Kavya Chandrashekhar is Founder and Montessori Guide at The Montessori School (TMS) and Kriyasthala, and Executive Director, Montessori Institute of Bangalore. With decades of experience - from early childhood to high school programmes - her strength lies in understanding the needs of children from birth to 18 years.
Ms. Chandrashekhar is a passionate advocate for outdoor learning beyond the customary visits to parks, lakes, or gardens. The children from TMS and Kriyasthala regularly go on treks instead.
From toddlers to teachers, parents and guardians – the community has actively taken to the scenic hills around Bangalore for years now. Some have even gone on a Himalayan trek.
Inspiring, pathbreaking - just some of the adjectives that come to mind when we see an entire school trek together!
Curious about how all of it began, we had the pleasure of chatting with Ms. Chandrashekhar on what brings these remarkable children back to the hills every year.
What is the value of outdoor learning for children, especially in a world that increasingly places little to no emphasis on it?
“What is learning?” is the first question we must ask. I think our idea of learning needs a radical shift. We are conditioned to believe that tests and testing are the way to measure a child’s progress. In my two decades of experience of working with children, I know that this belief compromises a child’s learning outcomes; it's almost a disservice in honouring their natural human development.
Learning is a multifold approach and learning in the true sense happens everywhere, all the time. It is imperative that we clear our lens and look at learning as a multifold, multidimensional curve supporting human development in every form. This will then enable each one of us to consider outdoor experience as learning.
We’ve seen that many people tend to view outdoor learning as an “outing” without meaningful outcomes - simply a means to take children away from the class for a break.
Learning inside and outside should be seamless for healthy human development. If children are engaged and have choice in their learning then we do not have to impose an adult-led break to support optimal human development. In the redundant educational model, we put a lot of undue, unwanted milestones as a checklist on children. There is no research which proves that if you crack all the tests, you will be happy and successful. Questioning the predominant traditional education outcomes makes one uncomfortable because we are trapped to believe that is the most sure way to be successful.
It’s rare for schools to include treks into the curriculum and across all age groups! What inspired you to integrate trekking as a regular part of learning?
The inspiration came from the fact that I myself enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors. Secondly, just observing children these days - almost confined to the indoors, to their gadgets and devices - breaks my heart because they don't know any better.
One of my mentors said, our role as educators and parents is to show or highlight to children what they may not be seeing. To do that, it is important we consistently clarify to us the true meaning of education.
It is up to us to show them the way. We can't make children do what we want them to do, but we need to open up the doors for possibilities. What they do after that is their independent decision or choice. But if you don't even show them the door - the door to numeracy and literacy, the door to empathy, kindness, and communal living; how will they be able to make informed decisions about what they want and what brings them immense joy.
And in what ways does trekking align with the values and belief systems of the school?
For us, being outdoors is a solid check system on how your body is doing. It indicates to us if we are taking care of our body. With trekking, you get to know where you are with your body.
It’s vital for us to build a generation of people who can take care of themselves, who can take care of others, and who understand the value of interdependency. This is the ethos we follow inside a Montessori classroom as well.
I think no other experience teaches that than being outdoors – treks bring out everyone’s true nature. Think about it. You’re outdoors. You might be doing very well on a trek. But are you willing to stop, pause, and help someone struggling?
We believe in the goodness of human nature and we want children to experience that day in and day out. The learning must happen both indoors and outside.
Trekking is a good check point on whether our robust Montessori pedagogical principles reflect in other settings.
The goal is to get children to be capable of feeling, “Yes, I can do this and help everyone along!”
True. Plus, the outdoors provides a setting for children to learn new behaviors and attitudes or reinforce what they learn in school.
Yes, because nature is unpredictable. Anything can happen. Within your own environment, you can still have self-control and system checks, but nature is very unpredictable. It's very free flowing. You have to go with the flow. Human nature is what comes out when you have to go with the flow. For us, all of those things are important.
