All about learning without school!

Panel Discussion at Homeschoolers Meet Goa:
 
One day was kept as Open House for newbies and those wanting to seek answers to FAQs. The Panel included a mix of parents and young people. Claude Alvares, Rahul Alvares, Avinash Almeida, Ravi Almeida, Shuchita Prakriti, Niom Samson, Jaydeep Deosthale, Hema Jain, Maria Alves Almeida, Nazir from SA, Nithya, and Myself. Nandita Deosthale moderated the session.
 
The best part of the session was that we had young people in age group of 17 to 23 responding to FAQs from the guests. Listening to these young adults who took questions like:
 
What about socialisation?
What about routine?
What about social pressures?
 
They also took questions like:
 
Does it matter if both parents are in full time jobs?
 
This question was well answered by those raised by single working mothers.
 
The collective wisdom reflected that unschooling challenges families and individuals to rethink life choices.
 
Questions about ‘will children be able to face the Real World, was answered with reflective questions about ‘what is the real world?’ How is School reflective of the Real World?
 
What about earning money?
 
Was beautifully responded to by Rahul Alvares, who said, how much wealth is needed for our children? Why cannot we as parents and community support our children to pursue their passions and be themselves under one roof and keep providing for their basic needs if we as parents are already earning money enough for all? Why is there this need in us to make sure our children ‘earn money’ as soon as possible? It was touching when he said if I had a lot of money I would happily let my children fully immerse in their passion and provide a platform for them to contribute in other ways to their lives and the society which is non-monetary.
 
The young people responded by sharing how they are happy to receive remuneration however ‘small’ for their pursuits of interests as their goals are not to build another home, gather property, and create wealth.
 
What about social skills?
 
Was evident from the fact that all these young adults had not gone to school and were sitting in a panel responding to questions from people from all walks of life.
 
One boy responded by saying his best friend is their housekeeper who he calls Khala and how close he is to her and loves her the most and shares a deep bond with her. So socialisation for children who are unschooled is not limited to a particular social class or section.
 
How long does it take to homeschool?
 
I responded by seeking clarity about ‘is the question related to a daily parameter or life long?’ I think most people got the answer in my question.
 
Nithya did a short presentation on Right to Education Act.
 
Questions related to exams were answered by the panel on NIOS and IGCSE etc.
 
I clearly stated that homeschooling is not about keeping the child cooped up in HOME. It is about Learning without School, where the whole world is a learning field.
 
To a question which was seeking safeguards on the system of home education, my response was that being out of the system means facing the unknown, playing with the unknown and that since its out of the system, there cannot be system controls as that which is open ended cannot have ‘any system proofing’.
 
Hema Jain, shared how learning without school is about nurturing the heart of the child and the heart of the parent. It is about emotional well being and emotional health.
 
All in all a very interesting discussion!
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UnSchooling Circles at Learning Societies UnConference, Bangalore, 2017

Sharing two summaries of the circles on Unschooling: Ask, Share, Reflect that I hosted and facilitated at Learning Societies UnConference at Bhoomi College, Bangalore.

