Do tell us about yourself, where you are from, and your work
I’m Snigdha, a full-time educator, biologist and naturalist who lives and works in Goa. I have been teaching Science professionally at alternative schools and independently since 2014. I also run ‘The Learning Forest’, where I hold workshops on science and nature education for children and adults, and also share my learnings about nature and teaching.
Are you a birder? What about bird watching excites you?
I’m starting to become a birder! I find delight in observing birds and have just started to go deeper into sounds and behaviours. There is so much to see and learn! Hornbills are my favourite birds and fascinate me to no end. They feel like equal, intelligent beings, portals to the rich forests of the Jurassic – living proof of evolution right out of storybooks. I am so lucky to live in Goa, where I see them every other day.
When and how did you get interested in bird/nature education?
After my Masters, I started teaching at Sholai School situated amidst forests in the Western Ghats near Kodaikanal. Everyone there was extremely in tune with the environment, and we all lived quite simply. The children’s enthusiasm, and living with that kind of harmony with nature rubbed off. My attitude to Earth and life began to change, and I have been bitten by this bug since!
What do you hope to achieve through your education work?
I have since moved to Goa and work with children living increasingly urban lives. Through education I want to draw them back to the wonder of nature, the complexity of its interactions, and how closely we are a part of this web. As a teacher, I believe that curiosity cultivates knowledge and love. And when we feel love for the world around us, we begin to understand the unsustainable lives we are living. My hope is that this will fuel a passion to protect, and a will to make the required changes to our current lifestyles.
Why do you believe it is important for children to learn about birds or connect with nature?
Children naturally connect with nature, if allowed to; it’s a natural, healthy way to learn. Learning amidst nature fosters wonder, curiosity, exploration, experimentation, play, and a sense of adventure connected to this world. This stays for life! I have seen children exposed to nature-based education develop more empathy for creatures that share the Earth with us, and make choices in their adult lives that are driven by compassion for the state of our planet. They are often happier, with simpler, non-materialistic needs.
What tools or resources have helped you in teaching about birds?
The most useful resources have been the Early Bird Pocket Guides. Children seek them out to refer to during the walk. Also binoculars, birding field guides, and the Merlin app for sounds! Children love games, so ‘bird BINGO’ works really well, and I would want to create or find more bird games for sure!
Have you encountered a significant challenge as a bird/nature educator, how did you overcome it?
I work as a teacher full-time, which doesn’t allow me a lot of time to lead large groups of children on walks. However, I ensure I’m always ready with binoculars/ magnifying lenses and a never-ending enthusiasm to go on nature discovery quests with any eager child at school.
As a birder, my lack of expertise in the field means that I haven’t led a birding-specific walk for a big group of children independently (yet). So, I am educating myself and birding more to amend that! Being open with children that I am learning with and genuinely finding joy in that learning helps. So often children show me birds!
Another challenge is my tinnitus. It affects the range of my hearing and makes birding by ear challenging. I am learning about bird behaviors to compensate for that and hope to make birding joyful for hearing challenged children some day.
Do share any memorable moment or experience you have had in teaching kids about birds/nature.
I have had teaching colleagues complain about children being difficult in class. The same children have been so happy to walk out of class and go exploring with me, looking at bugs, caterpillars, birds, mushrooms, anything! I have seen children seek me out for these, calm down, find so much joy, and then go back to class and share their findings with other children. Education isn’t only about academic things. A child’s life is shaped by so many experiences, and school can be a great space for children to learn about themselves and how they grow best. I want to make schools safe and joyful spaces to allow for such inclusivity.
Have you noticed any changes in your learners after they received exposure to birds and nature-based learning?
Yes! These children are more open and relaxed around nature and other living beings. Some find downright joy too. They are far more empathetic, and develop a greater sense of equality, fairness and care for creatures. They make space for other living things and nature in their lives, whereas so many adults struggle with that.
What message would you have for your fellow educators, or somebody starting out in their nature education journey?
Just dive in, with an open mind. It will make you happier and your life richer, and children will teach you so much!