6th graders from Al Qamar Academy have their ecology classes not in a classroom but at a restored urban wetland, taught by educators from the Pitchandikulam Forest Consultants. The year long program aims to introduce the children in a hands on way to local flora, fauna, rivers, wetlands, estuaries and forests through guided excursions and activities.
The day started with a simple game children usually play- current pass. Through this, students got an idea how a sick tree or a healthy tree communicate with each other. At the end of the session, the activity's relevance was established by explaining how mycorrhiza (fungal system) aids in communication in a forest.
The class started with an introduction to the different kinds of forests and how biotic and abiotic factors are really critical. The children saw samples of the energy web and the different layers in a forest. Botanist Krishna Veni and Wildlife Biologist, Mahesh beautifully elaborated the details.
Then the children were assigned a 1x1m plot to measure and demarcate. They had to observe the different kinds of plants and animals they saw in their quadrant. Children observed ants, beetles, butterflies, caterpillars, bugs, dragon flies, bees, and wasps. Krisha Veni taught the kids the botanical names of the little plants and even made them count the number of grasses. Like real researchers, they had to note down the date, time, temperature, humidity and weather conditions in their observations. The activity concluded with each team making presentations of what they observed.
The children trooped back into the Education Hall - a large beautiful room with a traditional style tiled roof, naturally cool and very peaceful. Mahesh reiterated the concepts they had learned through the class. A nice activity was where each child was given a picture of an animal and they had to guess and place it on a drawing of a tree - with the canopy, understorey etc. Krishna Veni helped them recognize how each animal has its specific biome - where different components are interconnected.
The final activity was beautifully evocative and the learning through it will be deeply embellished in the children's minds. The children made a circle - they were different components in a forest - sun, mongoose, butterflies, tree litter, pond, frog, fish, civet cats etc. connected with each other symbolically through a rope. Mahesh then started telling a story - how humans came and decided they loved the civets and poached them. Painters needed mongoose fur, an industry needed water from the pond, two cities needed a road through the forest.... Soon each strand of the rope fell down and then there was no real forest any more.
The activity made a deep impression on the children's minds. This was when the educators introduced them to the idea that packaged foods - made with palm oils contributes to cutting forests. How plastic covers are polluting the forest. How paper waste cuts trees.
The children discussed how they already recycle at school, how they are conducting a paper drive to recycle paper into pencils, how they will try their best to stop eating junk food.
If education should be the lighting of a fire in a child's mind, then this is the way to do it.
Thanks a million, guys! You totally rock.