Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Of JOY and the Magic of Whole-Being Learning

Of JOY & The Magic of Whole Being Learning:
Some days back Shreedhari had her annual dance performance at Studio Sharise where she has been learning western forms of dance like jazz, tap and hip-hop since 2 years now. Last year she chose to focus on Tap and also started learning Bharatnatyam with another Indian dance school here.
It was apparent to me from the start that she enjoyed dance immensely. I remember asking her when she was much younger if she wanted to try dance and she would always say no. But always kept dancing at home. Dancing to Bollywood, Carnatic , Classical ...any kind of music . Its hard for her to stay still when music is played.
Two years back she came to me saying she was now ready to dance. Most children these days start much earlier at @ 5 yrs and she was already 8 then. She turns 10 this Sept. Years of life-learning, child-led learning has taught me the most precious lesson and value of waiting in learning. There is no other better time to learn than when the learner is ready. It is such a simple yet difficult concept to grasp for us adults in today's day and age when everything has to me mastered by the age of 10 or you never learn it. I'm glad I didn't push her. And boy did she take off!
Me and Shankar Ratneshwaran have been so surprised with her tenacity and dedication to this art form. Come what may she has to practice everyday. She will never go to a class to repeat the same lesson. She dipped into it completely. To the point that she will schedule everything else around it. Check in with me about the day's plans and other activities. Decide whether she wants to pursue other activities or not. All centered around her dance.
Last year , in our previous residence, when we were having trouble with our neighbor below who was complaining about her dancing and making noise, she would choose to dance in the hallways in the winter in freezing temperatures. Its like nothing could stop her. The perfectionist in her blossomed in her through her dance. I never knew she was one.
I've even seen her get nervous, tense if she hasn't practiced. We ( including her teachers) have many a times reminded her to be chilled about it and not make it so taxing on herself. But NO. The inner drive is SO much that none of this makes sense to her.
She has also been very lucky to have the presence of Sharise Pervez from Studio Sharise as her teacher. Being a home-schooler herself, Sharise teaches dance gently , encouraging the child to explore herself through dance rather than pushing it as an art to perfect. There is a lot of talking of emotions, feelings, wishes, aspirations, frustrations, time management and what not through hand-outs, inspirational messages. Shreedhari and Studio Sharise are like water to fish. Its been nothing short of a blessing that Shreedhari landed in this community of dancers. Its like the perfect teacher coming to you when you are brimming with the desire to learn.
Last year she received the Best Outgoing Student Award in her class for not only her dedication to dance but also team-work, empathy, being punctual etc...In this year's annual show, she was in many numbers and throughly enjoyed it. Practicing for the annual show along with her regular Bharatnatyam class practice would take up 2 hours every day. Along with weekdays and sat class practice. But every time she had a class, she would come out beaming and SO joyful. Yes tired with aching feet but loving it.
I remember years back when I was starting out as a home-schooler asking for advice from older and seasoned moms. Urmila Samson would often tell me about "whole-being learning" where the mind, body and soul were engaged in the learning. Where you get to see the whole spirit of the being/child lifted up and glowing in the learning activity. There is only JOY and nothing else. This is EXACTLY learning and we need to put all our energy into it and not vice-versa where money and time is put into learning what we aren't good at. Invest more energy and time into what the child enjoys learning , she would say. How true! And how complex we make learning into , trying to find fixes and solutions and all sorts of models making someone learn what they don't want to? There is an entire industry out there , flourishing on learning deficiencies. Are my children learning disabled? Yes they are, if I ask them to sit quiet and do worksheet after worksheet for hours. Are they gifted? Yes they are, if allowed to indulge in their whole-being learning.
We as adults can either choose to trust in what our kids want to learn or choose to dip in our fears and conditioning about what they should be learning. There are careers out there for everyone- for cooks, for dancers, for magicians, for IT professionals , for entrepreneurs...there are as many careers out there as there are interests. I have learned over the years that the best education model is to literally follow one's nose!
As I watched Shreedhari with so much joy and utter perfection over not missing a beat, my heart unconsciously made a wish that she choose dance as her profession . That she live the life I never got to completely. That she go out there and explore every form of dance in every nuance ,in every way she wants. But that's just me. I have also learned over the years to not tie my expectations or wishes to my children's learning adventures. Learning is very personal. What my children will do in their adult years is unpredictable now and really their business. But all I know is that they are learning the art of learning with joy. Learning to pursue happiness and oneness with their selves. Learning to follow their nose. Learning to be themselves and trust themselves. Learning to not value learning according to other people's conditioning.
For now, I'm choosing to utterly enjoy the joy and love of my child for dance. Its a gift like none other to receive- when you see your child love what you love to do. I'm excited and also very grateful to Studio Sharise ....Shreedhari has been asked to become a teacher assistant for the upcoming year. A very big honor indeed for her. it combines 2 of her passions- Dance and little kids.
Shreedhari's pursuit of her dance has also made us realize about how different and unique she is compared to her akka. She prefers doing one thing at a time and not have several interests at the same time. Though she is subtly a part of everything in the house- in her akka's business, in cooking, in gardening , in playing, in travelling...in everything but only to the extent she wants . Time and energy management are key to her and she will not take up more than she can handle. Her inclinations are more towards picking up one thing and getting it right rather than dipping a bit into everything like her akka. Two siblings - very different. Each to her own. One not better than the other. Each one's pursuit of her joy is unique. No need to compare. No need to push or require that one be like the other.
Just let everyone BE and follow his/her nose. Its that simple. I tell ya! ))


