There is a wide diversity of living organisms which is the hallmark of life. Fruits, vegetables, fish, grains, etc., available in the local market, flowers in the parks and gardens, the large variety of birds in the neighbourhood, etc., are easy to observe and distinguish by size, shape, colour, smell and sound. If one has access to a simple microscope, microscope, several other forms of life can be seen in drops of water from different sources. Indeed, there is a large variation in size and complexity in the living world.
There are several similarity amongst organisms. It is educational to compare and contrast, categorize and segregate different life forms including several variety of grasses, cereal crops, flowers, butterflies, spiders, beetles, etc., which are easy to collect, study and release back from where these are collected. Several scientific systems of classification have emerged from observation of morphological and taxonomic characteristics-structure of roots, leaves, fruits and flowers, plants, number of legs in insects, mouth parts, wings, etc. correlating local and scientific names of these large variety of life forms is interesting research.
Coupled with the process of modernization of agriculture is that of rapid urbanization-twin prongs of a pincer which threaten traditional habitats and life forms. On the one hand extinction of local species of plants, fish, mammals, etc., is being reported due to developmental pressures and on the other hand exotic weeds and insects are being introduced deliberately and some times inadvertently. Long periods of drought or heavy rainfall sets up a response system amongst plants and animals upsetting the food chain and habitats in the region. Rivers are often the receptacle for industrial or sanitary effluents which are poor in oxygen and threaten aquatic life. A forest fire can change the composition and balance of vegetation and animals, birds and insects in the region dramatically.
There are complex and multi dimensional factors at work and often in opposite directions. The impact of insensitive planning is becoming increasingly obvious. A non-formal approach to environmental education amongst middle and high school students and teachers can create sensitivity about biodiversity and develop better capacity for participatory decision making. The publication in your hand has evolved from the innovative work of Nikhil and Puspashree patnaik who lead the science based voluntary organization ‘Srujanika’ at Bhubaneswar.
Several open ended activities included in the manual can serve to initiate a process of experiential learning understand and the importance of complex relationships in nature. These will become obvious to the readers as one progresses with the activities suggested while enhancing skills of observation and classification.
Resource persons organizing science activity camps and others involved with school ecology clubs and community science clubs will find this positively useful. Many resource persons and trainee teachers have made valuable contribution to this manual and due to demands of space they will have to, unfortunately, remain anonymous. We can add more activities and improve the explanations, illustrations, etc., in the next edition, so we welcome your suggestions and feedback.
This book presents a series of simple activities relating to the living nature around us. The activities have been chosen to be interesting in themselves. When take up as such, these activities should help in developing a habit for looking closely at things around and to bring about an appreciation for natural objects and processes. At the same time, enough background has been included to link the activities to broader concepts of science, particularly to that of biology and ecology.
Children can use this book directly. But it aims to be more of a resource book for the adults interested in working with children. These adults may be teachers, volunteer worker or just interested relatives. A few important points needs to be pointed out to the adult guides. That is local names and terms for the plants, animals and processes must be used while working with the children. For this thy will have to interact with some Knowledgeable, but sensitive, professionals to learn things for themselves first. They should also develop the habit of doing the activities themselves first before facing the children. This will also help them in collecting the appropriate, locally available, materials needed for their work. Lastly, please keep the approach informal and enjoyable.
This book is the result of the collective efforts of all workers of Srujanika who have spent many enjoyable years in learning, developing, adapting and practicing with children these activities. Among the more involed were Sampad, Jeeban, Milan, Namita, Bharati, Geetanjali, Minati, Sibaji and Alekh.
Over the past three years we have had a chance to share our experience on this nature work with many friends in different parts of the country. This has helped us greatly in altering the presentations in the book in many ways. The book would not have been possible without the initiative, encouragement and even indulgence towards us, of all friends at the NCSTC. We are deeply grateful to all of them and to the numerous others who remain unmentioned here.
We hope that the users of this book will help us in improving it further with their valuable comments and experiences.
In the widest sense nature includes everything. Things around us as well as those far away from us. We ourselves too form a part of it. But in a more commonly used sense it refers to things not made by man. And this again would include almost everything from stars and rocks to plants and animals. And also all processes from wind and weather to living and dying. In a still simpler way the term nature brings to our mind things that live and grow, ie., the living plants and animals. We also include in this view of nature the things and the surroundings that help in the process of living and growing. Thus nature would mean plants and animals; soil, air and water; forests, streams and even the desert.
While man has no role in creating nature, he shapes it in many different ways. He does so in course of his dependence on it for almost everything. Man looks to nature for food, shelter and almost all other basic needs. More importantly, nature provides a learning environment for the human beings. It also provides a setting for all his creative instincts. For children, free from all deeper thoughts, nature simply becomes a source of fun. It provides them with a familiar surrounding which they can relate to easily. They build a variety of relationships with nature’s components and become an integral part of it in the process.
Nature and the child learner
As with everything else, children see themselves at the centre of their surrounding nature. Having placed themselves thus, they try to display a masterly understanding about it. This simply reflects the intimacy and familiarity they develop with nature in their early life. This simplistic understanding is often mistake by the adults for a logical and knowledgeable one. As a result, the adults around them-teachers, parents and guides-try to strengthen this understanding and start loading them with faced with such structured study quite early in their learning life, the adaptable child switches to a process of book-learning. As a result of such a presentation, devoid of fun and intimacy with nature just evaporate, unfortunately, this is the approach which prevails in our present system of education.
A different approach would be to accept that the child’s fledging understanding is really just a sketchy personal picture based on make-believe reasoning. And also to realise that the impression in our minds that the child already knows a lot is a false one. We can then use the child’s pre-existing interest as an excellent starting point for true learning. An excellent way to lead them on would be to explore nature in a guided manner through a variety of fun-filled hands-on activities.
These activities would enhance children’s fascination for things around them, when up without any curricular pressure. Doing so in an informal out-of-classroom setting will be even more effective. This will encourage and guide them into exploring the environment by themselves. In course of time it will help them in developing an even more intimate, but true, understanding about nature. In a way, this guided approach would also compensate, to however small an extent, for the loss of nature-based peer-learning opportunities of the older days. Such opportunities are disappearing fast as a result of many changes in our physical and social environment. Such group play almost always took place outdoors-in a natural setting, be it in a small backyard or in the wilderness. And most of the activities-from climbing trees for berries or to look at a bird’s nest to splashing around in a stream looking for fish-taught one in very subtle ways to appreciate the intricacies of nature.
Thus the basic objective of this book is to present a selection of hands-on fun activities for children. These activities can be taken up independent of one another in any sequence and each one can be completed in a relatively short time. This would encourage a child to take these up either as an entertaining hobby or a science club project, either individually or with a group of friends. In a school setting this would help in fitting into the timetable easily. For curricular purposes, appropriate activities can be selected and be woven into a longer-term lesson plan, as needed. On the whole, this book cat both as a guide book for the user child or a resource book for a classroom teacher or for a science activist guiding children’s activities.
Only such activities have been included which do not demand any special skills, equipment or environment. Hence, These can be taken up in a location and season independent manner, in contrast to field-based work, with only minor modifications. Once the love for nature is aroused and some experience relating to it is gained through this approach, specific field-based activities would become more meaningful.
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