Friday, March 29, 2013

INDIA HOMESCHOOLERS CONFERENCE ( IHC ) 2013 - Pockets full of memories!

When the countdown to the first ever India Homeschoolers Conference started with the launch of the Ati Kya Khandala blog, this is what I had to share there:

"I have started dreaming now……of all the “Hi’s” filled with excitement and joy….hugs and feeling overwhelmed….kids meeting and playing……prancing and screaming all around…tender moments….tearful moments…funny moments….happy moments…each one finding his own little space bubble amidst the others….lots of chatting, discussing, bustling, walking, sitting quietly, watching, listening to each other, arguing, dancing, singing around the bonfire with the heavens witnessing this historic event….and very soon, I know….my dream is going to come true! Wow!"

 Little did I know then, when I wrote the above words, that almost every one of those thoughts would materialize....and well they did! This quote (one of my favourites now) rang so true -

 "Believe in what you want so much that it has no choice but to materialize"

I share below all the little pockets full of memories (quite randomly, and as my mind recalls them) that I have of this wonderful event that we were a part of. They are memories that I will remember and cherish for a long long time.....

I walked away from there, much like a child who has picked up a whole lot of stones from a walk and stuffed them into her pockets, her hands, and all the other places she could possibly put them into...for to her, those are no ordinary stones.....they are gems..... little treasures and keepsakes - much too precious to be strewn away, forgotten or lost!!

The first day...

There was a tug in my heart and a leap for joy, as I walked into St. Mary's Villa, in Khandala and saw all the faces from Facebook spring to life....shaking hands and hugging the people I met was joyfully overwhelming....I felt a sense of oneness and relief that I had found a space for me and my family to just BE.....almost like home! 

Raghav was instantly comfortable and at home there.....he went in search of Hema's son (the only one he knew from before) and then settled down in a corner with his iPad - his little source of solace and comfort in a new place. For the remaining days, this is what he did for most parts of the day......huddled together with some other kids, on a bench or in a corner, sharing apps and playing games on the iPad. 

I wish I had taken a photo of that for a souvenir! For that was the way he made a few friends there. We were perhaps expecting to see a few kids with iPads or other gadgets around at the IHC, but little did we know that our son would be the only one there playing all day sometimes! And the beauty of it was that I did not even realise this until another homeschooling mom called me and asked if we could have a little one-on-one chat about media, food and unschooling!

Connecting with others

While we chatted, she told me how she had watched us give him complete freedom with the iPad, and asked if we were not worried about it at all, as he even played during mealtimes. I explained how my son had told me that a visual stimulus helped him eat better, and talked about my journey from controlling TV and media time to letting go of the fears I had with regard to those, and how I moved to connection. We also shared some of our beliefs and thoughts about food, how we made choices, our journey to organic food, the influence of emotions like fear and guilt on food choices, and so on. She told me how her daughter, who had not been exposed to any TV or other media  because of their beliefs, suddenly came up to her and told her about how she had seen "this boy, who plays some games on something like a computer!" I learned a lot from talking to her, as it gave me a fresh and different perspective to something that I have kind of taken for granted in our journey. I understood the influence that media could suddenly have on a child who has not been exposed to it all. I salute the mother's honesty and courage to call me and ask me to explain my stance, while sharing her fears and doubts so openly with a complete stranger like me. I feel honoured to have been touched by her.

I remember meeting a grandmother of a little kid, whose parents were thinking of homeschooling him. I can still remember her smiling face as she sat with me and made me feel comfortable to talk to her with my broken Hindi. We discussed some of her questions about her fears about the future, competition, survival in the world, self esteem and many more things. I loved listening to her openly share her questions and real fears, that gave me a fresh perspective from a grandparent's point of view. Later that day, while we were eating together at the dining hall, this family stopped for a few moments before beginning to eat, to say a few words in prayer, with folded hands.....this touched me very deeply and I learned how I too perhaps could be more mindful while eating.

