Guess what this is?” asked wildlife photographer and filmmaker Kalyan Varma on his Instagram feed (@kalyanvarma). At first glance, the image looked like a radiating collage of Chiclets, the white chewing gum we were all addicted to as kids. Teeth, I wondered, looking at the hashtags #texture and #wildlife for clues. Finally, Varma answered, “It’s the underside of a Croc called Gharial.” This question was part of a short quiz series where Varma put up close-up shots of animals. What a wonderful idea!
Lately, I have been finding that Instagram can be a wonderful educational tool for children. There are environmental groups talking about the impact of climate change, forums to explore space, art and science, and ideas for the next dreaded craft project. Varma, for instance, posts about his travels in forests in India and different parts of the globe. His photographs inspire awe for the natural world: a shy baby stump-tailed macaque glances at his camera; a plump rare bird, resplendent in sunset colours, from the eastern Himalayas looks askance ‘ a spider hides between spores of a fern in the Western Ghats.
For teens looking for more such information, National Geographic (@natgeo) and Discovery (@discoverychannel) are packed with stunning photographs of the natural world: animals, strange flora, and remote worlds.
The magazine Time for Kids also has its @timeforkidsmagazine handle and it’s full of fascinating trivia. From learning what is lightning to why is Friday the 13th considered unlucky and interviews with filmmakers to sports, it’s all in there. Right now, there’s a call out for their Kids Reporter programme, which sounds very exciting.
Then there’s NASA’s Instagram account (@nasa), which is a wonderful way to “explore the universe and discover our home planet.” Kids can learn about the Hubble Space Telescope, the moons of different planets, and discover geography through satellite images. The photographs are stunning. Mars, for instance, looks like a covetable shiny marble, with its frosty polar caps shining bright among its “rust-coloured landscape.”
In another post, the Nili Fossae region of Mars is similar to a rugged denim-covered outcrop. There are videos of solar flares, images of aurora from space, and solar eclipses. It’s quite a journey into the universe, one told by the experts.
Art projects can do with some inspiration. Get ready to be awestruck by Colossal (@colossal). The six-year-old award-winning blog explores art and visual culture. Photography, animation, installations, drawings, street art are just some of the gorgeous stuff on their feed. As the website says, “Colossal is also a great place to learn about the intersection of art and science as well as the beauty of the natural world.” Then check out Kids Crafts (@produmamka) and Craft Ideas Magazine (@craftideasmag) for more practical inspiration: reusing plastic glasses for art work, making your own paper and creating mini cacti pincushions. Then there’s Emma Mitchell (@silverpebble2), a writer, designer and naturalist. Her Instagram feed is full of beautiful flowers, some fresh and others flattened as part of sketchbooks. It’s a wonderful way to get acquainted with diverse flora. Don’t be surprised if your child’s interest in craft projects suddenly goes up.
Techno-savvy children can check out littleBits (@littlebits), who say they are on a “mission to unleash creativity by empowering everyone to create inventions, large & small, with out platform of electronic building blocks.” On April Fool’s Day, they put up a video of a motion-triggered confetti machine, which looks like the ultimate prank. Then there’s a DIY grand piano for young engineers as well as animatronic animals and characters. Their Instagram handle is only a showcase place: you have to visit the website to understand how to create projects.
For those looking for real time updates, Everyday Climate Change (@everyday climatechange) brings together a group of photographers from five continents who document climate change. Their feed shows how the changing climate is impacting people and landscapes across the world. Don’t miss photographer and writer Arati Kumar-Rao’s (@aratikumarrao) images on Bangladesh and India on the feed.
So, tap away. But cyber safety, of course, is important; note that children below the age of 13 are not allowed to have accounts. Having a private account is also a good idea, so you can control who views the photos.