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Shreedhari's reading craziness

Shreedhari has spent an entire day today - yes an ENTIRE day with stories . Between reading , being read to and listening to stories , her day has gone by her and she is still hooked on. I had to give up at one point due to aching jaws and my own intense ability to stay in one place after a few hours . But this child hasn't tired yet ....I've no idea how many she has listened to but the amazingness of this whole thing is her drive for it.
Maybe this is what self designed learning looks like ...maybe this is how humans learn where they get obsessed with something and can't let it go . While cooking and reading recipes was the impetus for the elder one to learn to read , it seems stories are the impetus for the younger one to.
These are the days when the value of free time is very high.
No superimposed shoulds and have- tos but indulgence in one's learning . I've heard about this and seen this with so many unschooling kids with a variety of interests . And to think of the class bells and the change of periods that I had to go through all my childhood when a budding interest in a topic had to be shut down because it's time for another class or period . How frustrating that would have been !
Free time , Free time , Free time - the key ingredient in self designed learning .

Monday, September 14, 2015

It's all about acknowledgment - the wonder of my kids

So we have been having some scorching days here in the Bay Area, California. The temps are hovering constantly in the high 90s touching and crossing 100s even in the afternoons.
Yesterday we stepped out for our weekly Parkdate and boy was it hot! There were hardly any families  in the park. It was scorching and felt very dry too. As I was standing there my mind started to race to last year when we had just moved in from India and had literally jumped into the Hsing scene within 4 weeks or so.
As soon as I had got my drivers license , we are off exploring parkdates, co-ops and classes and what not. One of the things that has started right around this time was the sports co-op every Wednesday at 2.30 pm right after the weekly Parkdate.
The sport co-op happens in the grounds of Ortega Park where it is SCORCHING hot at that time of the day. And we have done it every single Wednesday , jumping right into it. For the girls it was all Brenda new - the people, the children, the sports and to top it all, the scorching heat.
I couldn't help but acknowledge the fact that the girls have been so adjusting and enthusiastic about everything. It's one thing to be out in the heat and another totally different thing to be playing in the scorching heat especially in a completely new setting.
The transition was so smooth, so quick. Shruthkirti had also auditioned for the Roberta Jones Junior Theater right around this time and her practices had started ...so on Wednesdays we would hop from Parkdate to sports cop and then to her practice. It was tiring enough for me but how much efforts on their part! I remember kissing Chellu everytime I would drop her off for the theater class on a busy Wednesday !! I couldn't help but feel so proud of their strength and their determination and passion , zest for everything that life has to offer. To come straight from India and to seamlessly flow
 into the American Hsing setting, to come from a largely Hindi background to auditioning and practicing for a large theater production in American English, to come from playing with friends you know in and out to playing with absolute strangers, to come from playing no sports whatsoever
to trying out a newsport every 3 months !!
HOW MUCH growth , learning, transition, travel, new connections, new relationships, new community has this past year seen. I have frozen a lot of it in my photos but a lot of it just stays in my memories...some of it I have even forgotten but between all the stuff that happens at home & outside whether role play, cooking, Art & design, swimming, biking, playing outside, cleaning , chores, some academics, speaking to learn in 100% Tamil , travelling, classes, audio books, talking, and what NOT!!, every endeavor has been greeted with so much enthusiasm and zest. The best part being that most of it has been driven by the children.
All that we have done last year has FAR superseded my expectations of what we could have done ....I wouldn't have imagined that as a Hsing family we would have had so many , previous experiences. SO MANY!! And in this moment of what feels like abundance , I would also like to acknowledge my ownself for all the efforts I have taken to bring these learning experiences into my children's lives even if it means stepping out their way and letting them be. We have done so much as a trio. And I've
enjoyed it all so much. And so thankful for it too.

