Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Learning Societies Unconference ( LSU )- how perfect it was for my kids

We are just back from the was such an unique and awesome experience for us. It was held from Feb 28th-March 4th in Hide-Out, Jhadpoli village, Thane District. We attended it from March 1st-5th and all the 6 days was such a blast. The unconference was held in a mangrove next to Hide-out .

I was initially worried about Kunju. If she will be able to adjust to being outdoors? and adjust to new food for such a long time. But as usual the kids surprised us. Being an unconference the atmosphere was very free and just the fact that it was held in a natural place freed up a lot of energy for the kids. I caught Chellu helping with the cooking in the dhabbha on the first day. They loved the swing tire and spent a lot of time on that. The best part was the mud bath..Chellu was the first one in it and also the last to get out..the guy who hosted it told me later on that she was very open to doing everything, including applying the mud on the hair!! Kunju played a lot in the mud and just kept running around too. I was surprised that the heat didn't bother her as much. I guess it was also the availability of fruits all through the day that kept them energetic enuff as well as hydrated.

I loved watching them participating in many interesting activities like making mud yo-yos, filtering sand, making a huge stick puppet, stringing hay to make a roti basket, painting, putting mehendi, crushing peanuts & kothmir in the original stone grinder, helping in the kitchen with cutting veggies, mixing and serving food, playing with stones and leaves, washing one's own plates after every meal, watching keenly all the activities in the kitchen, dancing in the evening ( salsa, belly-dancing etc) & watching others dance, playing games in the morning, experimenting with wire with Dominique, watching documentary movies, making cartoon puppets, painting..the list goes on..They were like such free spirits that I simply loved that energy. They made new friends and had a ball with other HSing children - Karthik, Janani, Mrunal and Shashvati. At one point I caught Chellu & Shashvati with their hands on each others' shoulders and chatting in bliss..Karthik , Chellu & Kunju spent so much time playing on the swing jhoola..
Poonam & I hosted a games session for all the children and that was awesome too..just to have so many kids in such a free environment was a diffn experience . And then the trip to the nearby waterfall,stream and dam was also thoroughly enjoyed by all. That's when my girls bonded big time with Janani & Mrunal..I was so glad that they made such lovely friends from across the country and from different walks of life.

Those 5 days felt like true socialization for the girls. Chellu would many a times stop in and listen to the conversations happening in a session..She would catch up with adults whom even I didn't know. There was such a wonderful mix of people across the country & the world, ages & experiences that I think that this is true socialization. People from so many different walks of life were interacting with our kids and I'm dead sure that the learning that has happened in those 5 days is immense.There is no way a school can replicate this . They experienced so many different activities and the best part was they chose to be in all of it by themselves. I never had to prod them to do anything..They were busy in something or the other. I didn't hear the word " bored" even once. Though I had taken a bag full of story books & coloring supplies they never asked for it even once. The best part in all of this was it was so free flowing...nothing was forced or planned. Everyone went about doing what was of interest to them..

The girls also got to experience something unique. Natural potties! It was such a new thing for them to see how one defecates in dry compost toilet. They initially refused it but when I explained to them its significance as well as the fact that this is how it should naturally as against our urban toilets they ultimately agreed to it. Though Kunju kept saying that she was sacred that she would fall into the hole!! and instead chose to do it next to a tree!! I wonder if they would have got to experience this otherwise! We had a long talk on conservation and natural decomposition and living in nature, the wastage in urban lives etc...It felt like true you "live" and thus automatically learn from it.

I also loved the fact that the energy of that place was very child friendly. No child was scolded or ridiculed or judged.. When we generally are in the company of so many adults one gets very conscious of the children "disturbing" others..This group was so accommodating of children that most parents and children were worlds apart and still very happy ...This is very rare indeed..This is truly how a community needs to be..that not just parents but others also take a responsibility to engage and care for the kids. Another thing I noticed was how the children were left to be just themselves & also honored for being in a natural state. In any other group there would be comparisons and ridicule. Most kids ( in fact all of them) were covered with mud from head to toe ..i saw many toddlers running around naked ( due to the heat I guess) and no heads turned!! There were no complaints on any children or any cribbing about how loud the kids were or what a nuisance they were creating!! The kids were allowed to participate in ALL activities be it dancing or playing games or even in the sessions.. It felt like on big family. Isn't this the kind of space that our kids truly deserve? To be left to be just kids and not constantly be expected to fit in an adult's world of expectations?

I really loved the energy of the place and I contribute it big time to the location. The openness of it opened up all of our conditioning. When you are in natural setting you don't have to worry about where your kids pee ( just do it around the corner!!) , when they tip a glass of water or scatter food while eating or get dirty in mud ...All these would be such a headache of sorts if you are indoors...That's the beauty of takes care of so many frees parents and kids to just unwind and just BE..Something we hardly get to do in our urban lives. Parenting seems so hard in our urban homes but when you are in nature its like everything is taken care of automatically. No wonder that rural parents don't make a big deal out of potty training ( its almost like a science in modern communities) or breast-feeding or even eating..All these processes happen very naturally.

The best thing I personally experienced in terms of my kids was that they never fought even ONCE during the 5 days..I realized that nature has so much to offer whether its stones or mud or leaves or space or air that there's no struggle for it. While in contrast fights happen all the time in our house for that one doll or toy...I didn't have to intervene even once when the girls played with their friends. There was such a strong sense of joy and space for all..
For me personally it was the first time that I had so much of my own personal space without having to worry about the kids. They were always "out there somewhere" but safe and taken care of. I could participate in many a sessions and could also interact with individuals. When one of the mornings Shankar & I wanted to go for a walk in the fruit forest, I asked the girls if they would want to continue to play with Karthik or accompany us? To which Kunju replied that they would like to stay back since Karthik is such a big boy and can take care of them!! This is the first time I've ever heard her say this!! Shankar & I had a lovely walk and a lovely chat too..Thanks to LSU! Its been eternity since we did this. This is truly a community-where we look out for each other.

Wow! The memories of those 5 days will stay with me for a long time. I am extremely thankful that our family could experience it. This is how parenting should be- very free, very natural. I've also realized that when we are in nature , we are automatically mothered a lot. We as parents are ourselves so chilled out that we chill out w.r.t our kids too..Its the same with our kids too. They too get mothered by Mother Nature that they don't need their human mother as much any more!!
All the photos are posted at


  1. hi sangeeta,
    LSU was really wonderful, with so many activities happening together, with an option of you choosing it. kids having fun on their own, eating playing all day long. mums and pa's all enjoying their own slice of fun.
    kartik backhome feels slightly lonely after all those fun frolicking days. but they will be stored as sweet memories to be cherished forever.

    1. Yes Poonam you are right..all of us are feeling lonely and a bit disoriented as well many lovely memories of the event and the place. we must catch up in Mumbai!