Un-Family!

I have been wanting to write about a part of my journey with my family but waited till the expressions took the form it needed.
 
As a mother who is divorced from the father of ‘their’children, the toughest part for my journey has been to walk the balance of instilling a sense of dignity and self respect in my children wrt their sense of their father. A person has to play many roles, he was my husband, then he became the father of our children and then he became my ex-husband, and then he became someone else’s husband and father to another child other than ‘our’ children. Through all this, it is often hard to uphold a sense of love that is not attached to any of these roles, and I have struggled too and sometimes still do to keep these roles aside and free from ‘his and my’ story. I have always wanted my children to grow up with a sense of their own wrt their father and not be influenced by my ‘disappointments’. I have often seen in life that a human being can succeed as a father, but fail as a husband, a human being can succeed as a mother but fail as a wife. I am not using the words success or fail to judge myself or others, but to point out how the popular narratives judge.
Yes, my children will probably form their own narratives in their heads and hearts about their mother and their father. But my intention and work is to try and instil a sense of respect for both the father and mother in them, not so much for my sake or his sake, not so much to save our own ‘asses’, but so that my children feel a sense of dignity and self respect for who they are and not judge themselves for not being part of the popular narrative that permeates my extended family, many friends, society, culture. It has been my intention and work to support my children to create a loving relationship with their father irrespective of how his and my dynamics have been or are. Without expecting them to be greater than their present selves, without expecting them to love beyond their true feelings, without expecting them to respect beyond their authentic sense of respect for their father or me, without having to suppress their sadness, anger or grief, I try and work as much as I can to support them to create a sense of abiding love.
I don’t do this to save myself and their father from uncomfortable feelings that we need to face when our children are troubled by difficult emotions wrt ‘our different kind of family’, but to support them to face their discomforts and to support them to accept that their lives are different from a lot of people, to support them to walk with their head held high in trust and self love, to embrace the differences and to try to see that they don’t grow up in anger and a sense of lack owing to their father and mother having chosen a different kind of life than the popular narrative.
And yet I live with a sense of uncertainty that their lives will unfold as they are meant to. I try today as much as I can from my authentic self and honest intentions. I am grateful that their father is open to conversations around this theme and is increasingly willing to cooperate to ensure that the self respect and dignity of ‘our children’ is placed top priority under these different and often difficult circumstances.
I slip so many times in anger, sadness, sorrow, unfulfilled desires. It is so hard to not project them on the children and so hard to not draw them in. I do bitch with my mother, my sister, and I do so not in hiding. But I walk this path of razor’s edge (hoping I am mindful enough) in the hope that my children will grow up with a deep sense of self respect and grow up in love, and not to be thrown off by popular narratives and yet be joyfully open to embrace the narratives that come into their lives.
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Ah! Latin!

 
This afternoon DS asks me, ‘I know single, double, triple, quadruple, quintuple…what comes next?’ Well I kind of only remembered till sextuple (already the squeals had started)..So we looked up and then what happened was this: DS, DD and I were in splits trying to pronounce the tongue twisters like, Quattuorvigintuple, Quinquagintuple, Quattortriguple, Quattorquadraguple…we were already in a state were we could no longer feel our tongues. Then came, Vigingtuple, Unvigintuple..and then came sexvigintuple, by the time we reached sexquinquaguple we were all on the floor rolling. The final nail in the coffin which had us choking on our own squeals was Sexsexaguple!
 
How many of you have learnt it all till Millidruple, Megadruple and Gigadruple?

The children who live in subaltern worlds!

I also felt like sharing that while many children have a visible graph to what they are connecting with and how they are connecting. Many children have tangible form to their interests. And there are children who show no visible or tangible signs of any connection to anything outside. And then suddenly one day there is a burst of stuff.

In unschooling many times such children do not get mentioned in blog posts, Facebook posts, or on public forums. Some children are quiet, seemingly disinterested in anything, they sigh around, or live in their own caves, it looks like nothing in this world attracts them or makes them curious. Parents who are beginning to unschool find these kind of children the hardest to deal with. These are the children who put most fears and restlessness in the hearts and minds of parents who want to unschool, especially if the parent himself or herself is not like that or is being pressurized by spouse or other family members.

To such parents I would recommend meditation, relaxing techniques, Pranayama, Yoga, swimming, walking a lot, seeking out listening buddies in other unschooling mums and dads, engaging in their own interests more, getting a life of their own where they can pursue their own passions or interests that they left or did not have time to follow when they were younger, or take up a home project or art project or some classes that they always wanted to do but could not. It is vital that parents love those children unconditionally without offering ‘exposure’ thinking they are not interested in anything and need more stimulus. These children need not be hurried.

A lot of children live in subaltern worlds of their own minds and spirits. They are deeply engaged with their inner worlds. So they are busy connecting things inside out rather than outside in. They are figuring things out in their own very quiet ways. They are more like those trees which grow deep roots before they can spurt above the ground. They are drawing in ground water, they are growing downwards into the soil of their soul’s earth.

