By Sonnal Pardiwala
We have two lovely kids and we, like all parents, want to give them the moon. By sending them to the most expensive school, we thought, we were doing our utmost. As years rolled by, however, we began to realize ever so slowly that the pieces of the puzzle were not fitting. Yes my kids topped in class but were they gaining knowledge? Were they getting inspired to learn more, to seek more? Were there teachers who would put our kids on a journey that would add something to their life? As individuals we, the parents, were very experimental. We enjoyed self-reliance in everything. We outsourced few things. Instead of blaming a system for not living up to the mark, we took stock. Was there a way out? Could we do this differently? We got our answers through my husband who was then researching on Homeschooling for part of his book. We came across a wonderful community that had opted out of school. The Swashikhshan community!
When we spoke to them and interacted with different people, we came across “Unschoolers,” who had done away with academic structure altogether and had never stepped into a school. There were some who were into Homeschooling, which is, out of school and yet using a structured syllabus and understanding the topic in their own way. They chose the topics to be covered as well as the pace at which learning would occur. Then there were those kids who were pursuing a special skill such as music or math or dance. For those wanting to get back to mainstream college, there was always the option of giving private boards both national and international.
What made us at ease was the outlook of these parents – instead of judging their kids through the eyes of a teacher or through their own notions of what the child “should do,” they focused on actually taking a peek into who their child was. If he/she does not like reading Hindi, maybe he does not. If he does not like a certain math problem, he does not. This philosophy says, “the child does have a right to not like something. Does he have to be compelled and made guilty for getting it done?”
It concurred with our vision of life, too. We accepted when our kid expressed a dislike for a certain thing. We learnt decompressing, that is asking: “Why is this really necessary?” But we had our doubts and concerns.
Would academic laurels elude them?
Instead we asked, “Are they really needed?” Can my child not learn to create their own thrills? My elder one surely has found his thrill through blogging and endlessly rubbing shoulders on debate platforms with people double his age. He took a liking to Rubix cube, befriended YouTube, and managed to get all sides straight in three days flat. The sense of achievement was tremendous. The mastery exhilarated him and his journey of self-exploration and achievement exhilarated us. Then we faced a new challenge, “What next?” Both the siblings decided to join force and learn chess. YouTube, little friends, and, finally, they ended up going to drawing classes with each other and winning hands down. Self-learning all the way! Again the question arose, “What next?” It gets exhausting for us parents to stimulate them!
Will we take away their socialization opportunities and peer group interaction?
What I have noticed is that both of them are very social and vibrant. They have things to tell and tonnes of things to do. They are quite sought after wherever they go. And, it goes without saying that they have each other for company. To put it simply, each child has an inner radar and preference for socialisation. Some prefer their own company and some revel in the company of other people. The school may have a diverse impact on each child. Again a sensitive observation is called for when you are creating social opportunities for the child. We noted that some kids overwhelmed our boys with certain behaviours and some just got on like house on fire. So we left the issue of making friends to them.
What about their future, do we not care about it?
Oh we do! But we care more about their present. Homeschooling may stem from certain dissatisfaction with school and its limitations but that is just the tip. It is more an innate belief in your child’s inner happiness and supreme comfort. It is a trust that your child will gravitate to whatever suits his happiness. We, as parents, take full responsibility to create opportunities for exploration based on our children’s interests. Trends are changing so fast. Who knows if what the child is training for today would not get outdated tomorrow in this fast-paced world? Is the education system really skill-oriented? Does it teach my child real-life skills that he can put to use to earn a livelihood?
How questions can lead to experiments?
Once my kids asked the meaning of the word, “Entrepreneurship.” Discussions veered into creating business and getting people to be interested in your product. In came the idea of starting a library for the local kids. Already my kids have tons of books at their disposal. So their father enthusiastically helped convert a wooden bed into library shelves. The elder one took up the challenge of giving workshop on inculcating reading skills. All the kids had a ball in the workshop and he ended up getting a few members for his library! He got first-hand experience of generating and sustaining interest and learnt about reading trends – people read less during festive seasons and different people preferred different stuff to read! KITABOO is the result of this experimentation.
What about academic discipline?
Doesn’t it foster a certain sense of organisation and coherence in the child when he systematically creates notes and researches a topic of his interest? We have retained a semi-flexible academic schedule. We have bought grade-appropriate text books and we read them and understand them. Kids do make notes but as and when and how much it pleases them. I am more than happy to let them play hookie on a certain afternoon. When a butterfly beckons, why wait? For me as long as he can read a certain language, form sentences in it, and express himself in that language, it is done with. Why take a test where he regurgitates things he has memorized?
We have Mr. Google for all the information we need…
Our anxieties…yes they peek in sometimes and we question ourselves again, “Are we doing the right thing?” or “Are we just following a fad?” I have realised that these questions will stay as part and parcel of our life and its fabric. Yes, we are going against a major conventional form that the society has accepted. Only we may be able to ascertain its utility and success.
Can we be surrounded by kids all the time?
Some parents think of this as the ultimate horror. We, however, enjoy spending time with our kids as friends. They pretty much occupy themselves. Each one is also allowed a “me” time where each one simply does what he or she wants to do: surf the net, type an article, Google something, chat on the smart phone, play a video game, go into the bedroom and just sleep. We have developed the art of keeping out of each other’s way when needed. We are free citizens of a democratic country and assertively let the other know what we want at a certain point of time. My elder son will book the laptop with a simple announcement, “Mom, do not touch the laptop, I want to complete that blog!”
We did not embroil ourselves in an argument about how schools are not doing their job because that is an endless debate and my kids’ childhood is slipping by. Instead, we asked a vital query, “Are we doing everything in our power to make their quality of life happy and fresh?”
Yes! Yes! We sleep easy and get up late. Homeschooling has brought a shift in the way we look at life. We learn to actually appreciate the value of every hour as we are not busy running from one end of the world to another for school, homework, open houses and annual days, and shaking our heads over complicated grade cards. It leaves us parents also free to follow our own pursuits. We are both launching a book in the market. Our slogan is: “If you keep at it, you will get it.”
Homeschooling is far beyond homework and exams. It feels as if a blanket of ease has descended on us and has slowed us down. My younger one plays for hours with his toys, talking with his animals, and naming them. He is not quite a paper and pencil guy. It is difficult for him to sit idle for a long time. He is a fast learner, whether it is carom-board games, cricket, badminton, tennis or dance. He puts his 100% into EVERYTHING THAT HE DOES.
There are health benefits as well. There are lesser cases of infections and headaches as they sleep well. They have gained a healthy appetite as food is served warm and not packed in tiffin-boxes, which tends to be dry and cold. Not being hurried helps too. They do not have to travel in crowded rains nor do they have to be dragged out of bed hurriedly on a cold windy day. They snuggle and dream happily, share a joke in the morning, and hug their parents happily. We have bonded tremendously because we are growing together. Growth is not a prerogative of the child alone but also of adults.
Our life has become one short-term project on a certain subject to be absorbed and enjoyed and one long-term project that asks, “What next?” with a larger vision of happiness encircling it.
[This article is part of the Cafe Dissensus School Project. If you would like to know more about this, please visit Cafe Dissensus School Project.]
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