One afternoon, while most people were resting and away from the place where everyone usually gathered to chat, Sejal and I sat beside each other in silence for a while. Off and on, we chatted about something or the other, but mostly sat in silence. It has been a long time since I sat in silence comfortably with another soul and I am really grateful to Sejal for making me feel that way.....I did not feel a "need" to talk until Urmila came by and shared with us a few poems that her daughter had written....poems that left me with a sense of feeling good about being alone....they were some of the most amazing poems that I had read.

We met many others; some we knew from Facebook, and some were new. There was one family who spoke a bit to my husband and Raghav. My husband later shared what they had briefly spoken about. One of the things that touched me was how the father had honestly and in a matter-of-fact way, answered Raghav's question as to why his back was bent and different from ours. I am grateful that he helped my son learn about, respect and look at differences in a positive manner.

I had so wanted to be in for the closed unschooling group session that was planned for late in the evening and early morning, but Raghav was tired and wanted to leave. While we were back in our hotel room, I expressed how I was feeling to Raghav and told him how much I had wanted to be there for that, as I would learn so much from listening to others. He immediately turned around and said this to me: "Amma, you really don't need to talk to others to know how to live or take care of me....I will teach just have to listen to me!" Profound but true!

However, after all that talking and discussing we did together about this, he agreed to wake up early the next morning so that I could attend the 6 am session, and he did! I am very grateful to him for that, and it was an amazing experience for me, to join the group with a few minutes of silence first, followed by introspection and sharing. I felt so relieved to just talk and air my fears and thoughts with an inspiring and understanding group of people.

One evening, when Raghav seemed to be really tired, and he didn't want to use anyone's rooms or bed to lie down, my husband just picked him up, held him as he used to when he was a baby, and broke into an impromptu song - a lullaby.....that touched me deeply, as it was one of the few times, when he has been comfortable enough to do that, without thinking about how others would feel....I was all the more touched, when another mother walked by and stood next to him, swaying and enjoying the song. Raghav was soon asleep, and I am grateful to everyone who gave us the space to BE! Not one person asked my husband why he was carrying him, or looked at them with surprise...and that was a new experience for us as a family.

Fun with the kids!

Towards the end of every day almost, it was hard to not hear Shilpa's booming voice, announcing the games that were going to be played in the playground! While most children ran behind her, we were drawn in too towards that area, as Raghav wanted to join them. Some of the most memorable moments of sheer fun at the IHC, were those on the playground! 

Raghav enjoyed playing the "hitting the bottle"game, where the person who was blindfolded had to walk with a bat in his hand, in the direction of the bottle kept a fair distance away, and then hit was great fun to watch the crazy directions in which both kids and grown-ups went, with some people cheering, some others giving misleading clues....and many moving towards and aiming at Supriya who was resting stretched out on the ground! 

I had fun playing "dog and the bone", that brought back memories of PE class in school- the last time I had played it! The only difference was that this time, it was really hard to run, and winning and scoring points was not important at all! It was good fun all in all, with me slipping and falling flat a couple of times, and grazing my knees and elbows! 

While I then sat watching the others playing some games, two little girls sat beside me and one of them said :"....that is why I don't want to play these games....this ground is not good for can slip and fall easily". Sensible she was!....and a little later, she was asking me if I liked dogs and sharing with me as to how she was feeling sad that she had to leave her dog back at home to come here. I was touched by her open sharing. It was for me a way to get connected with her.

When the children were getting together to play some games like catch, Raghav wanted to join, but wanted to be the catcher first. While I told him that we could try and ask the others, he insisted that I be his voice. But by the time he went up to them, they had already decided to play another game. Raghav came back upset and in tears, unable to understand why they could not listen to him. While I held him close, Shilpa tried to engage him with other things, but nothing worked. I was grateful that she understood that he just needed to be away for a while, and that helped. 

A little later, one of the kids remembered and called him, when they were ready to play his game again. Raghav joined this time happily and ran around trying to catch them. I felt very grateful that people made a genuine effort to understand my son - his needs and challenges. I feel that only when kids have been given that space themselves, and have been truly listened to, can they show that with others. I was so touched to see kids empathize with him and allow him to be himself.

