Sonal Motla says organized outdoor activities are important for overall growth

My adorable mischievous angel, my friend, my closest friend, Neer, is five years old. On weekends, she plants and prunes, swims and runs at our place in the hills. But my challenge is to do meaningful, yet easy and entertaining kids activities in the city of Mumbai.

Sunday outings for privileged urban kids are usually the malls, which are expensive with an overload of synthetic and unoriginal playgrounds and restaurants. Private clubs with sports activities and paying courses in theatre, music and other activities exist, but it is far from sufficient.

Outdoor field trips have long been an important educational tool, but unfortunately, even in the most expensive schools, field trips as part of mandatory community service activities lack depth in curriculum design. Children who spend time in nature develop wonder and reflection which help develop their minds and instill wonder.

For example, Mumbai is home to around two dozen parks and countless gardens, but at best they remain lawned spaces, devoid of educational entertainment for children. With so many educational institutions, it is surprising that no thought seems to be given to this crucial aspect and nation building.

The city has had exceptional spaces for children but they need to be reassessed, evaluated and improved. Nehru Science Center, Taraporewala Aquarium, Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan and Byculla Zoo although the whole concept of animal caging in a zoo is cruel and outdated. It would make more sense to relocate the animals to the beautiful urban forest of Aarey and turn the current Byculla Zoo, rich in fabulous tree species, into a tree museum. Organizing guided tours to raise awareness of botanical aspects would be enriching for young and old alike. In one of my PILs, I had mentioned that this should be taken into account.

In a scenario where resources are limited and the impact and reach must be multiple, gardens and parks can be a haven if we think about it to strengthen and nurture our young population. Policy decisions that help create well-thought-out programs are crucial, and the need for immediate attention cannot be stressed enough.

Markets are full of merchandise from dolls that have passed puberty, brand name toy cars or toy guns. These may not be the ideal aspirations of small children. We need to be aware of what we put into these impressionable young minds, the seeds we sow.

As a civic amenity, parks and gardens exist, but little thought is given to designing them for our young population, which, at 400 million, is the largest population of children in the world, 40% of India’s population is under 18.

Needless to say, our underprivileged children suffer the most. The most inspiring case study is that of Medellin in Colombia, its transformation into a “city for life”, must be considered the most remarkable urban redemption project in modern history.

Once the most violent city in the world, Medellín was recognized in 2013 as the most innovative city in the world by the Wall Street Journal and the Urban Land Institute.

Sergio Fajardo, journalist turned mathematician turned politician, the mayor initiated the change that has since followed. A third of the city’s budget is devoted to education. Over the past 10 years, Medellín has built 120 schools and nine of the iconic library parks. The experience of social urbanism in Medellín inspired the province of Antioquia to set up a network of 80 educational parks.

Let’s take an example and imagine parks with toddlers playing clapping games in the free early years program, grandmas learning internet skills in the computer lab, children playing with interactive educational blocks and science experiments . Programs developed and designed to promote science, technology, research, innovation, connectivity and entrepreneurship, as well as arts and culture.

Parks created through design competitions by art, design, technology and architecture institutes. Theme parks, each drawing inspiration from traditional crafts and teaching tools, toys and games to create a unique, local identity.

If design, craft and engineering institutes were encouraged to tackle the lack of educational play spaces for children, we would have looked at the needs of a young population that is shamelessly ignored.

With changing times, it is important to change the pedagogy and methodology of education. Experiential learning is the way to go. We need to look at our educational systems and tools, which need innovation, design, but above all care and attention.

(Sonal Motla organized Kala Ghoda 2020 with development and art as the theme and is currently working on arts, crafts and design education issues with a few educational institutions. Please send your comments to: [email protected])