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How children are engaging in climate action through poetry and theatre

Through empathy, expression, and arts-based learning, a Delhi-based organisation is helping children engage in climate action

Students show their art inspired by climate change and climate action at a Slam Out Loud session.
Students show their art inspired by climate change and climate action at a Slam Out Loud session. (Slam Out Loud)

Think climate action and you usually think of living sustainably, recycling and avoiding plastic but an important aspect is missing from the discourse: emotion. Climate change often evokes a variety of emotions, from sadness, nostalgia and confusion to a deep sense of loss. Creating a sense of connection with the natural world in future generations helps them express their concerns about climate change and work towards making a positive change. Delhi-based non-profit Slam Out Loud, founded by Jigyasa Labroo and Gaurav Singh in 2017, is trying to build that sense of empathy and creative problem-solving around climate action. 

Slam Out Loud makes arts-based learning accessible to children from marginalised communities through programmes with schools and governments. The organisation aims to build children’s creative confidence, which is needed to equip them with the skills to move forward in life, no matter what their goals.

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“The idea for creating climate change lessons came from the students. We don’t tell students to write poetry about specific topics. However, we noticed that many children were writing about issues that they were facing in their communities. Children who have seen their families struggle because of a lack of resources wrote about that. When you live in scarcity, you cannot ignore it,” Labroo tells Lounge.

Slam Out Loud focuses on two important aspects linked with climate action: emotion and action. One of its activities is having children write an essay titled, What Plant Are You? The children pick a plant from their locality that they believe reflects their character or personality best and write an essay. “It’s a way of connecting with nature through self-exploration. Knowledge about climate change is easier (to find and spread); what needs to be focused on is children’s connection with nature, which is what we do,” Labroo says. Slam Out Loud’s work in the climate space is supported by the Bengaluru-based non-profit organisation, Rainmatter Foundation, which believes that climate change should be explored through holistic and systemic angles including education.

In collaboration with the UK-based initiative World’s Largest Lesson, Slam Out Loud has developed climate action curricula and resources. The first programme is a self-paced 16-hour course for learners aged 8 to 14 help them take the initial steps in understanding climate action and sustainability. It has reached more than 50,000 learners through social media channels. For another programme, Artivism For Nature, Slam Out Loud has also collaborated with UNICEF. It is a one-hour self-paced lesson for young learners aged 8 to 14 to motivate them to be nature-positive. The programmes help children understand climate action and sustainability, and motivates them to take a stand for change through arts and activism. These climate action lessons are rooted in Slam Out Loud’s primary focus: socio-emotional learning.

“Socio-emotional learning skills are those that allow children to thrive socially and emotionally. For instance, skills that help children interact in social situations, understand how to be citizens of the world, recognise and regulate their emotions, and develop a sense of agency,” Labroo explains. For this, Slam Out Loud partners with schools, local institutions, and organisations in Maharashtra, Punjab, Delhi, and Karnataka to make arts-based learning accessible for children from low-income backgrounds.

Labroo’s focus on socio-emotional learning comes from her experience in school, where, as a quiet student, she turned to arts as a way to express herself and as a teacher during her Teach for India fellowship in 2014. She began Slam Out Loud as a project to encourage children in government schools to emote through poetry. “When children enter schools, they are asked to keep their culture and identity at the gate. But with poetry and theatre, they learn to explore who they are, who they want to be, their emotions and talking about things that they care,” Labroo says. 

Recognising that for many children climate change comes with feelings that might feel new or burdensome, Slam Out Loud helps them understand and express these feelings while building empathy for the environment. “When the children talked about climate change, they spoke from a place of feeling helplessness when the number of trees is reducing or air is not getting better, especially those living in Delhi, where we first started the programme,” Labroo says.

Moreover, the environmental knowledge imparted to them in schools and textbooks, was “knowledge heavy,” as Labroo points out. Education about climate action is mostly about telling children that the world is burning, turn off the tap, and switch off the lights. It’s important to take their emotions into account and give them space to express, she explains.

Children are sensitive to their environment and observe the changes. For instance, at a recent event in Punjab, one child came dressed as stubble and performed a poem on stubble burning. “It’s something he saw in his environment, understood that it impacts (everyday life), and created a performance to raise awareness,” Labroo says. When it comes to climate action, knowledge sharing isn't enough; it's important to feel the loss and want to act, as the children show.

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