Later, Raghav made up his own Angry Birds catching game, which none of the others seemed interested in, but he was very keen to find someone to play it with. He came up to us and said that he knew one other boy who seemed interested in playing it, and wanted to go look for him. Fair enough, when he found him, that little boy immediately came to play the game with him! He had made a new friend....and they realised that they also shared a common interest in the next day, Raghav remembered to carry his chess board to play a game with his new friend.

One afternoon, after we had lunch and came back, we saw a bunch of kids playing "monkey" with small bean bags that they were throwing. I realised that Raghav wanted to play as his friend was playing it, and so we asked them. While we were asking, I suddenly felt like playing too, and asked if I could join in as well! They seemed a bit surprised that I wanted to play, but agreed nevertheless! It was great fun throwing and collecting bean bags, and dodging the monkey who tried to come and grab them!

Another afternoon, while I was hanging around while Raghav was busy on his iPad with some kids around him in the room, one of the kids' little sister came up to me pouting and said that she was feeling very sad that none of them were playing with her. I listened and asked her what she would like to do. When she said that she wanted someone to play with her, I jumped in and asked if I could. She smiled back and said "Ok!....let's have a race!" "Till where?" I asked. But before I could get an answer, she raced off pointing to the wall at the end of the corridor! By the time I reached there, she was way beyond that down another corridor! Then suddenly, she stopped and asked if we could play hide and seek. Again, before I could answer, she had already told me that she was going to hide, and ran away to hide! After a couple of times, she ran back into the room and plonked herself on the bed near her brother and the other kids. Then, she turned to me, smiled and said: "Do you want to watch too? Come, you can see better from here!"....and made a special place for me to sit. I was touched and thrilled to be a kid amidst a bunch of kids! What fun!

Later, when she got bored again of watching them, she called me to go with her for a walk in the garden. The next fifteen minutes or so, were some of the most precious moments that I had spent there.....with this little one shushing me to tread softly on the crunchy dry leaves, so as to not disturb the tiny butterflies that were flitting about.....then we picked up twigs and she taught me how to pick up the leaves with the twig!....told me stories on how the butterfly grows from a cocoon and how she had read about that in a book....we stood in silence under an almost bare tree, because she was quite certain that if we waited for just THREE minutes, a leaf would fall from the tree! :) I really wished for time to stand still then so I could take in more and more of what these kids had to say and never leave!

Another day in the evening, while we were at the playground, Dola's son Ishaan suddenly came up to me and said: "You birthday is on March 30th. Will you come for my birthday? If you come, please don't get me anything...." and then he smiled and added: "except one Lego!" :) We smiled, we laughed and then I asked if I could hug him. We became friends then, Lego pals!

I remember having one of the most interesting conversations with another little boy about colours, that has changed the way I look at colours ever since! We were sitting together along the corridor one evening as he was watching Raghav play on the iPad, and started talking about what we liked to do, went on to talk about painting and then colours. He told me how he saw colours like people almost.....with personalities! black and white he thought were enemies, and how when they fought and got defeated, they became grey, but otherwise remained as black and white.....he had a story for every colour!

Raghav was tired one evening, and went to sleep. When he woke up, I sat  in the corridor, holding him. Suddenly, I saw two bright little eyes peering from behind! It was a little girl smiling and wondering why I was holding him (probably a big boy in her eyes, being held like a baby :)) She asked me, and I told her that he had just woken up. Soon, she was trying hard to wake him up by tickling him and laughing to see his reaction, and very proud that she had woken him up! Once he was awake, she asked him to hold her hand and walk.....and that was it, they were the best of friends! They walked all over, hand in hand, making friends with a dog sleeping in a corner - and all the while, she spoke in her babyish Hindi, while I was Raghav's translator, until Ishaan took over!

