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Creatures in our schools

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Of superstitions and serendipitous encounters

By Roshni Ravi

We’ve been collaborating with the wonderful teachers at the Fig Tree Learning Centre in Silvepura village on the outskirts of Bengaluru for over two years now. The team of four is led by Jane Sahi, with Sarojini and Gousia working with the govt. primary schools and Rebecca working with the anganwadis. One of the schools we started working at along with the teachers from the Fig Tree Learning Centre is the Govt. Lower Primary School at Tarabanahalli.

The school is housed in a small, seemingly

nondescript building, off the Hesarghatta main road. A lone Singapore Cherry (Muntingia calabura) tree marks one corner of the school. The campus has two classrooms, one toilet and no playground, only a concretised open area with a flagpole in the centre. A few homes and a small cowshed are the school’s neighbours. And a lovely, Nellikai (Phyllanthus acidus) tree, source of much joy for the children, peeks from the other side of the school compound.

In August 2019, we were on a visit to Tarabanahalli. Our lessons for the day were to focus on leaves and life under the ground.

It was a lovely, sunny day and a group of students sat in a circle outside the classroom peering at some soil using hand lenses. We were learning about soil and all the wonderful creatures that it is home to.

Sarojini was asking students what creatures they’ve noticed in the soil; there was excited chatter about earthworms, millipedes and some students even shared their experiences of farming with their families back in their villages.

‘Look, there goes a Haavu Rani!’, one of the teachers casually remarked as she walked into the school. Haavu Rani is Kannada for Skink, it translates to ‘Snake Queen’.

We leapt up, eager to get a good look at the skink as it frolicked in the sun, moving fast from one end of the school to the other.

A few children followed us; some were cautious and walked a few steps behind us, holding our hands even; suddenly, one of the students picked up a stone...instinctively, we reached out to stop them.

Before we could say anything else, another skink entered the school compound and we all followed their antics as the two of them explored different corners of the school. We asked the students to observe their movements, count the number of legs they had and collectively marvelled at how their skin glinted and glistened in the sun.

In a matter of minutes, the two skinks disappeared!

Where did they go?

One of the students pointed to a little hole in the wall, and said, ‘that’s the Haavu rani’s home!’

Curious, some of the children decided to take a closer look.

As we settled back into the circle, a flurry of questions met us; What is a skink? Is it a snake? Will we die if it bites us? How do skinks walk on walls?

We answered some of the questions and asked a few of our own; What did you feel when you saw the skink? What do you think the skink will do to us? Have you seen skinks before?

‘Skinks are dangerous!’ said one student. ‘They can bite us and the wound can get big and ugly!’, they said.

‘How do you know about this?’, we asked.

‘Someone in our village was bitten once. My parents told me to stay away or hit it.’, they said.

Afraid that the other students will also harbour these fears, we said, ‘Skinks don’t bite!’

Soon, we regretted this approach and an idea formed in our heads.

‘What if we learn a little more about snakes and skinks?’, we asked the children.

In the week that followed, we shared some photos, facts and stories with Sarojini and Gousia as they discussed snakes, skinks and other reptiles with the children.

As the students learnt more about creatures they shared their school with, we learnt something too. It was an opportunity to remind ourselves that teaching and learning in and about nature is so much more than just names and natural history facts; it is also about tolerance, about people and their past experiences, superstitions and stories. By creating a non-judgemental, inquiry driven learning space maybe we can help start conversations, read, question each other, ignite feelings of wonder and curiosity and begin to base our beliefs and actions on facts and research.

In Tarabanahalli and in our other partner schools, we’ve had many such encounters, reminding us that nature is closeby, waiting for us to notice.

Watching these skinks in the sun was one of our first serendipitous encounters that translated into an interactive lesson plan for the teachers and students. We cannot emphasise enough how these can be great moments to learn and love nature in our schools, homes, streets and parks!

What serendipitous encounters have you had with animals and plants around your school or home?

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