Over my years of working with little children in different settings, I have developed a few activities that I feel go well with this stage of growth. I share here two such activities.

Nature Journal

Being with nature is wonderful indeed for me. How can I convey this feeling to the children under my care? A child growing up in an urban environment often has very little contact with nature and can get lost in the ways of consumerism, television, computer games or cell phone games. At the place where I teach, nature manifests itself in its utmost splendour. This rocky land terrain with its tree clusters, the many birds, all kinds of insects and wild flowering plants is indeed a treat to one’s senses. We have realized that just making this space available to the children is not enough. Conscious efforts are needed to get the children in touch with nature. This contact we feel is absolutely necessary for human beings to grow up with humane qualities. Fortunately the young children respond very well to these efforts of ours. As Krishnamurti said, ‘If you have no relationship with nature you have no relationship with man. Nature is the meadows, the groves, the rivers, all the marvellous earth, the trees and the beauty of the earth. If we have no relationship with that, we shall have no relationship with each other.’ Through these words Krishnamurti has poignantly conveyed the importance of a relationship between mankind and nature. I find that these words ring true and are penetrating.

On our campus, we get to experience a range of colours in nature—the different greens of new leaves in spring, the array of all hues of bright colours in the wildflowers, the iridescent colours in butterflies, birds and insects and the changing colours of a veiled chameleon. The spectacular sunsets and sunrises, colours of the rainbow, the water droplets shining like jewels on grass blade tips in the early mornings, the changing patterns of clouds in the sky looked at while lying flat on the rocks, a dry leaf floating down to the earth in a gentle breeze, a snake devouring a frog, a slender loris moving up a tree, munias tirelessly flying back and forth with one blade of grass in their beaks at a time to build their nests, and many more such wonderful experiences, await us each day.

The myriad ways in which the outer world can manifest itself are a special treat to our senses. The fragrance of the Indian Cork tree flowers, the wonderful smell of the first rain on earth and many other rich aromas of nature are experienced with our sense of smell. The wind whistling its way through, the dry leaves rustled by a mongoose, babblers or a crow pheasant, the slender lorises calling to each other in the night, the sound of children playing or a child crying, all these tell us what an intricate web nature is. Walking on the ground covered by leaves after the rains, working on the soil in the garden with our hands, feeling the texture of new leaves, soft petals of the wild flowers, or the rocks and stones are all joyous experiences made possible because of our senses. If we are to allow our senses to respond to the varied stimuli offered by the natural world, then we need to make spaces for this within our timetables.

K T Margaret in her book The Open Classroom says, ‘The function of education is to correlate the inner self of the child with the outer world. Children should be given the time and space for their senses to experience and appreciate the outer world, so that their imagination is stimulated. They should be helped to use their sensory experiences to nourish their minds and hearts. Only then does education truly take place.’

I completely resonate with her words. Walks and treks, making entries in a nature journal, having a nature table with all the natural treasures collected, and doing nature related projects, are all activities that provide children the opportunity to get in touch with nature. When all the sensory stimuli can be accessed in nature I find that artificially contrived sensorial experiences are not necessary to keep the senses alive. What better way is there to stimulate the sense of hearing than listening to the birdcalls and learning to identify birds without even seeing them? Nature is a patient and wonderful educator: all we need is the time to be with it.

Now coming to maintaining a nature journal—it seems the right kind of activity for the very young. Despite growing up in a city with all its distractions, children seem to have a fascination for the natural world — both the flora and the fauna. Often I find a child absorbed in observing a lizard, a spider, a butterfly, a bird, a wild flower or an ant. Thus in this activity they do what they naturally enjoy, i.e., observe, but of course while observing they make a record of their observations through a sketch and writing. While occupied in this manner their senses are alive and they quieten down completely. Obviously questions follow their observations. They look for answers to their questions and in this manner make sense of the world around them. In short they learn about all the creatures and the plants and the trees that share their environment. It’s amazing how they capture the form of what they observe so well in words and in drawing.

Usually, we go out to observe, but occasionally opportunities come knocking at our door. Once a leaf insect came into the Junior School, and settled down very comfortably so we merrily abandoned everything else to observe, draw and write about it. After all, it came to be with us, and its visit had to be honoured. On the occasion when we found that a wolf snake was sharing our room we were not bold enough to go near it, even after realizing its non-poisonous nature. I wonder why now.

A few samples from the children’s journals follow.

