A bird, A Tree and A Squirrel

There is something so salubrious, so profound, so relaxing, so egalitarian, so genuine and simple about sitting under a tree and studying that I wonder why all classes are not under the umbra of Life.
Is it then – just plain sad – that we teach children about birds, rivers, machines, forest, people, all sitting inside a room. So this article is not about giving you a rhetorical lecture on taking children out. We all know it, yet we work with commonly known constraints.
Since its not so practical to take children out into the nature, this article is about bringing the very essence of nature intelligence into the classroom. And use this intelligence to make learning in any subject / topic more “natural”.

The bird asked to nobody in particular, “So whats in the big box out there?”
“Children”, the Tree replied.
“Children! Why on the earth will they put children in a big box” the bird was rather surprised.
“Its a classroom. They are in it learning. Its part of their schooling, education, you know.”
“And what do they learn about?”
“Well, …… actually, anything”. And after a moment, the tree added, “In fact they could be right now learning about birds and trees.
The little bird was now quite confused, “But why would they learn about us, sitting in that big box. Why can’t they come out and just meet us”.
The tree replied patiently, “Thats not for me to know. I too have wondered the same. I often see little longing eyes peeping out of the windows. But I do know that they have books with nice colourful pictures of the likes of me and you. They prefer those to know about us. Also, they have a teacher who knows and tells them a lot about us. You see this way they are able to amass a lot of knowledge in a short time”.
“Wow! Through books they must be getting to know all about us”.
“Well, that I am not too sure of. From what I have heard and seen, they get to know little about everything”.
“But what’s the use of learning just some things about everything? Is that what schooling is all about?
“Would it not be more fun if they could come out, observe us, wonder about us and learn from us – instead of the books”.
The squirrel popped up her head, “I think I can answer that. Basically they all have constraints of space and time. They want children to learn loads.
Hearing this the tree just sighed. But the bird was not the one to keep quiet. She quipped, “This is indeed sad. But while they cannot come out to us, as often, they can definitely imbibe a lot from the way the nature works”.
“But they already teach about Nature”, remarked the tree.
“No, I think she means children can learn the way we learn from nature”, Squirrel clarified.
“Yes, Yes, Yes” Chirped the little bird hopping all around.
“Can you suggest me some?”, the tree asked.

Wait and watch
For starters, children can be taught how to learn by staying – in any experience. Most of what I have learned is simply by waiting and watching. I learned where I get best twigs, the best worms and ….
“But how will children use that?”, Interrupted the squirrel?
“Lets take we want them to learn how to use compass to draw circles. Can we just give them a compass and just let them observe it. Hold it, twirl it around, feel the weight, open it, close it .. and so on”.
“Come to think of it”, Tree jumped in, “All I do is wait and watch”.
“No wonder you know so much about everything around you”, the little bird reminded.
“Oh, you mean to say we would actually know a lot more if we were to observe more”, the squirrel piped in.
“Yes, and you will not need to “remember it” – for you have experienced it yourself”, Added the bird.

Letting it hang
“And what do we do with what we observe”, The tree asked innocently.
“Let it hang”, the little bird said with a large grin.
“Let it hang?”, the tree mulled this over?
“Yes, just as you are not in a hurry to get your fruits to ripen – you let them hang”!
“I agree, we are in too much hurry to name something. But in nature, things just exist”, squirrel added.
“When we name something, we put a full stop, we kill the suspense in it”, the little birdy was really excited now, “Experiences will evolve much better – specially if teachers gave no importance to naming it.
“You mean, they are not labelled?”, the tree was still thinking this over.
“Yes, just as right now we all are not in a hurry to finish this over. We can let the echo ring long, we can be with each ripple of sound and let it reverberate in our ears”.

The tree was now into deep thought, “Each one of us in nature is a mystery. Aren’t we full of questions, all unanswered?
At this the little bird jumped in, “And that is the next habit teachers and children can learn from nature. To wonder – ask all kinds of questions?
“Ask the why’s and how’s?”, added the squirrel.
“So, is it same as thinking?”
“Well yes and no?” Birdy clarified. “While wondering involves loads of thinking – it is not trying to think of answers – rather thinking to ask more questions; akin to dreaming”.
“I like this ring of dreaming”, squirrel commented. “It tells me, I can be all over the place – without any worry of being right, with nothing to prove to anybody”.

Scientific thinking
The lIttle bird contnued, “The best news is that children, so close to nature themselves, are born ‘wonderers’. But we somewhere forget this fuel of scientific thinking, and try to package learning into neat little boxes of knowledge”.
Tree could not resist itself and asked, “Interesting that you mention it as scientific thinking. Does it have anything to do with science.
“Yes, it has. Realise that science and nature are synonymous. All what we call science is a subset of nature. But more importantly science is not about knowing nature. Science is about understanding nature. It is not a static discipline. It is a verb, a way to think, a way of creation, a way to learn. Where one question leads to some conjectures, which would only lead to another question and more conjectures”.
“Can you give an example”, Tree wanted to understand this better.
“Lets look at our friend squirrel here. How come she does not fall even as she runs on twigs so thin”?
“Maybe its got something to do with my feet?” Squirrel grinned flagging her long bushy tail?
“And yes how come she is able to carry this bushy tail up high while skittering away all over me”, tree was enjoying this thinking mode.
And Birdy added, “Even more puzzling to me is how come you can fall for such a high distance without getting hurt”.
“I guess there is ‘tail’ in it somewhere?” mused the Tree.
“And that is what is a conjecture – said the bird with a grin, “trying out different theories of your own. With no importance given to the right answer – these journeys are great fun”.

“But won’t they make a child wander, sometimes off in different directions?” doubted squirrel.
“Will do, and should do. The interesting aspect of nature is that as you wander all over the mother earth, you end up meeting each of its inhabitants in many different places, in many different ways – each encounter only leaving you more familiar. Its the same with learning – when we meet it in many different contexts we learn it better.
“Let me see”, tree jumped in, “So one meets evaporation in cooking, in rain cycle, in farming, in drying our squirrel’s tail :-)”

But squirrel had a fundamental doubt, “Do you think all of this Nature’s way of learning is possible in the classroom? Don’t teachers need to finish the course? Don’t they need to deal with children with disparate learning capabilities? Don’t the teachers have to ensure that children know?”

Now it was the Tree’s turn to shrug its vast canopy. He said in a most profound voice, “This is where I wish teachers could step out of their four walls and hug me. This is where teachers need to learn the ultimate law of nature – acceptance. No flower however small is frowned upon. No bacteria however invisible is skipped. No mountain however big boasts of itself. It merely humbles itself by letting others grow on it. Once we accept all learning, all learners, all will exist in harmony, just as nature does, all the time”.

For some time there was silence.
The little bird was tired. It settled on one of the branches for some rest.
The squirrel sang an endless squeaking lullaby.
The tree just waved the wind around.
A little set of longing eyes peeped out of the box, naturally confused, “Is it the wind that makes the tree move or is it the tree that makes the wind move?”