Making nature education accessible to children through rural libraries

As the world faces a biodiversity crisis and climate change, there is a growing emphasis on engaging young children in nature conservation.

ByAisiri Amin

Published Jun 11, 2024 | 2:00 PM Updated Jun 11, 2024 | 2:00 PM

Training trainers in flashcard games to identity birds. (Supplied)

Veena, a librarian in Tumkur’s Nagasandra gram panchayat, rarely paid attention to birds. “Sometimes a bird would catch my eye momentarily, but I didn’t observe them or even know their names,” she says. But today, she enjoys birdwatching, can identify about 20 birds, and teaches children about them. A new nature education kit in Kannada, Prakrutiya Pettige, sparked her newfound awe for birds.

This learning resource, curated by Early Bird, an initiative by the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), aims to foster children’s connection with nature through birds. As the world faces a biodiversity crisis and climate change affects everyday life, there is a growing emphasis on engaging young children in nature conservation.

However, it’s not difficult to imagine that burdening children with the humongous task of saving the planet without familiarizing them with the natural world would only overwhelm them. Instead, Early Bird hopes to spark wonder and curiosity about birds and, in turn, nature through programmes such as Prakrutiya Pettige.

Birdwatching benefits

Birds provide a window to nature, and regular birdwatching helps understand environmental changes and threats to biodiversity, says Abhisheka Krishnagopal, programme manager of Early Bird. With this in mind, the nature kit, funded by Karnataka Panchayati Raj Commissionerate, has turned librarians from 500 gram panchayat libraries into educators.

Even in rural areas, children aren’t connected with their surroundings, unlike their parents and grandparents, Krishnagopal says. “They are not talking about local biodiversity in schools or engaging with traditional knowledge. The textbooks don’t focus on these things, and often parents want them to study and take up a job in a city, so they sometimes discourage them from going out and exploring nature,” she explains.

The nature kit, which consists of pocket guides, games such as Bird Bingo, flashcards, storybooks, and posters related to birds, their habitats, and life cycles, hopes to restore lost connections and engage children with local biodiversity.

Nature education

It all started in October 2023 when Krishnagopal and Garima Bhatia, founder of Early Bird, approached senior IAS officer and Additional Chief Secretary, Panchayati Raj, Uma Mahadevan Dasgupta, with the idea of introducing nature education to children through rural libraries. Mahadevan took an interest and asked them to start with a pilot project in March.

A team of 10 external resource persons with extensive knowledge about birds and two bird educators from Early Bird underwent training on how to use the Prakrutiya Pettige to engage people with birds and nature. These 12 bird educators travelled to the 500 Gram Panchayat libraries, training about 30 librarians each.

“When I started training librarians, I realized that while some people had good knowledge about birds, most of them knew of only the common ones, such as crows and sparrows. During the training, they were surprised by how many species they could identify in their areas,” says Kumudwathi Vemanna, one of the bird educators who has been birdwatching for about a decade. Vemanna led the training in Chitradurga and Davanagere.

Bird games

Vemanna shares that one of the games the librarians loved was Bird Bingo, in which they had to go out and identify the birds shown on the paper. However, the librarians were initially hesitant, as they didn’t think they could find the birds in their area.

“Most of them completed the Birds Bingo sheet, identifying all the birds on the paper. It got them thinking that there is so much to discover about the place they live in.”

Even the children loved Bird Bingo, says Veena. “They would come back with questions about the birds, their nests, and what they eat,” she says. The children also loved the flashcards, which taught them about different birds.

All In A Bird’s Life gave them a glimpse into how the environment and the availability of resources affect the avian population.

Re-connecting with nature

“Once we engaged with these activities, we realised what we had been missing. Birds are all around us, and we are surrounded by nature, but it’s disappointing to realize we don’t know much about them. This should be taught in schools; children would love it,” says Veena.

Often, libraries are thought of as places where people go to read and borrow books. But thinking of them as a space for interactive learning on topics like birds and nature could change how people look at them, says Krishnagopal. “The librarians have shown tremendous enthusiasm about this.

They have been conducting interactive classes using the Prakuritya Pettige, and they tell us that children have found it really interesting and are now curious about birds,” she adds.

The kit was made with a simple goal: for children to explore nature. “The hope is that when children connect with the natural world, they learn to love it. When you love something, you want to protect it,” Krishnagopal says.

(Aisiri Amin is an independent journalist based in Bengaluru. She writes about gender, culture, and environment. She has also co-founded a media initiative focused on solutions journalism. Views are personal.)