Local nature-based learning in Chennai's Corporation schools

Palluyir Trust works in nature-education and advocacy in Chennai/Tamil Nadu. We have made a large amount of material and curricula for the biodiversity, landscape, waterscape and socio-politics of this region. Our education pedagogy we call ‘Action Pedagogy’ which seeks to bring out the long-term action-taker/change-maker in the learner.

Palluyir (palluyirtrust.org)

Currently, through Rainmatter’s Support, we are implementing a local nature-based learning programme in 5 Corporation schools - using nearby public parks and their school campuses as living learning spaces. And we are also closely studying the impact such a programme has on children - including their curiosity, critical thinking, independence, interpersonal skills, mental health and independence - with the help of Nature Classrooms. We have just completed our first term of this programme and the report is attached here. We’ve also conducted a preliminary teacher training workshop for teachers from 45 GCC schools on nature-education.

Palluyir GCC programme 2023 1st term.pdf (713.0 KB)

We are also making a Climate, Biodiversity and People curriculum (focusing on all Earth system boundaries rather than climate alone) for the Chennai/Tamil Nadu region based on the action pedagogy, along with a range of other activity sheets, field guides and other materials.

While the response from students has been great and welcoming in the schools we work with, we are facing some unique challenges which include - schools being packed with other events/activities, teachers not being available or interested, some students being disruptive especially in schools in difficult locations. We also receive a lot of requests seeking help with running programmes/training teachers across India - and we haven’t found a way to reach out and help all these requests

We are shortly releasing a newsletter called ‘Notes from a Nature Educator’ - which will have anecdotes, readings and actionable ideas for educators to emplace learning in local nature - written by Yuvan Aves. We hope to successfully complete our programme with Greater Chennai Corporation, share results with education authorities, move closer towards making local nature based learning a policy intervention in Chennai/TN while also beginning a teacher training programme for GCC teachers. We hope to also complete 4 - 5 more modules of our Climate, Biodiversity and People Curriculum.


Thanks, Yuvan!
@Deepa @SlamOutLoud @Vishnudas @Mahab5 if relevant/of interest

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Hello friends - we’ve started a monthly newsletter/blog called ‘Notes from a Nature Educator’ on the Palluyir website. It will have anecdotes, ideas, searchings, findings, readings - towards actionable ways for anybody to facilitate nature based learning.

The first piece is ‘Are trees rearing our children?’ - on the developmental and socio-political importance of making vegetation and living habitats as children’s prime learning spaces.

Feedback/comments are most welcome. Incase you’d like to subscribe to receive the newsletter on email you can do so at the end of the page. Thank you!

Hello everybody -

Over this month - with the monsoon at its peak - we have been exploring sounds of local birds and frogs at Chennai Corporation schools. Listening to them, practicing ways of describing and recalling with a series of adjectives and similes, and then playing different forms of quiz games to identify the sounds we’ve learnt. For bird calls we’ve used Ebird and for Frog calls we’ve used our own recordings as well as Mandookavani. The response and interest from children has been very fulfilling, given that the modules are opening up a new world to them. For each sound and species we also go with stories. The challenge has been language skills in students especially from North Chennai, but we’re also seeing it improve. Soundscape is a great way to connect nature and foundational literacy/language skills too and we are working on compiling these lesson plans.

Taking language and nature forward we’ve done sessions for Abacus montessori - 3 at the Chennai Museum’s zoology section and 2 at the school farm exploring ‘spiders and descriptive writing’.

We’ve made a field guide for Chennai’s wildflowers and a poster for Mantises we’ve been documenting too.

Common Mantises of Chennai.pdf (3.9 MB)

Hello everybody,

December has been a difficult time for us - Cyclone Michaung submerged our office space and also resulted in much of our sessions with schools being cancelled due to flooding in Chennai. This month we’ve been largely involved shifting our office space and setting things up there. Help from Rainmatter in this process has been crucial.

Towards the end of December we began doing our midline assessments at the 5 government schools to look at the impact of our local nature-based learning programme. Along with planning extra sessions with schools where activities were missed.

Also - Yuvan Aves’s second blog post on ‘Notes from a Nature Educator’ is out and it is on importance of local nature on children’s language acquisition and the role of language in protecting nature - Learning to speak from Ants and Milkweeds – Palluyir

thanks for sharing. especially enjoyed the blog!

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Dear Friends,

Yuvan Aves did a TEDx talk n the education work our team is engaged in, and the importance of local nature-based learning for children, human culture and planet. He explains the need to redefine ‘climate crisis’ as a crisis of ‘diminishing life and living conditions’ - as a way to be cognizant of all Earth-system boundaries and unify the many crises, climate only one of them. He proposes a structure for a pedagogy of action - based on existing research and my own experience.

Why is shaping young minds a game-changer in the climate crisis? | Yuvan Aves | TEDxNapierBridge (youtube.com)

In other news - we’ve succesfully shifted our office space after the floods of December, to a first floor.