As a team leader, the other indirect benefit of the treks is an indicator of your own team's well-being. When a trek is coming up, the educators know that they need to be in good health and shape! I struggled initially to convince my team members that this is something we will be doing long term. There was a little bit of resistance. But they’ve been going on treks for the last three to four years and have seen the value and benefit. My goal through this is to get a community of Montessori Educators to priortise self care, we need our educators to be committed to their wellbeing if we want to offer the best to our children.
That must have been quite an undertaking for you to get everyone on board.
Yes. But the experience broke plenty of myths for me. I used to think the younger team members could navigate the trek well and others would have a challenge, but it's not true. Sometimes it’s the opposite. I think it's a reflection of how you care for your body. Good health and fitness were yardsticks I had in mind for the team. I tell them very clearly - everyone has to take time to participate in the trek, and they all put in effort and take it up.
Why did you choose the Indiahikes Experiential Learning Program for your students?
We have certain value systems and beliefs and we wanted to collaborate with people who share and complement our values. We felt Indiahikes was a perfect fit. When I first spoke to Izzat from Indiahikes, I didn't have to spend a lot of time explaining what we needed for the children. She got it immediately. It worked really well because we could plug in exactly what we wanted.
I wanted it to be a long-term collaboration and not a one-off thing. For something like this, you will not see results after one trek or even after a year.
The other big thing that makes it sustainable is the pricing that Indiahikes offers. It's a very sustainable option for many organisations.
Additionally, it’s another way for us to have a knowledge exchange with people outside the Montessori sphere who share the same values – to engage in collaboration, engage in understanding. We don't know everything and seek to learn from others as well.
The children have been trekking with Indiahikes for a few years now. Can you share how they have benefitted from trekking?
The biggest takeaway for us is community building - the way children lend support, are empathetic and understanding to each other. For them, trekking isn’t about reaching point A, but how are we going to get to point A? Together.
It’s never an independent journey. It's a community journey, and that gets stronger and stronger with each trek.
Some children are outdoorsy. They say yes to it all the time. But success to me lies in the progress of the ones who feel like physically they're not capable.
Certain temperaments don't like that kind of strenuous physical stretching. They say they’re tired. They say they will never ever go on a trek again. I've seen these children come back to trekking a fourth, fifth, and sixth time!
Maybe because the whole community is doing it. The community is so excited about the trek which rubs off on the others too. The other takeaway is the children’s organisation and planning skills - on a trek, they’re clear about why they're doing what they're doing.
Overall, the treks are a nuanced experience. With every trek, they're getting better and better at it. Children get used to physical exertion and are accustomed to overcoming hardships.
Looking ahead, how do you envision outdoor experiential learning with Indiahikes evolving at your school?
Our goal is to get the youngest children (ages 1 to 3) and their families to go on an easy walk to start. We want to explore the program for the younger children a bit more.
For very young children especially, we see how crucial it is to talk about the possibility, as you previously mentioned. To encourage children (and their parents) to try in the first place.
Yes, one must. Our program covers children from ages 1 to 18. The 6 to 12 age group is going on very well with fantastic turnouts. We don’t have enough children between ages 3 to 6 going out and about more often. We don't have enough parents and children signing up. Plus, the toddler community is what I want to target in the coming year. That is my vision for 2024.
We have added an adolescent program this year since we see it as a continuous learning. I would like to build on the skills for the 12 to 18 year age group too. These are the possibilities.
Any final thoughts on the big vision for outdoor learning?
I think the biggest outcome for us across all programs or any collaboration that we do is this: how will my skills benefit the community at large? It's not just learning the skill so that I can get better at it. How can I inspire ten more people to be engaged in it? That is really the big vision.
Thank you so much for your time and sharing your thoughts, Ms. Chandrashekhar. It was a pleasure.
Indiahikes believes everyone must trek. When schools like TMS and Kriyasthala trek together mindfully as a community, it’s as if the vision is unfolding right before us.
We're thrilled to see a growing awareness among schools about incredible learning opportunities in the outdoors. It’s a privilege for us to partner with schools to turn those possibilities into reality.
Are you an educator keen on getting your students outdoors to learn?
Write to us at email@example.com and we’ll make it happen.