We can often get caught up in this " Are we doing enuff?", " Are the kids doing ok ?", " Are they learning?" And blah blah blah...there is no end to these Qs and this self doubt. All I have to do during such moments is to step back, take a deep breath and just look at all our photos. Or even look at the ones not in the camera but in my mind. Cause so many learning moments go undocumented too.
And I know that my kids are doing fine. We are all at the right place, in the right moment , doing the right thing.
And it took an extremely hot afternoon for me to deeply acknowledge it for myself and be filled with so much joy. And I've also started to realize that to expect someone else to acknowledge it as much is not possible as no one else is experiencing it the same way I do. Everyone else might question it, might doubt it. But that's their journeys. Not mine. Just because someone feels that it's not good
enough or that I'm not working " hard" enough, dosent make it true. It's their own expectations and their own lack of experiencing what I do with my kids that makes them question it in the first place.
Being with my kids  as taught  me the fine art of measuring the unmeasurables. How have they grown over the past year? Their sense of understanding, enthusiasm, their fine abilities, their sense of comprehension , how much they can push themselves, their clarity , their trust in their own selves, how confident they feel and most importantly how much we have bonded...so much more beyond just reading and writing and knowing and remembering facts.
As I reflect t on last year, the thought of having  experienced this beautiful country with my children..every nuance of it and thus to have bonded yet again very intimately in itself is the biggest mark of accomishment for me. Nothing else comes closer w.r.t achievements. Thats why I HS in the first place. To be with my kids and I'm in total awe of them. PERIOD.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Nature program + Kunju's first design + Talks on geo engineering and much more

Today was one of those Hsing days which justify the reason behind it. One of those days you want to remember for a long time to come.
It started off with us rushing out of the door with some protests initially for attending the 9.00 am Nature program hosted by the Santa Clara Open Space Authority at Morgan Hill. It was a bit of a drive but totally worth it.
The 3 hr session on mammals was very well planned and executed. It included making face masks of a deer and a mountain lion, identifying , examining , guessing while blind folded the jaw bones and other bone parts of the mammals commonly found in the ranch , identifying the foot marks of animals, doing a nature hike and then finally wrapping up with games to understand how a food chain works and its importance, making your own scat from chocolate and making your animal from print outs and making your own habitat and food for the animal and presenting it.
The hike especially was awesome. The guides were very knowledgeable and child friendly. They made the kids laugh and presented everything with a tinge of silliness to it. We examined all sorts of scat to understand the diet, examined squirrel and gopher holes and learnt about them, examined ant hills and learned how a colony works , the role of grazing in preventing forest fires, Native American presence in the ranch, about walnut trees and grafting , about owls , cows and its four stomachs, inter species teaming between coyote and raccoon for hunting, structure of a squirrel borrow ....we also spotted a deer !
The program was just really so well executed . Not too informative but not just play either. The girls really enjoyed every bit of it . After the program , the 3 of us then went for a hike for 20 mins or so uphill. While hiking we examined peeled barks of trees, listened to insect sounds, did a 3 minute mediation , examined spider webs, talked about the legend behind why a bee buzzes in one's ear, why makes soil red sometimes? ...we talked quite a bit about grafting and Chellu was especially very curious about grafting. We have
to do more research on it for sure.
We all came back home quite happy and satisfied. Of course while driving to and fro the location, the icing on the cake is really the audio stories that we get to listen in the car. It makes the whole traveling aspect of it so easy and educational .
After we came back the girls watch TV for a while and then elder went back to reading while younger was quietly working on something for herself. When I went to investigate it, I realized she was with all her focus designing something! This in itself makes today, the June 15th, 2015 a very special day- it's the first day Shreedhari designed something by herself from her own imagination. It was a house for her new pet, the Little Guy. I have to do a separate post on Little Guy but just so that you know , Little Guy is her balloon hamster that Chellu made. So Kunju had taken this small plastic box in which someone had gifted me a candle and was converting it into a house. She had selected fabric for the same and was trying to paste all the sides of the box with the fabric. She asked for my help and I taught her how to make measurements using a scale . We did a bit and then proceeded to swim.
In the pool the girls decided to play dive and catch with each other and what fun it was for me to watch them dive together ! Also Kunju came with underwater hugging and kissing with me! She seems to get bolder and more innovative by the day when it comes to swimming for sure.

