It’s a new school year, but perhaps the feeling of the vacations is still in the air. Your students may be talking nineteen to the dozen about how they spent their vacations. Why not leverage the opportunity to smoothen the transition into the learning cycle? Particularly if one has been on vacation oneself, one (or more teachers) can use that experience as a talking and learning point over a period or two. Even if not, a geography lesson could be adapted to provide a prospective opportunity. Here’s an example that would work at classes 4 and 5, but which could be adapted to suit a lower or higher level too! Here I’m taking off from my own vacation in Sikkim, the Indian state that’s sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan, and shares a border with China too!
1. Begin with an incredible fact or experience.
Have you ever seen a river of broken rock? Yes, you heard it right: a river of broken rock. This is exactly what I saw enroute to the Yumthang Valley in Sikkim, a bone-chilling zone where part of a towering mountain came crashing down not very long ago (2015), and where its remains – boulders heaped upon boulders, several larger than the large car my co-travellers and I were touring in – cut a wide swathe right through the middle of an otherwise beautiful mountainous landscape. Tall conifers felled like matchsticks lie broken and withered among the rocks along one section, and along another, a rhododendron forest lists to one side as if someone had pulled the earthy rug under their feet. The road here is just a stone-and-mud path barely wide enough for two vehicles, making it appear as if both the road and the people traversing it are intruders. It is quite clearly full of perils – but wonder of wonders! people continue to live here – warm people, who willingly share what they have with their neighbours, ready to help each other despite their own hard lives. It leads me to wonder: are attitudes conditioned to some extent by our environment?
Activity 1 – Social Studies: Hang up large physical and political maps of India side by side. Get the children to locate Sikkim on a map of India. What can they understand about Sikkim based on the maps? Introduce vocabulary related to the mountainous region: words like mountain, peak, valley, pass, glacier, snow, snowmelt, river, waterfall, landslide, boulder, rock, etc. You could also choose to introduce words and phrases such as neighbouring countries, national boundaries, foreign soil, and so on. Get them to identify the countries that surround Sikkim.
2. Describe what the place and the people are like.
Sikkim, unlike many other states of India, is comprised entirely of mountainous terrain, with twisting and turning roads that seem to fall away into deep valleys on one side, and closely hug steep mountainsides on the other. The southern region lies in the Lower Himalayas, while in the northern region there are tall peaks including Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world. Streams of snowmelt plummet over cliffs and sometimes flow across the roads, eroding them and exposing their man-made rocky beds. There is danger from falling rocks, and landslides are not uncommon.
The people who live here – mainly Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese – know that they can take nothing for granted. Yet they seem to be smiling and happy always, and there is a spring in the step at all times. Their friendly and peace-loving nature is very evident.
Looking at their twinkling eyes, I wonder why, in the high mountains where so much is tentative and provisional, people are by and large more unselfish, polite and principled, while in the plains and plateaus of our country, where the conditions are much more conducive to plentiful living, so much greed and selfishness exists. Do the difficulties of living on edge, literally and figuratively, far from making one fearful or irritable, contribute to making one more serene? Perhaps when we are keenly aware that what we have might be taken away easily, we are more grateful for what we do have, and value our relationships between people more than our possessions, connecting and bonding with others without affectation.
The author is a writer, researcher and editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.