I. Unschooling Circles at LSuC Bangalore!
I am back from a very fruitful and fulfilling four days at the Learning Societies UnConference, where over 1000 people came together in Bhoomi College campus to share, express and explore everything ‘Un’.
Daily Circles were anchored by me on Unschooling : Ask, Share, Reflect and the topics that came up were Screen Time, Learning Environment, Discipline, Being Street Smart and much much more. There were many children who also sat in the circle, and also youth who have never been to school, and young people who were questioning institutional learning.
I was happy to have children and young people who responded to queries of the adults. Sharing some reflections:
1. One boy of 11 said on discipline ‘adults think only when you walk on a straight line and don’t talk or look here and there, its discipline’.
2. Another young man said, ‘Discipline is a myth. When one is interested in something one is dedicated to that interest from within’.
3. A mother shared how her son has only been climbing one tree in the campus all the time since they arrived. And how she kept calling him to attend other stuff that she thought would be of value to him only to realize that how much her son was in love with that tree and had actually made that tree his home and how she saw that trees are becoming rare beings on this planet and all the stuff she wanted him to do would probably be around more than trees and she felt humbled to see her son’s love for the tree. That evening there was a concert in the amphitheater and the tree is above the stage, where I noticed as did others, the little boy hugging the branch and watching the show. Now and then he climbed farther up and disappeared into the thicker branches high up 🙂
4. During discussions on how to ‘earn money’, one boy of 14 said he hated school as he wanted to be a video gamer, so he left school and started gaming and now he is developing gaming software and already earning. He is Indian!
5. One young man who grew up on a farm, grew up only with his parents, siblings and farm animals. He did not have other children to ‘socialise’ with. He can farm, he taught himself bike stunts and bike mechanics, he taught himself science. He gets a salary to work on his family’s farm. And he said, ‘I find most college and school going kids boring and shallow’. He was present in all my sessions confidently responding to queries by parents! 🙂
6. There was a young man who is a professional video gamer and goes for tournaments and his brother does commentary for such tournaments.
7. One boy of 16 makes short films and is still learning film making from different mentors. He has been travelling alone on public transports within the country since he was 12 years old. His mother was also in the session and she shared that she never thinks her son is ‘wasting’ his time on the internet and computer. She said, ‘I can see he is working, as learning from internet and using computer is his work.’
8. One boy said in the session on screen time, ‘Adults don’t understand the good things about internet and media, they just focus on the bad things.’
9. A young girl of 16 who never went to school or took any exams applied for a course in Azim Premji University and wrote in the form how she never went to school but has been a self learner and described her journey so far in the column which wanted her 12th grade results. She has been accepted in the University!
10. One parent was concerned about if unschoolers were successful only if they were exceptional, for example getting into MIT etc? But the insights that came up in the sessions were that it’s not that unschoolers are successful only when exceptional but the ‘perception of success’ itself is exceptional for unschoolers.
II.UnSchooling and Discipline:
UnSchooling and Discipline: A glimpse of the insights and sharing during UnSchooling Circles at Learning Societies UnConference, Bangalore;
The burning topic of ‘how to discipline children’ was discussed and shared by many parents, children and young adults.
I started the discussion with asking the participants to share their thoughts and ideas about ‘how discipline looks like to them?’ With a foundation being laid that, all sharing is to be listened as far as possible with non-judgement. With a guideline that no one response is right or wrong, its about sharing and listening to oneself and others.
1. One parent said, ‘To me its about being sensitive to one’s surroundings and not being harmful to oneself and others.’
2. One young man said, ‘Discipline is a myth and therefore it is different for different people. To me its about morals and ethics, its about prioritizing that which is important to me.’
3. One parent said, its about time management for him.
4. One mother who was concerned about her toddler having to hear a NO from her cousins when she wanted their things to play with. She wanted to know how to deal with that. She was wondering if discipline is about sharing.
5. A mother shared how, learning to hear a NO from others and learning to stay in the discomfort of not being able to share is part of the UnSchooling journey. She shared how, respecting the needs of one child to NOT SHARE, is a learning process. The mother with the toddler asked her how can that be made possible. So some of us shared how ‘Go down to the physical level of the toddler and calmly and gently explain to her in simple words how she cannot have that thing as her cousin is not yet ready to share.’ We also shared how, sometimes the toddler will understand and sometime she won’t, but to do this consistently with gentleness and sometimes one might even have to separate the children for a while to let them process their pain.
6. Some other insights where about how a lot of mainstream parenting is about ‘protecting’ children from pain and resentments by imposing rules and discipline, whereas in UnSchooling the process is to support our children to sit with their pain with compassion.
7. One mother with three children, two teenagers and a 10-year old said, she has always felt that the world has divided human beings as adults and children, there is adultism and childism (new words) 😀 instead of looking at needs of each being as being equally important.
8. I shared how for my family, the word discipline does not exist as it is for us about unique needs and working out harmonious solutions to meet those needs.
9. Discipline is about Adult vs Children and that creates a battlefield of needs banging against each other. Whereas when peace and harmony is the goal, then discipline becomes a inner journey.
10. On father shared how, he has stopped making rules and instead faces each situation in the moment and works out with his children and spouse by looking within him and stepping into their shoes. He then works towards cooperation rather than authority.
11. Some parents shared how expressing vulnerably, that it is the Need of the parent that certain things be in certain ways, is important to be conveyed to the children rather than making it about general “shoulds and should nots’. This ensures that children are not made to feel bad about their needs. This process is a life long process and enables children to be sensitive to the needs of other family members/society, without feeling self judgement and also it empowers the children to value themselves and their needs.
12. A parent asked how do unschooled children take care of themselves when out in the world, on streets, in work places? The young man who never went to school and grew up on a farm said, ‘Since my parents always taught me to respect my feelings and trust my instincts, I do not stay in spaces where there is abuse, dominance and aggressive authority’. One parent who has three unschooled children and lives in South Africa said, ‘When children are treated with kindness and affection and trusted for the choices they make, they instinctively do not tolerate any kind of abuse or manipulation.’ One parent said, ‘school is about authority, dominance of one over the other, following the diktat of superiors. Obviously such children will not know the difference between violence and non-violence’. One mum said, why is it a virtue to put up with terrible and abusive bosses. I shared on how, being used to abuse of any kind takes away our discernment in all kinds of relationships for life. We put up with abusive spouses, friends, soul-less work, pesticides, violent politics, everything..