I have been blessed to have two kinds of children in my family and they both teach me to stay in the middle without freaking out either way.:) My older one spend a lot of time in her cave, drawn inward for some years between the time she was 9 and 13 years old. She herself would ask me, ‘mum I am not sure what really interests me’. It took a lot of self control from me as a parent to just listen to her apparent confusion. It was hard for me to watch those fears which would say to me, ‘She won’t ever amount too anything.’ Even harder to listen to the father’s worries and the worried look on other family members. But somewhere I was also able to draw patience and a different perspective from inner wisdom and other unschooling parents which motivated me to stay calm and waiting.

But things changed, when she became clearer, it was far more definitive than I had imagined. She is so focused and dedicated to her chosen interests. Her sense of self driven discipline about almost everything she does sometimes puts me to shame. 🙂 She is much clearer about her feelings and emotions and can express them clearly now in her writing, her poetry and her verbal expression with me and others. And yet I know now that she will need her cave now and then.

It is easier for an extroverted, explorer of an unschooling parent to engage with children who are making connections easily out there in the world, but the real challenge for such parents is this other child, who is exploring the inner landscape of her heart and mind more, and making the connection from inside to outside!

Try not to ‘give’ exposure, allow it!

I want to always bring out what Unschoolig is NOT. Exposing children so that they can find out what they want to follow, is yet again born of the schooled mind. Children need to value what is present in the immediate environment and they always figure out.

There is often a need in parents to ‘give’ exposure to their children. There is a huge zeal to offer a lot of stuff to the children, even when the child is not asking. The hope is that the child when exposed to many many things will figure out what he or she is interested in. It matters to me to point out often what unschooling is NOT rather than answer the question ‘what is unschooling?’

Bringing experiences or tools or resources to enhance their interests is one thing. But to proactively expose is another. I often feel to expose with the intention to find out what the child is interested in stops the child from following his or her impulses. Parents often assume that the immediate environment is not stimulating or good enough to excite the child or support the child in showing a spark. Many parents who live in Indian cities feel if they lived in a more natural environment, the child would need less attention and engagement from parents. But what if it is not possible to move to a more rural surrounding? In that case it is vital to explore, what at home can create meaningful engagement for the child?

I recall my son was fond of Thomas the Engine as a toddler. One day he asked me to draw train engines. So I bought books and started to copy draw for him. He would simple watch me draw. Then he would request for certain kinds of engines. Then he was dissatisfied as he wanted the one dimensional drawings to look real and long, like real trains. So we figured out a method where I would tape in A4 size papers into a long trail and then draw the engines with cabins. Then he wanted trees and mountains and tunnels too. He also wanted the cabins to be of different colours. He chose the colours. That is how he started to identify colours.

Then one day he wanted to see real trains. Of course we did train travels. But he wanted trains day in day out. Now I cannot obviously travel by train all the time, can I. So I started getting BBC documentaries on trains and engines documentaries from the British Library.  Or more films and cartoons with trains in them. And whenever we went to the library we went by the Delhi Metro Rail, which was really exciting for him. We also made monthly trips to the National Rail Museum. We live in New Delhi at that time.

He soon wanted to know about different fuels that ran the engines. He was about 4 by then. So we started talking about coal, diesel, electricity. He then asked me which other mode of transport used coal. I showed him Titanic, the film. Well he was hooked to Titanic for years. Day in and day out all he knew was Titanic. He has made incredible sketches of Titanic, also of Titanic hitting the iceberg, Titanic sinking, build Titanic with cardboard with help from me, we got 3 D puzzles of Titanic in its 100th year. He watched a lot of  documentaries on Titanic by  looking it up on Internet. That is how he got interested in ships. Both historical ones and the modern day ones. Since then we have collected models of ships he liked, he watched innumerable You Tube videos on ships like Cutty Sark, HMS Victory etc. He was fortunate to actually get on to the Cutty Sark last year in his 11th year, with his dad when they went to England.

Ships and trains can lead a child to a lot of world history. And that is what happened with my son. I feel his interests attracted the exposure he needed and not the other way round. Well all I did was provide Thomas the Engine to start with, but not with any intention, but just as an animated series on TV, as it gave him joy.

From the film Titanic he got interested in Statute of Liberty. There is a glimpse of it in the film. So then we moved on to world architecture, a passion he still is immersed in today. We used a lot of Google Earth live images to do tours of places in the world including going under the Eiffel Tower and walking the streets of New York or standing at the  Pantheon and Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Now he builds ships, buildings, castles, trains etc on Minecraft and Lego Designs online. He sketches them on paper. We have files of his sketches. I can go on and on. But through all this, as a parent, I have remained actively engaged with his budding need to seek knowledge, not a passive one. I have brought the resources to him when he asked for it or was struggling to go past his current knowledge.  I would say trust that the current environment has a lot to offer already, keenly follow his or her impulses/preoccupation and occupation and try to offer more of that not less of it.

Over zealous exposures can actually silent the inner impulses of the child. I would say try not ‘give’ exposure, just allow it to happen.

End

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!

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!