“Look, a hare is jumping out of that bush!”
“Let’s sit and quietly watch the snake coming out of its hole.”
“Please help me get off this rock, aunty! I can’t find the grips!”
“Hey, there’s a bird fallen on the ground. What shall we do?”
“Could we sit and listen to the sounds of the wind and birds?”
“Wow, what a lovely sky with the sun setting.”
“Look at Savandurga with the rain pouring on top if it!”

These are just some of the things we hear on our walks with the junior school children at Centre For Learning. As I am writing this, it takes me back several years, to a day when a group of us were first designing the junior school curriculum. We discussed it at length, and decided that our focus for the wholesome growth of a young child would be the creation of vast spaces and times in their school day. We realized that if we were to extend their home into a full day of school, there was a need for such spaces and stretches of time where the children would be less directed. Further, children of this age are predominantly ‘sensorial’—and we felt extending their space out into nature could heighten this quality. In nature, we felt, we would find great scope for the simple acts of looking, listening, touching and smelling. It was also possible to plan activities or games related to using our senses, with this large nature ‘laboratory’ all around us. So we began taking children on hour-long walks into the countryside several times a week.

The idea of ‘walks in the country’ has a romantic ring to it—it almost seems like an effortless, magical event! But we soon discovered that when a child (or an adult for that matter) is outdoors for a period of time, with no structured activity, only focusing on what is around, several difficulties and challenges emerge. I will touch upon these challenges in the paragraphs that follow. But notwithstanding these, there is no doubt in our minds regarding the inherent value of these walks. They have been an active part of the junior school curriculum at CFL for years now. Some of our students who went on those early walks continue to value this aspect of life now, as they grow into young adults.

Buffaloes and bully ants

The junior school walk is primarily a time to be in nature, but it also provides plenty of opportunities to do some adventure related activities like climbing trees or tough rocks, and learning to take risks. The walks also encourage children to help one another in times of fear or inflexibility. It is interesting to see the various situations where children experience fear and discomfort — right from walking through thorny bushes and clumps of grass, to being near large buffaloes, to scaling slopes. Over the years, those children who initially had some difficulty taking risks (getting frozen at the sight of bully ants, perhaps!) have got over their blocks and begun to really enjoy the walk.

Chattering minds

When the class is out on these walks, there is a tendency for some children to get lost in chatting. They begin narrating one incident after another, or discuss cartoon shows! As adults too, we have seen that when we are externally silent, it is easy for the brain to get lost in its own thoughts, becoming completely oblivious to what is around us. So there is a need to alert the group to what is happening around them, and to encourage everyone to be a part of it. This is a constant process. Frequently, we are rewarded by the sight of a child quietly moving away from the group, exploring or sitting on his own.

Nature’s rhythm

The emphasis is not on finding out names or identifying things as one might do on a ‘nature walk’. We find that we must develop the tenacity and patience needed to simply watch nature. Sometimes children are accustomed to the fastpaced changes and excitement that nature shows on television can provide. But they soon learn that nature really has its own rhythm and takes time to unfold its movement; it is not an entertainment but more the reward of diligent observation and sustained interest.

After moving to our campus at Varadenahalli, the walks have become even more intense and relevant. They have helped us look at learning and attention in a direct sense. Since the children stay on campus two nights a week, we take evening walks twice weekly. The duration of the walk is from an hour to an hour and a half. For a little while, we sit quietly watching the sunset on our own. For some children, this can be quite difficult — though they are silent, their hands remain restless! Even these children do have their quiet moments, when they are touched by the magic happening around them. Once a week we combine the three junior age groups and go for a longer walk. We reach a beautiful and interesting spot, and spend a long time exploring and climbing. On these occasions, there isn’t necessarily a focus on being quiet. These walks have also helped us get to know our neighbours more closely. Initially, none of the villagers could comprehend our strange and purposeless walks! Over time, we have become a regular fixture in the village surroundings. The children spend a long time playing with and fondling the cattle and their young. We watch and understand the rhythm of the farmers’ lives, and we eat the crops they grow — ragi, akki or thogri.

And our walk continues…

When you look deeply into the natural world you look deeply into yourself—when you describe nature, you describe yourself. We make the world with our senses as much as it makes us, through them, and the more we understand ourselves, the more we understand the world. This understanding is useful in deciding what to do and how to live well without destroying life-supporting networks.

[Adam Wolpert in Resurgence]

The earth laughs in flowers.

[Ralph Waldo Emerson]