Creating with the kids

Sejals' corner with the Arvind Gupta Toys from waste was something that I really wanted to attend and learn. I was glad to find the time to be there, squatting among the kids and trying my hand to make something out of trash. I loved the simple visual toy of a wire twisted like a spring around a pencil, strung with small pieces of cut up straws, that then moved down the coil creating visual magic! I learned how to make one from Megh (Sejals' son) and showed it proudly to Raghav! While I was sitting with the kids there, I was amazed to see their creativity - one boy decided to make a maze with the toothpicks by sticking them on a sheet of paper in a pattern, and then used the small bead given for something else, as a ball that he rolled from point to point in the maze! Another little girl, tried her hand at making the stuff they were showing, and then just got up and decided to make her own toy from a bunch of straws, by twisting them in different ways!

The Art corner for me, was a space that I went to when I wanted a breather or some quiet time to be with myself. Although it was buzzing with activity almost all the time, it was a space where one could just disappear into another world with kids and one's own self, in spite of all the people and noise around! Many a time, I just sat on one of those benches, watching artists - both young and old creating great pieces of art endlessly. Sometimes, I was inspired to pick up something and paint. I found a piece of old burnt wood that I made into a rocket for Raghav, with bits of paper and paint. At other times, I loved to just sit and do nothing but watch the fantastic view of the valley from there! Many kids enjoyed mixing different materials or media and many went on and on the whole day sometimes, creating some of the most wonderful pieces of art. I most enjoyed watching a father having fun with his little daughter, speaking very little, but always clued in to her.....listening, watching, being and helping whenever she needed she explored different things in the art corner.

There were many sessions that we missed as they were too early in the morning for us:) But I spent one afternoon clicking pictures of the most amazing play dough creations by kids, as they were drying out in the sun. I especially loved the one with the leaves and flowers stuck on it.

The Children's Mela

On one day, there was this one corridor in St. Mary's Villa that was bustling with activity and people! It was the day of the Children's Mela, when all the kids displayed their wares - to share or sell. There were all kinds of things on display - bookmarks, treasure boxes, hand woven hair bands, flexagons, clay creations, paintings and drawings, cookies, cakes, lemonade, purses made from tetrapacks, badges, and so much more! For an hour or so, the place was transformed to a street-side bazaar of sorts, with some kids screaming out offers, or finding ways to lure people to see their wares, and some giving live demos! What fun it was! 

I think there was a boy, who landed up on that day, and found this happening; so someone came up with this brillaint idea of using a white board to draw a face of a woman, where one had to make a mark (for a bindi), and if one did it right, one would get a bindi packet free, and otherwise had to pay 5Rs. for having a go and missing! I thought that was wonderful innovation! And the boy....he was a great salesman!

I met Supriya's daughter Radha, who had displayed all her paintings and drawings and some photographs. I asked her if she liked to draw portraits and people as that seemed to be the constant theme in each, and she said that she liked "eyes" a lot!

Then there was Megh, who was sitting with his most exquisite clay creations and one of those caught my eye! It was a little nest with a bird and two eggs - painted. I loved that so much and really wanted to buy it. The first time I asked him, he told me that someone had already bought it and he had kept it aside for that person. Later, when I went back and saw that it was still there, and asked him, he told me that the person had not come back even after half an hour, and so he had decided to give it to me! I was so pleased and amazed at his selling skills!

Performing, Dancing and Singing!

We missed the Inauguration and the photo presentation of the kids, as there were loads of balloons around that Raghav is very scared of, but the stage night made up for all of that. It was so touching and heart-warming to see all the kids perform without any fear, pre-programming or coercion of any kind.There was an 8 year old girl who wrote Hindi poetry that her mother shared and read out to us, there were kids who sang Hindi songs, another who put up a puppet show, a wonderful dance by Supriya's daughters depicting an interplay of emotions, Raghav singing his favourite Kailash Kher song while his dad danced to it, and many others.

One evening, we sat around next to the bonfire, and sang songs together, from a song book compiled by Charlotte. It was great to go down memory lane and sing some old old songs like the Banana Boat Song, Country Roads, Ati Kya Khandala, Papa Kehte Hain and many many others. We also stopped in between to sing our National Anthem as one little girl wanted to sing it as it was her favourite! It gave a great sense of community and camaraderie to sing and sway together to those beautiful songs....that will be with me for a long time to come!