The Rock Lizards (Shika 7 years)

We saw four lizards. There were two adults and two babies. One baby was limping and one was the size of a peanut. The lizards had four legs and five fingers each. The lizards were black and orange in colour. The lizard’s tail was long and curled up. Their eyes were small. One of the lizards was popping its head now and then. If anyone shouted it would run away. It would think she/he is going to harm it.

The Leaf Insect (Aranya 6 years)

The leaf insect was like a leaf. It can get camouflaged in the neem leaf. And this is the first time that I saw a leaf insect. The leaf insect flew to the tiles on the thatch when Vimal uncle was teaching us football. Before that we were in the Junior School and that time I saw the leaf insect. The leaf insect had small legs at the front and long legs at the back. The leaf insect was two inches long. Shreesha came close to the leaf insect and that is why it flew away.

Circle Time

A circle is the best shape that people can gather in as it allows for eye contact with everyone around. People come together in a circle to discuss matters, to eat, to sing or to dance. In circle time in the Junior School we get together to sing songs and recite poems with movement and gestures, and to do story telling.

Anyone teaching in the pre-primary or primary sections knows without a shadow of doubt that songs, poems, movement, finger play and stories are enjoyed tremendously by children. I have no hesitation in adding that songs, stories and poems nourish their souls in ways that we cannot fathom. One visible effect that these have on the children is to calm them down. In fact the only time children can become completely quiet and still is when they listen to a story that engages them.

Children need to build up the vocabulary of a language through listening and speaking before they begin to read and write. It happens in a natural sort of way with the mother tongue. For a child to learn a new language what better way than singing, reciting and listening to stories? Even when a child can speak a language, stories, songs and poems help enhance their vocabulary.

In order to sing and recite with gestures the teacher needs to shed her inhibitions; for instance be able to leap like a frog or scamper like a rabbit with the children—we cannot do this unless there is joy in doing it. One doesn’t have to be a great singer (I am not one, but I enjoy singing and listening to music). Simple tunes that are easy and repetitive can be chosen. Most of the songs and poems in my repertoire are not the usual nursery rhymes but are quite unusual. Many are related to nature and the seasons. It is indeed fun to do circle time because it is one of those rare opportunities when a teacher can easily shed the didactic mode and switch over to a participatory mode.

Now coming to the actual circle time, I do two sessions a week. I try and have a theme for a month or so that coincides with what is happening in nature (it could be wind, rain, gardening). There would be some poems and songs that are connected to the theme. I make sure that there is a balance between poems that can be said loudly and those that need to be recited in a whisper. Children love and respond beautifully to variations of this nature, as they do for speeding up and slowing down. I like those poems that we do which help us stand or sit without the children being given instructions. One might say that we allow the poems to instruct us.

Once we have finished with all the jumping about, we settle down to story telling. The story is often chosen to go with the theme and is initially told by me in parts. In subsequent sessions the children recall the story and I make sure through gentle prodding that they incorporate the new words learnt. When they really know the story well they either illustrate a part of it in their picture storybook or act it out during circle time itself, or use puppets to tell the story. All the new nouns they learn are entered in their ‘pictionary’ with pictures and sentences. They are encouraged to maintain their own word bank.

Over the years we have discovered many other possibilities. I have noticed that the children are extremely alert after circle time, so I happily capitalize on it and do a quick math and spelling revision. Teaching spelling and grammar through these poems and stories is being undertaken, but this is still work in progress for me.

After they moved out of the Junior School, two of my students brought to me some poems they had composed for Circle Time. The poems have been a hit, and I include two of them below.


You are beautiful
Little flowers
Beware of
Walking people

You have a
Smell that’s wonderful
Your petals
Are delicate

Flowers! Beware of walking people.

Elephants, Tigers and Peacocks

Elephants are big and heavy
They don’t have a care in the world
Their tusks are made of ivory
And they live to be very very old

Elephants! Elephants!
Have you ever seen an elephant?

Tigers are fierce and scary
They kill their prey with a blow
They’re fierce but they are merry
And their favourite food is a doe

Tigers! Tigers!
Have you ever seen a tiger?
Peacocks have very heavy tails
They can’t fly very high
When they feel like dancing
They open their tails and dance

Peacocks! Peacocks!
Have you ever seen a peacock?

Have you? (2)
Have you ever seen an elephant?
Have you? (2)
Have you ever seen a tiger?
Have you? (2)
Have you ever seen a peacock?

I bet you have.