After we came home, Shreedhari started to talk about how she made found Little Guy in the first place. It was a detailed story that exemplified her imagination and her ability to put words to it. She has been so taken by this balloon hamster. For her it's reality in every sense. Her story, her words, her emotions while she narrated it made me realize how there is learning in every stage. If asked to narrate anything else, she would never agree, but here she was going on and on with extreme attention to detail about how she found the hamster, it's characteristics as though it was an actual hamster! I was thanking myself for the choice I made of having a slow life and not being a career woman. Cause otherwise I would have never had the energy, patience , time or attitude to listen to an imaginary story about a balloon master from my six yr old at 8.00 pm!

Dinner with the girls led to more talks. We talked quite a bit about our nature program and Qs on four stomachs of a cow, rumination, grafting were raised. And for some reason Shreedhari mentioned about geo - engineering ( she had overheard me talk about it) which led to talks on Monsanto, farmer suicides, GMOs, organic farming, presence of Monsanto in India , vaccinations, the SB 277 bill etc...it was really something to watch the confusion, shock and utter disbelief on the girls faces that greed can lead leaders to act wrongly! Younger's eyes welled up when talking about farmer suicides. They kept asking again and again if all of this happened in India to? They seem to have some kind of inner belief that India cannot go so wrong! A part of me  felt guilty in a sense about revealing the truth to them and taking away their innocence and faith w.r.t the human race.
All this  further lead to talks on usage of bone ash in sugar and elder was really upset about not being able to use white sugar anymore in her baking projects. They were also really curious about why bone ash usage and immediately we googled about it and also looked up a list of brands that sell vegan sugar. This then led to  talks of injustice done on the cows since the bone ash used in sugar is from cow bones from countries like India and Pakistan! Again both their eyes welled up when hearing about slaughter houses, injustice done during milking in an industrial production, the reason behind the vegan movement and finally detailed discussions on  the Vedic culture viewpoint and practices @ the cow.

Wow! What a day! So much learning..so much talking and so much listening. This is the real beauty of HSing and the slow life it entails. I can never remember ever talking so much about real life issues in my childhood to anyone. The girls show SO MUCH curiosity about everything and want to discuss so much ..they want to know more all the time . Its like lack of school has freed up so much of space in their brains to wonder , to ponder, to discuss. No topic is off bounds when it comes to their curiosity.

Some days I wonder if they would remember all of this? But I guess that really doesn't matter. They may or may not remember but whats truly significant is that, they were curious about their surroundings and wanted to know more. They were emotional and human about what happened around them instead of a " it doesn't apply to us" attitude! That's the true significance of all this.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

10th June, 2015 : SB277 protests- at the State Capitol , Sacramento

Yesterday's experience at the Capitol was unique and a living history experience for our family. We were there to protest against SB 277 that requires mandatory vaccinations for public education in the State of California. So initially there was the actually rally with many speakers coming in to say why something like this is so wrong.
Chellu and Kunju certainly found it very interesting initially to experience the whole atmosphere. They keenly listened to the speeches, flaunted their message boards and intently soaked in everything in the scene. Then they eventually joined the Biesmeyer children to play in the grounds since the speech and all the protests was getting too loud for them.
After the rally we decided to go into the Capitol building to at least check it out and when we saw scores of folks waiting in the line to testify in front of the law makers, we decided to jump in too. Interestingly before that when the girls were hesitant about wanting to go in, we got to talk about why it's important to sometimes do stuff for a cause or for the the sake of others. There was also this other family that talked about how it came from the south of California sitting for 8 hrs in a bus . And how sometimes even if we are bored we must pursue a cause for ourselves as well as for others. I think that piece of conversation really helped in to convince the girls that it's at least worth checking out.
As soon as we got in they were much at ease because of the AC and the restrooms. Once we joined the lines ,we and the girls spent our time eating at the cafeteria, watching stuff online, sleeping and of course playing and doing workbooks with a girl standing next to us.
Im so proud of my girls to have waited with us for 5 hrs in the line so that we can testify in front of the lawmakers in addition to two hrs of the rally.  It gave them a glimpse into how a government works, how we as citizens have a say in everything, the power of community and how sometimes have
to set aside our personal comforts for others or for a cause. It also led to talks on how courageous leaders like Gandhi, MLK wuld have been to dedicate their lives for a purpose. Thr girls can now relate to what a peaceful protest is.
We also remembered our dear friends like Manish Jain, Vidhi Jain, Sachin Desai, Meenal Desai , Shammi Nanda and so many others who have the guts to go against senseless main stream thought process and work for they truly beleive in.
So much learning even in the midst of all that anger and frustration . And guess what? The Capitol floors resembled a massive playground with all the kids deciding to play with each other! There were some 900 folks in the line!!
Im so glad we decided to stay back and participate in the testifying process. Im sure we will all talk about this unique day for many years to come. 

