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What and where is nature for the children of Bengaluru?

Here are some surprising ways of conceptualizing nature that children shared with Aashish Gokhale in the Child-Nature-Ooru project.  


A research project undertaken in collaboration with the Azim Premji University, explores the city and nature through the lens of children. The project highlights more about the lives, complex reflections, and dreams of the children we interacted with and interviewed using different qualitative data-gathering tools. By framing children's own narratives of their lived experiences, neighborhoods, communities, and their social-economic positions in the community we unravel how this affects their attitudes, connections, and relationship with nature.


Here are some key highlights from the study:

1: In children’s conceptualisations, nature was seen to be ‘everywhere’ and yet ‘far away’, where nature is something that encapsulates everything, but also something that many feel they are outside of 


2: Urban children’s experiences of ‘nature’ were not necessarily limited to embodied engagement with their immediate surroundings in the city — as they might move through different places, with these experiences shaping their imaginations.


3: The ‘rural’ featured prominently in the spatial imaginaries of nature — with children often referring to villages or their ooru (place of origin) when speaking about where nature is.


"But what about the children in villages? Why aren't you studying them as well?" Before his question can be answered, he goes to say, "Oh, maybe because they are already in nature."

4: Children’s nature experiences in villages, however, did not necessarily translate symmetrically to the city. For eg: a child who enjoys playing with mud in the village, says she is not allowed to do so in the city — as questions of safety and hygiene are more pronounced in the city soil.


"The cows in the village are alright. They belong to people."

5: Further, the social and material barriers that limit access to public space for children were seen to persist (if not heightened) in urban nature spaces such as forested areas and lakes.


6: But while children in the city might not interact with certain forms of ‘wild’ nature, the nonhuman world was observed to be woven into children’s lives in complex and unexpected ways.


"I don't know, it's nice. My Barbie like to go camping in nature, but they also do other things. Like they also go to the airport."

"I planted a chewing gum in the garden. My mother said that if I swallow chewing gum, it will grow in my stomach and become big. I wanted to see if it will grow, so I planted it."

7: Spaces like wooded areas, lakes and parks which were inaccessible to some children were seen to be enlivened through other imaginings of space — with narratives of ghosts and other fantastical beings like dragons occupying them.


"Um..Yes, I kind of do. I mean I literally imagine that they all live in the bamboo forest next door right next to the apartment. I mean I don't know if it is big enough to fit all of them."

8: Children’s everyday lives and mobilities were also seen to be actively influenced by the presence of urban natures such as dogs and cows, shaping how children move and where they play.


Figure 13: A group of children maps out their area showing dogs to be shaping their mobilities

P: "We don't go on that road. There's danger dog that lives there.
R: "Yes, that is a mad dog. It drinks petrol."

9: While our findings question the notion of ‘nature’ as an entity that exists outside of urban childhoods, they also assert that urban children’s relationships with nature cannot be seen separately from their relationships with public space and the materialities of the city.


 

You can read about the findings in more detail in this report: https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/tju4k


 


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