In an era where children, parents and educators have easy access to descriptions of nature via multimedia technology and superb audiovisual documentation, the role of direct observation and sense-based learning as vital processes for the brain, seems to be increasingly in retreat. While in the past, observation and participation in natural processes were necessary for survival and part of growing up, today in the urban-industrial culture, “Nature” has become another item of consumption, to be observed third hand, passively from a couch. Which real beetle doesn’t pale into insignificance beside the magnified ultra sensory detail projected through 36 inch TV sets? Why should you scout around your boring city backyard when you can travel the world and plumb the ocean deeps through IMAX reality – even if it is virtual?
As a result, we are losing the innate scientist-naturalist-philosopher aspects of a child’s mind, let alone a sense of delight and wonder at the common things of life. This is partly the fault of the modern environment with its constant stimulation through electronic images and partly the fact that no one appreciates, values, or even recognizes natural phenomena any more. Some would say, even if there was value, no one knows how to do it any more – i.e. look at, listen to and understand nature – without the intermediate tools of modern technology, without equipment and elaborate instruction and most importantly, without monetary resources. “We need money” is an oft repeated excuse – because we need VCRs and libraries and experts. Or “we need to send our children on expensive trips to far flung places to learn about the world they live in”.
This article is about the opposite of all this and it is an attempt to show how much can be done with sense-based learning. Much of it will be revealed through the work done by a group of 13-14 year old children.
Suprabha Seshan has lived and worked at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary for 17 years, a forest garden dedicated to conservation and education, in the rainforests of Kerala. She can be reached at [email protected].