Just back from the Indian Homeschooling Conference in Khandala. I had taken Nisarga there. Our first major trip, only possible because a friend played a belated Santa Claus and procured for us a second hand framed backpack carrier from Australia (none available in India). This allowed me for the first time to put both Nisarga and most of our luggage on my back leaving my hands free and I was able to take on the challenge of taking him solo for a five day conference with all the luggage and travel it entails. It was tough, and heavy, but it was possible. The rest can be overcome with determination.
And boy, am I glad I took the decision to go! It was a life affirming, enriching and informative experience.
Right from the time when I met other homeschoolers to get on the shared bus (where I arrived due to a pick up from my parents home by a homeschooling family, where we stayed the previous night), compassion and help was abundant. To manage the luggage, to manage Nisarga for when my arms got weary… The bus was something of a misadventure for us. Nisarga got severely motion sick and suffered all the way. The only thing to do was a bath on arriving in Khandala.
But the unpleasant start apart, the community was like coming home. We were at St. Mary’s Villa, which has a pretty big camus with large dormitories and enough accommodation for hundreds of people. Huge lawn and abundant play areas and beautiful views. Nisarga took one look at the kids running riot and wanted to be set down. He did not want to be picked up again till we left unless it was to attend to some need. He was creeping all over the place and I gave up the idea of appearing a competent mother by keeping the child tidy. Over the next five days, he creeped on the floor everywhere. Indoors, outdoors, corridors, session areas, lawn, dining room… you name it. And I discovered just how much stamina a supposedly fragile child like him “who cannot even sit” actually has.
He was interacting with people in unprecedented numbers on his own terms. Charming them, loving the attention, or creeping off lost in his own thoughts.
The adults were wonderful. Whoever was in the vicinity had an eye on all the kids around. I never fell short of people who’d happily keep an eye on him while I took a breather. They sang songs to him, got him colors to play with, told him stories, carried him around showing him things…. or just walked along as he creeped off wherever the whim took him.
Even more amazing was that there were sessions that he actually could participate in on his own level. Storytelling, salt dough play, the art corner to “draw” whatever he wanted and abundant music. We experimented with giving him paint to dip his hands into to paint when he had difficulty drawing with crayons or brushes. Alas, he painted his body and didn’t touch the paper for the most part. He tore chunks out of salt dough lumps, and when I shaped them into balls, picked them up and put them into a neighbouring child’s plate, where another adult promptly made a basket for all the “eggs”. The spontaneity and adaptability of being in the moment was what he thrived in.
What was precious for me was the affirmation in being among like minded souls who didn’t so much as twitch an eyebrow over the idea of a parent challenging and discarding well engraved “best practices” if they didn’t work. I was astonished to realize that I was actually quite a great mom. Most of the time I’m just living in the moment, coping with life as it unfolds. The idea that I was doing it in a manner that in the opinion of others was enriching for my child was a novel and very gratifying experience after reconciling myself to being the sole person to blame for everything gone “wrong” with Nisarga, for not “obeying” doctors, for being …. unconventional and unapologetic about it. The idea that there could be not just individuals, but an entire community who thought what I was doing was absolutely fine and recognized that those choices were made because I was putting my son’s interest first was something I didn’t realize how much I needed till I experienced it.
Another unique facet of this community was the kindness. Not just the adults, which one would expect with a lot of parents committed to a child led perspective. but the kids as well. With Nisarga creeping all over the place and preferentially haunting corridors, I had resigned myself to a few accidents with people tripping over him, or stepping on him apart from the inevitable well scrubbed hot bath on reaching home. To my astonishment, not one such accident happened. Here was a child getting underfoot with all kinds of hyperactivity happening around him – toddlers on tricycles and scooters, older children on various kinds of skates and skateboards, general running at full speed… and not one child trampled him. It is like they were aware of each other. They slowed and went around him without fail. I don’t remember seeing anyone tell them to be careful. They just did it on their own when they realized he was around.
This, I guess is an outcome of sensitivity. Children learn from what they see more than what they are told. With parents being sensitive, that was the “idea” of how one can be that was available to them. In the five days, I did not see the children be unkind to each other. I didn’t notice any serious fights or telling tales of each other to adults. But more importantly, I didn’t see adults yelling at the children either. I didn’t see taunts, ridicule, insults, threats, orders or any of the many ways we usually see parents control their children. Children were doing what they like, including the occasional racket in the middle of a discussion, and they never even got told to keep quiet! How refreshing.
The talent among the parents was incredible. There were at least three story tellers with their unique styles that could hold an audience spell bound. There was a long time homeschooling parent who was literally the Pied Piper of the conference. The kids would follow her where she led, do what she asked. There were sessions on toys from trash, natural farming, RTE and NIOS, guest sessions, home remedies and health, storytelling, “How many particles in the world”, birdwatching, a trip to the lake, peaceful parenting, creativity, FAQs for new homeschoolers and those who were guests come to find out more on the open day. And many more. There was so much for parents to earn and take home to improvise for their learning needs.
And it was clear that parents and childrens were both learners when homeschooling.
In the midst of all this, the children produced five short films, several plays, dances, countless individual performances of musical instruments, songs, recitals, jokes, sold crafts in a small mela…. I don’t know if any individual can describe everything that happened.
As a long time homeschooler put it, if we don’t allow it to stress us, the noise of their excitement just becomes like say traffic noise. Ambient and it doesn’t bother a session. I saw that this was true. It really worked like that. This was indeed a good thing, because the few sessions I participated in with Nisarga, he babbled along with whoever was speaking very often. And it didn’t bother anyone. No complaints. No one turning around irritated at the disturbance. It was an amazing symbiosis. Parents and children operating fully intent on their respective goals and in the same space with no hassles. And when you talk of a community of hundreds, that is no mean feat.
I think the surprise moment for me was when last night, a girl was going around with a sheet of paper and she asked me for my phone number. I gave it to her, and told her my name. She dismissed it saying she wanted the number for Nisarga! I guess this is the point when a parent realizes that their child has been forming their own relationships independently of the parent. Even if it is a child that can’t speak or even sit. Astonished doesn’t begin to cover my reaction in that moment.
I could probably talk on and on, but there will be more updates that are less about Nisarga and me on the Homeschooling blog, so interested people could probably head over there.
Nisarga has been quiet since we returned. He responds, but isn’t doing much on his own. I am wondering what is going on in that head. Is he assimilating or is he missing, or perhaps both? He hadn’t wanted to leave.