The Jungle Gym Generation


What does playing outside and outdoor education have to do with nature guardianship and youth empowerment?

For our Muddy Hands report, 86% of teachers told us that playing outdoors gives children a better understanding of the environment. Like them, we believe in the power of spending time outdoors and that – as future guardians of our planet and those who will be impacted most by climate change – children need to not only enjoy the natural world but must learn how to protect it.

Semble was founded on the principles of making the world a better and greener place for all its citizens. This thought-provoking article by Charushilla Narula Bajpai captures why Semble believe the Outdoor Classroom Day campaign matters so much to all of us.

The future of the planet relies on nature guardians, who not only care but are able think for themselves, to stand up for what they want and to find solutions.

“I am a career counsellor, a mentor for high school students grappling with subject dynamics, peer pressure and the over-arching question of who do they wish to be when they ‘grow up’. With so much emphasis on who we are to become, what we are to do and how we are to make a living, the present context of what we are experiencing and feeling often tends to become something of secondary importance. As if, within the scheme of life and death, lie some finite milestones that we can predict, patterns that we can model and outcomes that we can tailor-make.

Recently, I was visiting my niece at her playschool. As the teacher found me gaping at the empty classroom, she mentioned that the kids were at playtime. I promptly started heading outdoors; she stopped and directed me to a large green door instead. It said Jungle Gym. There nestled in an air-conditioned world of ball-pits, and plastic caves and bouncy bananas and carpeted grass were a bunch of highly energetic, slightly wobbly 3-year olds. I asked the teacher why weren’t they outdoors. “It’s hot outside.” She replied as a matter-of-fact. “For whom.” I wanted to ask, but I didn’t. Soon it was the end of the day and I noticed most kids being collected and moved to their refrigerated cars and perhaps, brought home to their temperature-regulated indoors.

What’s so wrong about protecting your child from the heat? Or from the cold? Or from the dirt? Or from falling? Or from fighting their own battles?

Nothing. Except that it’s an upbringing in isolation – you are not just protecting her from momentary discomfort but also alienating her from learning – to cope, to grow, to find solutions.

This is not seen as a problem in our urban confines and yet this is where over the last decade, I’ve seen a large number of students succumb to stress over marks or the pressure to perform. Moreover, the technology avalanche has furthered this quarantined existence. In a scenario where family dinners are swiggied, outings are instagramed, conversations are whatsapped, gifts are amazoned, boredom is candycrushed, the mind and everything concerning the mind – marks, intelligence, cognition – becomes relevant. You want to become an aeronautical engineer, yet you never sit and gape at the flight of a bird, you most likely believe that strawberries grow in a super market, you dream of becoming rich but you are oblivious of the bountiful presence all around you, and if you worry that you still haven’t figured what you want to do in life, I want to ask you to just look up and take notice of the answers that stare you in the face!

Cass Sunstein, a Harvard University professor of behavioral economics and public policy, recently authored a book along with Nobel Prize winner Robert Thaler – Nudge. The idea uses the understanding of behavioral science; using a nudge is to be able to get people to do the right thing ‘without forcing anyone to do anything’ thereby preserving the freedom of choice. He narrates how ‘recently in London, a nudge had grocery stores where you can buy whatever you want but the things that are most visible are healthier choices’ – a simple solution that significantly influences the shopper to make healthy choices.

Can this be emulated in educating our children? There’s so much common-sense wisdom in ancestral parenting and teaching styles that can be directly correlated. Ask your mothers how they nudged you without really telling you to do things.

“It’s a weekend – we just bought a picnic basket, should we use it?”

What are those paint boxes doing in your room?

Who brought those puppies in grandma’s room?

Smells like cinnamon – want to bake?

Life throbs inside each one of us. Human potential in all its glory is just waiting to be realized if given a chance.

It’s a global campaign that started in London – what’s their nudge – asking schools to take at least one lesson, outdoors and celebrate playtime outside too. I’m calling all principals to sign up for #OutdoorClassroomDay on 7 November, 2019. Your school can be a part of this fantastic global campaign by just signing up and participating – it’s really that simple.

Growing up and becoming someone is not a point you aspire towards, instead it’s the dots you learn to join, to arrive at constellations that you never thought existed. But how would you know, you grew up in a jungle gym.”

Charushilla Narula Bajpai is the Founder Director & Key Mentor at University Connection. The #OutdoorClassroomDay campaign in India is supported by University Connection, led by ACE(Action for Children’s Environment), and backed by Semble. 

Do you feel inspired by what you’ve read, and want to get involved in this movement? 

Whether you’ve got five minutes or a full day, there is something you can do to help spread the word about the next Outdoor Classroom Day on 7 November! We’re on a mission to make outdoor play and learning part of every day. But we can’t do it alone – we need you!

About the Author:

Chloe works to ensure Semble comms are inspiring and impactful. She’s dedicated to nourishing, strengthening and growing our community through awesome communications. Inspiring and empowering others is what lights her up. When not at work Chloe is happiest in the sea, in a forest, on a yoga mat or lying in the sun.