On the last night, while there was to be a singing and dancing session, the music system and acoustics were not ok, as a result of which we had to change plans a little. Some good soul, came up with the idea to play musical chairs while dancing around, which made many kids and grown ups get up and get moving! It was fun for a while, until people started getting left out while chairs were being removed one at a time. Suddenly, Hema had this brainwave of making sure none of the kids were out, by getting maximum kids to sit on a chair! That changed the whole atmosphere, with everyone springing up, dancing, smiling, laughing and screaming as they squeezed into chairs, on each others laps, and in a pile most times!

Visit to the Pond

June and her kids took us all to a nearby pond where kids could swim if they liked. The pond was deserted but for us, and was very tranquil and clean, though the water was muddy. But all the kids had a great time splashing around with their friends, with many refusing to get out and come back!

While we were there, we got to know Charlotte and her husband a little more and bonded over Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's music and those of Kailash Kher. We listened to some of that music on my husband's phone, while Raghav for the first time, ventured into the water by himself, with one of his friends offering to help him!

On the way back, many kids picked up "treasure"in the form of "crystals"and "diamonds" - bright, sparkling little stones that they found on the slopes adjoining the pond, as they climbed back.

The Final Day

On the last day, by the time we arrived, many had left. However, some of us gathered to sit down in a circle, pass a stick and share what we felt about being there at the conference.

Like some said, it was "the stick" that did something to us - for many of us burst into tears as we held the stick and shared our deep feelings of relief, happiness and gratitude for the sense of community that we all felt.

What stayed with me though was what Hema said about how we had "exchanged atoms" with one another, just by shaking hands or hugging each other or being there close together.....because that was exactly what had happened by sharing this space for five days...we had touched each others' lives in intangible and inexplicable ways - forever!

So as we said our goodbyes and promised to be in touch and work towards another conference, my heart felt full,expansive and content, much like a little girl would be, when her pockets were full of precious memories!

Links to Photos and a poem

Here are some links to some of the photos that I took and a poem that I wrote after the IHC....

You can see some of the photos that I clicked here: IHC 2013

Here is the link to my other blog, where I wrote a poem about my IHC experience.....

Monday, March 25, 2013

Feeling Connected

Feeling very connected today as I started the day with Deepak Chopra's meditation Day 12 - Connecting for Balance....then Raghav and I cooked some things together....we made cornflakes cookies, and then he mashed some potatoes to fill dahi puris.... Raghav loves mashing potatoes! So while doing that he created potato volcanoes and avalanches (with sound effects) and made videos of them erupting and moving that he wanted me to capture on camera! Soon, he plugged in the iPod and started playing his favourite Kailash Kher songs....then he sang and danced to some songs which we hadn't heard in a while, while I sat down and kept beat with drums and shakers from our collection....and then, he played one of our favourite songs - Tu Jaane Na....we sat together, holding and hugging each other as we sang it out loud....I felt a deep sense of peace and gratitude wash over me....I feel very grateful, contented, connected and balanced have connected with my son in so many ways!

Here is the recipe for the cornflake cookies that we made:

Here are videos of the potato volcano and avalanche!:


Monday, March 11, 2013

Of Thoughts, Manifestations and Connections

This has happened to us so many many times before, that I now really and truly believe in it so much....that thoughts can make things manifest in ways that you cannot even imagine.....and just a few days ago, I came across this beautiful quote on Facebook which said :
"Believe in what you want so much that it has no choice but to materialize"

I don't know if we consciously make an effort to believe in something so much, or whether it just happens as if on its own....but many a time, little things like getting a book we really needed to read at a point, meeting someone to get a perspective on what we are curious about now and so on, just seem to happen quite effortlessly over and over again.

Today, was yet another day like that. We had to go return some of the overdue books and DVDs at the British Council Library. Last night, Raghav had searched for an iPad app with planes, on his own (perhaps after our recent trip by plane to Pune), and he found quite a few apps - one was about building and managing an airport, with planes taking off and landing, and the others were about being a pilot of different kinds of planes. Raghav was also telling me last night, how he thought that people invented planes after watching birds carefully, because both have wings, and compared how they took off and landed!

