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A childhood spent in nature is as valuable to nature as it is to children!

A case on how do we save the environment while safeguarding our children’s childhood! Children playing in nature are enriching themselves as well as the environment, in a long run.

As adults, we might intuitively agree that when children spend time in nature, they de facto benefit from the richness of nature. However, we miss the truth that when children spend a considerable amount of time playing in nature, it is good for nature too.  Studies reveal that children are healthier, happier, perhaps even smarter and more creative when they have a connection to nature. Nature has positive effects on children with attention deficit disorder, asthma and obesity; besides, being in nature relieves stress and improves physical health. If we wish for citizens of the world to preserve rivers, trees, forests, seas and mountains from unwanted invasions in the name of development, what do we need to do, in an early education perspective? The answer is simple, but profound: we need to urgently and routinely offer a space for our children to play in nature, climb trees, sing & dance in nature, run barefoot, sow seeds, bathe in ponds and rivers, dig in mud and touch soil so that children feel connected to the earth in all its authenticity. 

As adults, when they reminisce about the sweet time they had spent in nature in their childhood, the lessons nature taught them would make them the kind of sensitive adults who know how to treat the environment fairly. And it would save the flora and fauna of this planet in unimaginable ways, out of compassion and a sense of responsibility.

More often than not, urban dwellers often introduce nature as some sort of a remote, exotic experience to children. As something to experience only during picnics or holidays. Many a times, we tend to believe that nature consist only of the meadows, farms and rivers found in the outskirts of the cities. While picnics and bathing in rivers and waterfalls contribute richly towards creating memorable family experiences, however, we need to remind ourselves that nature is all around us and nature is not as exotic and remote.

Nature is all around us. From a tiny indoor plant on your table to the vast sky beyond the window. Spending time in nature could be about gazing at the moon, stars, sunrise and sunset; it could be about caring for the trees in the nearby street or playing with the plants in your garden or the balcony. It is about any neighbouring stream, river, lake, pond, desert, sea or mountain that may blissfully surround any city. Being in nature is also about chasing butterflies, observing wiggly worms, counting snail shells, observing caterpillars, taking care of ladybugs, inviting lizards to eat mosquitoes, noticing a slug trail, protecting the caterpillars and snails, going for a walk, talking to trees and lot more. It is also about growing vegetables and fruits; nature is about wondering if the trees can speak.

I recall a sweet anecdote with our 5 year old learner Cosimo. He wondered if the trees could speak to him. I replied, “I don't know, what do you think?”

So, he inquired in his intriguing voice to the tall asopalav tree, “Tree, can you understand what I am saying?” The leaves of the tree, as though replying to Cosimo, swayed in the breeze. Cosimo in excitement concluded, “Yes, the trees; the tree said, YES.” This were not just innocent words, this was rich, heartfelt, intense education that Cosimo received. Many adults laugh off such instances, only if we paused and listened to children and instead of always being in a teaching mode, create a co-learning space.

Biologists, ecologists, foresters, and naturalists increasingly argue that trees speak, and that humans can learn to hear this language. In fact, the relationships between trees and other lifeforms are reflected in many ancient community practices. A wisdom so intense that 25 years of my formal education never taught me.

It is about connecting with nature organically, not about making projects and giving rote speeches on the World Environment Day; often, we create more environmental waste through those projects. I find it a sad joke when friends show off their children’s speeches on the importance of saving the environment. These friends, with their good intentions, tell me that the education system is also sensitive to the environment and it teaches such great concepts to children. Sorry, I am not impressed. I would love to tell my lovely friends that, saving the environment is not just a concept, it is an urgent necessity.

If we wish for our children to save the environment, gift them the space to dance and run on the grass, climb and hug trees and meditate in the mountains, tell them stories of rivers and hills, rain and snow. So, when you see children playing in the garden or climbing trees, we must remind ourselves that this is perhaps the best experiential lesson on environmental science. 

In doing so, we not only contribute to beautiful memories for children, but also organically germinate seeds of nature love in the formative years. It could save the planet tomorrow, or at least alleviate a little misery somewhere in the grave context of climate change or global warming.

A person who has grown up climbing trees will strive to incorporate trees as part of their home architecture rather than chop it off in the name of development. It is a child who has listened to the stories of the wisdom of the mountains who may innovate a new technique as an adult city planner to create a road without having the need to carve out a mountain.

We might not know with certainty the future professions of our children, but, what we know is that irrespective of the profession they choose as adults, if they have spent a considerable amount of time in nature, our environment is in safe hands. 

Compassion lies at the heart of solving the world’s problems and a childhood spent in nature will shape the neurological pathways that will lead to a future sustainable society. 

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