for students to study part of the year or anything like that?

Tips for anyone looking at this option is just do it. There is no right or wrong time. But you do have to look at your kids first and how adaptable they are. Just go in with an open mind and it will all fall into place.

I believe they offer 6-month options, but the school is at capacity so this option might be limited. I feel 6 months would not be long enough to really get the full benefit of it but is a great start. So many of the parents here all came for a 6-month or a year experience and are still here five years later. We came for a year but are also wondering if that is long enough. Depends on the parents’ work situations as well.

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Amanda! For more info on Green School Bali, visit www.greenschool.org

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