Thank you notes for the MSI visit - lessons in collaboration and intimacy

After the MSI visit, each child was asked to express themselves about their experience to the Institute since the station programs are all sponsored.
Yesterday we sat down to work on our thank you notes. I do not know if it's all the break from any sort of academic work or whether it's the fact that they could relate the activity to a real life experience they had, the girls worked on their samples with so much enthusiasm and joy.
Shruthkirti wrote a full blown essay with my help about her experience. I'm always surprised by how she gets her spellings all right without ever doing a spelling drill. I think it's the photographic memory from all the reading. I also liked her thought process, her logical way of writing rather than following a set pattern. I would suggest something and she would refute it giving explicit reasons. Prior to this essay she made a rainbow colored fish with its mouth open. The idea is to put the easy into the mouth with a piece of paper saying PULL , to pull the essay out! We had arrived at this idea together and she improvised on it and executed it beautifully. Way better than my initial imagination!! Of course ..it's a given now right? Chellu and design...they go together.
She later on worked on a Learning Chain idea- mine originally and intended for Shreedhari. But later opted for a real food chain and so Chellu took it up. It was such fun talking with her through the project and coming up with the finished project. I'm starting to see that the girls are very willing to work on something when they see it as a collaborative project with me rather than as a being dictated to type of thing. It also changes my attitude towards them . The finished learning chain project was awesome . I really liked what created together.
Shreedhari made a drawing a colorful fish and of the MSI itself. Asking her if she would like to work on something else led to interesting conversations. She felt like she wasn't good enough and always did sloppy work unlike her sister. I'm so glad she expressed her diffidence because I got to talk I don't detail with her about how none of that is true. She was smiling and ready to go at the end of the conversation. She then beautifully did the food chain with me out of her own accord.
When we finally went to the post office to mail all of the samples, all of us had a happy, satisfied smile on us. This has got to be true learning - where one feels not only happy , curious, interested doing something but also has the satisfaction of finishing it.
And on days like these I also know that the real learning was the conversation with Kunju about her abilities, the real learning was the collaboration with Chellu. The finished project was only a side effect really.
As always thankful for an experience like this. The best part of Hsing is the intimacy in learning. Infact it's the intimacy that's the TRUE learning! 

Marine Science Institute Visit - real life , hands on learning

Sometime back on May 27th we had attended the two station program in the MSI? I had arranged this field trip with fellow Hsers. While the whole arranging the trip was quite frustrating with constantly looking for people to join to reduce the per head cost and then remainders for payment etc etc...the field trip itself was very educational and fun. Myself and Chellu had attended Kayla's birthday party there and really loved it. I was feeling so guilty for Kunju missing out on it since she was sick that day and decided to arrange a field trip to make it up for it.
While Chellu seemed a little bored cause everything was sort of a repetition for her, Kunju while initially resisting it eventually started to delve in it and enjoy it as well.
What a lovely idea ! The kids did a two station program - the beach seine station  and the fish/ shark station. To kick it off, the docents introduced the idea of a bay, what it means to the kids.
In the beach seine station, they got to use a seine to catch fish from the bay and hold it in their hands and examine it . Eventually the fishes are returned back to the bay. It was tons of fun for them. While elder caught a Topsmelt Silverside, younger caught a jelly fish. Some of the other children caught bigger fishes , crabs and even snails. I never knew before that snails lived in areas like the bay!
In the fish station they went around and examined many different types of fishes like Diamond Tubot, Yellowfin agony, Topsmelt Silverside , Bay Pipefish, Northern Anchovy to name a few ..they also were introduced in detail the body structure of a fish.
The shark station was super fun. The kids got to watch baby leopard sharks in a tank while being told about the fishes. They also got to touch it. At the end they sat in a small circle where each got to examine variety of shark bones and jaws. We learnt that sharks have 1000s of teeth and replace the, throughout their life unlike humans! What fun!
At the very end the kids were introduced to a marine food chain through a puppet show. The importance of conservation and marine care was emphasised.
Wow! What a day. So much learning for all of us. I love the Bay Area for this - the amount of learning opportunities for kids outside the school is enormous. It's indeed a Hsers's paradise! Very grateful to be able to experience this.