Facilitating reading in unschooling.

 

As a parent I do not deliberately ‘teach’ my children. I have been facilitating their learning. And at times that means just standing aside to watch and observe what they pick and what they are drawn to. It means asking them if they want more of what they pick. The most interesting has been watching both my son’s and daughter’s reading explorations. I never told them to read the ‘usual’ suggested readings or books. Ishaan has a natural affinity towards fantasy, architecture and factual knowledge. So I provided material based more on that. He is now reading Three Musketeers, because of his interest in France and popular video game Assassin’s Creed. It all started when he was three years old with Eiffel Tower. His favourite book so far is BFG by Dahl, it all started with his interest in Lord of the Rings and Hobbits. His interest in exploring giants, elves and other creatures.

Gourika, didn’t enjoy reading books for a long time. Her first self read completed book was the Twilight Series. I thought she was interested in Vampires. But she was actually interested in love, emotions, adolescent emotional issues and relationships. She started watching web series, reading blogs, watching YouTube on these themes. Suddenly she is reading full novels. She recently read, Girl Online by Zoe Sugg. And from Zoe Sugg she got her recommendations of the next few books she wished to read. Zoe Sugg has a book club on YouTube. So now she is reading ‘Eleanor and Park’. And she already has a list of books she wished to pick up next!

And of course Ishaan will read anything to do with Star Wars!

Parenting and pain

I conduct circles of sharing and listening. I am a single parent. And I have felt the need to create a space of sharing and listening for other single parents of all genders. Yesterday, I had my first circle for single parents. One parent showed up.:) And this parent, a single mother, thanked me for inviting her. She told me,’thank you for inviting me, as most people forget that even though my daughter lives with her father, I am a single parent.’ She added how because people do not ever ask her about mothering, she herself forgets that for 11 years she has been a full time mother to her child. Incidentally she also homeschooled her daughter, and she finds that no one ever asks her about homeschooling. Her daughter is now appearing for public exam as a homeschooler. A huge chunk of the credit for her daughter’s education and learning goes to her mother. And yet she feels sad that perhaps her contribution to her daughter’s infant years and formative years will go unrecognized and perhaps even unacknowledged.

As we both shared and listened to the challenges of being a single parent, we touched upon the pain of being a parent (single or otherwise, man or woman) and also touched upon the greater pain of holding the pain of our children as they walk through life and towards their destiny.

I am a single parent and my children are living with me. That has both huge challenges and joys. As a single mother, I feel the freedom of being creative with parenting, as I do not have a spouse to tell me what is best for the children. Along with that immense freedom I feel the immensity of the  responsibility that is also vested in me. The chances of going ‘wrong’ and being blamed for not making the right choices for my children vest heavily in me. I walk the path of imperfect but peaceful parenting, trusting my intuition and that of my children about life and children.

I feel angry with myself for having to depend on my ex-spouse for finances and from there stems my fear of being judged for ‘things not turning out perfect as the world sees it’. This factor pushes me to be open and compassionate towards my ex-spouse, pushes me to strengthen myself to hold his fears and doubts with love and care. I feel vulnerable as I see how despite being divorced I need him and he needs me. And this factor pushes me to transcend our past pain, it pushes me to practice forgiveness and to see him as a fellow traveler beyond his role of being my ex-husband and father of our children. My vulnerabilities push me to hold the conflicts we have with love. But this love is larger and stronger, it is not attached to him being my ex-husband and not attached to the pain we created together for ourselves.

I expressed how I am learning to accept reality as it is and how I am humbly bowing to the larger inter-dependence of relationships.