We are presently also working on a language and nature booklet - which aligns foundational literacy and local nature engagement, in parallel with the Ennum Ezhuthum programme of the Tamil Nadu government. Ideas for these emerged from the programme and study we are already running in 5 Corporation schools in Chennai.

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Dear Friends,

Attached below is the second term report of the local nature-based learning programme and study we are doing at Chennai Corporation Schools.

A clear outcome and direction that came from the programme was that observation of local
nature created a strong motivation to learn and in general be curious in most children.
Specifically, these motivations could be seen towards language learning and scientific concepts,
but also towards other people’s perceptions, group work, new ideas, and ways of seeing. This
seemed to be connected to the diversity of relevant and meaningful stories and stimuli nature
can offer, and multiple learners/ways of learning it supports simultaneously. It also can provide
very rich ‘language nutrition’ and intellectual/cognitive stimuli more than what they usually
receive in their learning contexts.

In the material we distributed, the students had something to take back home such as
knowledge and familiarity with bird calls, frog life cycles and calls, names, and characteristics of
different ants. Through all of these main activities conducted in the second term, we saw clear
evidence of improvement in the drawing skills, listening skills, and writing skills of students.
Challenges to this pedagogy included crafting an effective way of integrating it with the existing
schooling system, and the children’s existing socio-political landscape.

Palluyir GCC second term report.pdf (6.4 MB)

Dear Friends,

Over the last two weeks, as we near the end of our academic term with Greater Chennai Corporation schools, we have been taking children to Vedanthangal Bird sanctuary - where children are learning about bird identification, adaptations, Eri waterscapes in Tamil Nadu and community conservation. On one of the trip the Deputy Commissioner of Education joined us and later discussed further plans for next year. During the session children used an observation table, rented binoculars, a vedanthangal bingo and NCF birdbooklets for Tamil Nadu.

Here is also a recent news article about Palluyir’s work in beginning to bring in Nature-based learning into school curriculum -

Nature-based learning breaking ground in Tamil Nadu (newindianexpress.com)

We’ve been working also on an ant field guide for Chennai, Nature-based Tamil alphabet flash cards, and teaching language through nature - a booklet. We are prepping up to complete this year’s school impact study, and compiling it.

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Hello friends - over the past month at Palluyir, we conducted our last round of sessions at 5 schools and conducted the endline of our year-long study for 150 students - understanding how local nature-based learning improves various aspects of children’s wellbeing. We also created a module around local fish stories using the colouring books of Inseason fish, and it was received well - especialgly in 3 schools close to the coast, and children from fishing communities.

We are currently working on the final report of our local nature-based learning study this year, a curriculum book based on it, and a comprehensive nature-based learning resource kit for teachers.

Other than this - we’ve been working on a dragonfly field guide, field guide to grasses and we’ve been training educators from Bhumi NGO who run the Eco Champs programme in Chennai Corporation schools.

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Hello friends - with the academic term over, we begun conducting a bunch of public walks over March and April in Chennai, beginning with a tree walk, flood tour, 2 shorewalks and to follow - 2 insect walks and a nature & physics walk.

Other than these we’re working hard on various reports - a final report for Greater Chennai Corporation on our nature-based learning programme and study, our annual report, and a nature-based learning curriculum booklet for GCC teachers to use. We are also drawing up proposals for the coming term with corporation schools.

Side-by-side we’ve been working on field guides around dragonflies, grasses and ants of Chennai - which will however take a few months to come out.

Dear Friends,

Over the last one month, we’ve been compiling our local nature-based learning study results, analyzing data from govt schools where we ran the programme and have been putting together a report. This will come out in May, but the report of just the third term of the programme here - GCC third term final report.pdf - Google Drive

Yuvan Aves wrote an article for the Hindu on the need for local nature based learning on Earth Day - World Earth Day 2024 | Healing land, water and ourselves - The Hindu

We’ve been doing a number of public walks, and are anchoring the Inaturalist City Nature Challenge in Chennai. We did 3 walks around insects (two of them specifically on insect perception and flower-pollinator relationships), two lake walks (in Korattur and Aynavaram), and a Shorewalk for govt school teachers from 40 different schools. We made a Pollination bingo, which is downloadable on our website. Some photos shared below -

Hello dear friends,

For the past year, Palluyir trust in collaboration with Nature Classrooms, has been conducting one of the first studies in India -on investigating how local nature-based learning impacts children’s many forms of wellbeing. This we did in 5 Greater Chennai Corporation schools. We completed it, and I am sharing our detailed report below. We ran our programme in nearby parks and in the campus’ outdoors, along with developing a curriculum based on these spaces.

It is a pilot study, which we hope to make a multi-year one. It has yielded various important results, and a possible direction for school education policy to include local nature - for children’s sake and nature’s sake.

Reports – Palluyir (palluyirtrust.org)