The other apps that he recently downloaded were about pets - one was about managing a pet hotel, another about a pet shop and yet another one about managing a farm. Ever since he started playing with these apps, he has been talking about how he would like to have this animal as a pet, and not that one, and so on.

So when we went to the library, and started looking for books, it was amazing how we almost immediately found the books, that were kind of waiting to be picked up by us! - one was all about planes - the different kinds, how they were built, how they are controlled and so on, another was about flight ( Flying Start Science - Flight - by Kim Taylor) and talked about exactly the kind of thing Raghav shared with me on observing birds in flight to get ideas about making planes and so on. It is a wonderful book with wonderful photographs, simple, easy to read text, and little experiments that kids can do at home - all connected to flying, where connections are made about wings on insects, birds, how a jelly fish uses propulsion to move, how seeds are dispersed using the parachute mechanism, how gravity is overcome, how gliding and hovering happens, etc. - and all these are related constantly to flight and planes! He also found a lovely story book about a cat who was grumpy, another book on how to take care of a cat as a pet, and yet another one about farm machines!....and all the books were related to areas that he was exploring NOW! That was really uncanny!

Sometime ago, when we were discussing our plans of going to the India Homeschoolers Conference, some of my friends in Pune very kindly offered for us to come over and stay with them. I hesitated a lot and declined their offer, as Raghav had this intense fear of dogs, and both of them had dogs at home! However, one of them happened to come down for a short trip to Auroville before the conference, and we went and spent a day with them there, with their dog too, and by the time we left there, Raghav was quite comfortable with their dog walking around him!

Soon after, we went a couple of times to a community gardening initiative, to meet up with some other homeschoolers in Chennai....and there was a dog there too! Raghav was hesitant for a little while, but by the end of the first afternoon there, he became so comfortable with that dog too - so much so that he called her his friend and even went to say a special bye to her when we left! I think these two experiences got him curious about dogs and so when he was playing on the iPad, exploring his current favourite app called "Pet Hotel", where he builds rooms for all these different pets from dogs, cats, zebras, birds, fish...he wanted to know more specifically about dogs - the Afghan Hounds, Golden Retriever, Beagle, Chihuahua, Daschund, German Shepherd, Dalmation, and many others...and so I Googled those for him....and we stumbled upon an amazing site which brought out each breed's personality, traits and so on, that both of us loved! I recalled how I had grown up with dogs from when I was a year old, but didn't really bother to find out more about them, while here was my son, slowly getting over his fear of dogs and wanting to find out so much about them! 

When we went to the conference, there was a dog at the venue, who he made friends with and even went on to pet her! Later, when we spent a day with our friends at their house, he played "Fetch"with their dog, quite fearlessly touched her tail and stroked her and was very sad to say bye to her!

There have been some amazing connections and wanderings in this journey.....and what I have shared here are just some of the countless ones that have filled our lives ever since we started this journey.....and I am very grateful to every little thought, manifestation and connection that has touched our lives...

I remember how when I was in my teens, I had dreamed of pursuing a career in metaphysics....but never did I think that those very aspects would become a part of my life and very existence - everyday, as it does today!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rhyme Time!

We just got back last evening from the first ever India Homeschoolers' Conference at Khandala and were slowly catching up on our washing, shopping for groceries and veggies, cleaning the house, cooking....Raghav wanted to just chill and explore some new iPad apps that he had downloaded while exchanging some notes with some of his friends at the IHC...he then came up to me and showed me some of those apps and how he plays them.....while we were talking, I happened to say something that rhymed, and Raghav immediately caught on, wanting to make up his own rhymes! It was fun to talk in rhymes and as I was hanging the clothes to dry or cooking lunch, here are a few that he came up with all on his own.....and boy was it wonderful to see his eyes light up with the discoveries and creations he had just made! :)

When a fish
gets a wish,
it becomes a dish!

I heard you rhyme
two hundred times!

If I look
I get a book!
It's free, will you see?

P.S. The only book of poetry that I know he has read is Shel Silverstein!...this unschooling journey never ceases to amaze me....sometimes in ways that I cannot comprehend!