This lady shared, that she feels she needs to strengthen herself to hold those moments with love and compassion when her daughter will express anger and rage at her for the trauma and pain of growing up in a broken home. She also shared how, she feels empowered now to see that children do not come to us for over-protection from pain and sorrows. She shared how her journey into deeper pain and coming out of it entirely by herself, empowers her to be ready when her daughter faces the world and the inevitable heartbreaks that come with explorations of one’s authentic self. She feels ready to embrace her daughter when she goes out there and falls in love and breaks her heart, when she goes exploring and stumbles, when she makes that turn which turns out to be a path full of thorns. She feels ready to receive the anger, rage and sorrow of her daughter as she learns to navigate through life and its inevitable suffering. She also shared how she sees her ex-husband’s need to be loved which makes him control their daughter and her.

We both shared how for us parenting is not about telling our children what is good for them and what is not good for them. We both shared how parenting for us is not about making sure our children never make mistakes and never get hurt, never meet the wrong kind of people, never experience violence, never get used, misused or abused, never fall, never fail, never be rejected. We both shared how for us parenting was about a deeper knowing that all that is inevitable and we want to be present for our children to come home to recuperate and rejuvenate from heartbreaks, rejections, failure and pain.

It is easier to share the joys and successes of our children. It is easier for parents to proudly take credit for the highs in our children’s lives. But I feel the real challenge of parenting is to take equal ownership of the lows and pain of our children’s lives.

See you for the next circle.

I conduct Listening and Sharing Circle for Single Parents and other Parents in Pune, India. These sessions can be one-on-one or for couples or for men and women, for groups. Please write to me on doladg@gmail.com, if you wish to be part of such sessions/circles. You may write to me if you are facing any parenting challenges with your young and adult children. And we can together work out possibilities of sharing and listening.

 

 

Alternative Learning Spaces for Children!

I don’t want to talk about children who go to regular schools. For most who do not know the history of school, let me tell you it was a place designed to take care of the children of the state so that adults where free to be absorbed into the growing industrial work force. It was also a place that was designed to fashion a huge working force needed to fuel the growing economies of the world.

Well just over hundred years and people of the world forgot the real purpose and started to feel, living without schools was unthinkable. That is unfortunately how easy it is to alter the minds of world citizens, by mass propaganda.

But anyway, I do not want to talk about virtues or evils of mainstream schools. I want to talk about the question. Do parents and families love being around their children and why it is important to create more free-flowing learning spaces?

The Alternative Learning Spaces that are trying to bring about some real changes in the way learning happens in children, will become sustainable only when parents who want alternative education for their children become co-creators of such learning centers. I find that many alternative schools are being yet again used by parents to offload the primary task of being around their children on alternative teachers.

Especially in my country, India, with Right to Education Act coming down heavily on such centers and lack of sustained funds to pay unconventional teachers and stop children from leaving for more mainstream schools, parents need to drop their other pursuits, at least by turns, to become active partners in these kind of learning spaces. Otherwise I see no difference between parents who send their kids to conventional schools and alternative schools. The second option being just another attractive looking fad, hard to sustain for both parents and the school. Till parents and extended family enjoy being around their children, no real transformation in education is possible.

So the question for  reflection for parents or to be parents is “DO I LOVE BEING AROUND CHILDREN?”

Homeschooling and unschooling are options but clearly not a valid one for many who find it hard to be always with their children till the children are old enough to find other avenues outside the parents’ circle. I am an unschooling mother to two children, and yet would not recommend this to all parents. Simply because it is not everybody’s cup of tea. Am I being arrogant here? Well yes I am. It takes all of oneself and much more to be fully dedicated to your kids for a long a time.

But the other holistic options that can help our children to find their inner calling and creativity are co-op spaces managed and run by parents themselves. Dropping the kids off to yet another center managed and run by some passionate alternative educationist is not sustainable in the long run unless parents join as co-creators in these centers. That is how community takes responsibility for its children lovingly and compassionately.

Of course there are issues of single parenthood, single income families, ambitions of both parents etc that need to be addressed, but simplification of life and the joy of being around our kids, must drive this whole path, and not passing the buck!

The issues are different and in different intensities with economically disadvantaged families. But I am concerned more for the urban families living in cities who speak or understand English and read wise books from all over the world, as I am part of this kind of community right now!

END!