Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Cloud watching!

We love cloud watching and in our new house, we have a great view from the balcony that draws us ever so often to stare into the open, endless sky, weave dreams, smile, hold hands and feel a warm love for all of the Universe.

Raghav loves to peep out of the window and name the clouds, or think of them as specific shapes, or warn us of changes in weather (whenever he sees cirrus clouds!) or just simply stand up and say "wow!" with a beaming smile on his face. We love watching reflections of the clouds in the sea or in the backwaters, we love to catch the evening glow in some of them, and love to wonder at what speed a fast-moving cloud must be traveling at! He is also always on the look out for dark rain clouds, to decide whether we have to go out or stay indoors, because he hates the rain on his body!

A little while ago, Raghav was busy playing something on the iPad and suddenly ran up to the balcony screaming:" Hey amma! Look! There's Mexico!"

Well, that was in fact a cloud that was shaped like Mexico! You can take a look and check it out for yourself.....

A few days ago, we chanced upon an interesting programme on Discovery Channel that spoke about "red rain" in some parts of the world - in India (Kerala), Sri lanka and in Columbia. Raghav was very curious about that and how some people thought that it contained organisms (without DNA) that came from outer space. So we Googled more and found out some more information on that. He then told me this: "Amma, you know actually, you don't need clouds like the ones in our atmosphere now to produce the time of the early earth, the atmosphere hardly had any oxygen, only carbon di oxide....and it rained and rained for so many millions of years!...maybe the stromatolites (we all actually owe our lives to these creatures! were already there and they gave out enough oxygen...and then somehow there was already some hydrogen there in the atmosphere, and so they combined to form water and rain!"

I am often amazed at the connections he makes and the theories he makes up! I hate to intervene and "correct" those. I just let them be - to be created and re-modeled and destroyed and re-created all on his own. I love to leave the magic of learning as it is.....untouched, for I believe it is sacred.

Of Teeth, Tongues, Angry Birds and "Sticky" Cells!

Raghav was in the bath this morning, sitting in a tub of water - another place (besides the potty!) where he usually gets a lot of inspiration! This time however it was a barrage of questions....he started off talking about his tooth which was shaking and then asked...

Why do our milk teeth fall out?
Why do we have milk teeth and permanent teeth?
Is there anyone who is born with no teeth?
What would it be like to have no teeth?

....and then he went on to list out all the sounds that he could not make without teeth, or which might sound different without teeth....and then he went on to the tongue....

What would it be like if one did not have a tongue?
We spoke about not being able to lick ice creams, make sounds like "la", "na", "ra" etc., take food that is stuck on our palette, or on our lips, and so on...

And then, he came out of the bath and said this: "Amma, the teeth are like the launcher and the water is like the angry bird...when the water (angry bird) reaches the steep slope of the teeth, it gets launched into the mouth and we drink it!" :) What a fun way to explain the process of drinking water!

We then went on to wonder about how wide the windpipe and food pipe would be, what makes the food go down the correct pipe, do we or can we breathe and eat at the same time and what was it that makes cells in our bodies "stick" together and not come apart! Whew! A long list of questions for which I did not know the answers you? We would love to hear your answers to these questions too!

But for now, we have jotted them down in our little question-book that we have, as they sometimes slip away from our memories...and yes, thank God for Google!

Friday, October 18, 2013


This has been one of our many conversations about what freedom means to each of us.

Yesterday, I was watching Raghav play one of his games on the iPad. This one was about horse riding - where he has to groom, feed and take care of his horse and then get it to do some obstacle courses, show jumping etc. He played it for a while according to the rules, but after a point, I heard him say this while he was playing: "That's enough! I am not going to follow those markings anymore...I am going to do whatever I choose to do!" and he took his horse for a ride all around, ignoring the instructions, markings and everything else. He does a similar thing when he plays one of his car racing games too - he just races around the track in the "wrong" direction, sometimes banging into cars, and sometimes managing to avoid them! When I ask him why he does that, he simply says "....because I like it!"

Today, while we were having lunch together, we looked out of the balcony to see many kites flying, gliding, hovering around over the waters. Both of us got up, washed our hands and took to our binoculars and camera. Two of them hovered just above us, and Raghav exclaimed: "Oh how I wish I could be a bird!", and I said:"Oh, how nice I will feel to be free like that bird!" "I want to be a bird because I can be high up there and look down one is really free amma...", he continued. I asked him why. I asked him what freedom meant to him. This is what he said: "...freedom to me is when I can do whatever I want to, whenever I want to and however I want to....but then no one can be totally free, because God has made it like that.....something always happens and so you can never be free..."

Profound words. Hard-hitting thoughts. I realised how this is our eternal struggle as human beings...when you think you are free, something happens to bring you crashing down to what is real and alive now....and that is where the freedom is this moment.

Ah yes! It is better to want to be a bird to just enjoy the flight and enjoy the breathtaking view from up there, rather than to think of something that you think you don't have and struggle endlessly to pursue that.

The key to freedom then, lies in enjoying the present moment that is both real and alive. When you stop thinking about freedom is when you are truly free!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Learning Happens....Shit Happens!

Yes, I have been a teacher. Yes, I have been worried out of my wits about learning and jumped for joy when I thought it had happened. Yes, I made elaborate lesson plans that had to be thrown out of the window, prepared objectives that never ended or were just too hard to reach, thought of strategies that often helped me more than the kid, created teaching materials akin to works of art and evaluated others more than I did myself!

All along, I had this awry notion that children were incapable of "learning" on their own and that they needed to be "taught". Everything that I did  as a teacher and parent, stemmed from that one notion or idea. While I thought I was being child-centric,  I was actually being self-centred. Because the whole process and joy of learning started with me and rested on my ability to "teach" them skills that were necessary for life...but, whose life was it?

Did I really know each of them (my students/ kids) so well that I could decide what they needed to learn and how? 
Did I truly give them control over their environment and learning? Or did I give them pseudo-control?
Did I have the time to sit with them and understand the core of their being and what drove their spirit?
Did I care enough to just sit and be with them and their feelings as they arose from their inner depths, without attributing any of those to "issues"or "behaviours" or "emotional problems" or even just "difficulties"?
Did I deeply "know" their strengths and their passions or gloss over those, to slot them (as "skills to be learned") into convenient holes in what I called and someone (who had no clue about them as people) framed as "the curriculum"?
Did I want to kindle their love and zest for life and learning, or "help" them  and frame them for life so they could ride the waves, without knowing what it was to get wet and messy and learn how to swim?

Sadly, and even with the best of intentions, I perhaps didn't do most of  the above while I was a young teacher of kids with special needs and then a parent who relied heavily on her teaching background to bring up her child. Perhaps that's why I was burnt out and wanted to quit my job - because I wasn't following my heart; I was following my mind. Perhaps that's why I have now come to tread this path of unschooling with my son, who happens to be my greatest teacher of life and living. Is it perhaps a way for me to make peace with what once was? Is it the way it was meant to unfold and help me discover myself a little more? I don't know.

But I have come to ponder on some questions that I never bothered to ask before.
Why is there so much ado about learning?
Why do we want to simulate reality and prepare their lives or prepare them for life, instead of waiting and watching the magic unfold?
Why have we forgotten how to be children and stop and wonder about the little miracles that life uncovers for us every day, every moment?
Why do we want to "manufacture" and "produce" learning?
Why do we want to make learning a "package deal" instead of unwrapping the package like a child opening a gift, with love and joy and sweet anticipation?
Why do we fret and fume over something that seems to happen naturally, just like "shit happens"?!

Yes, that is how I have come to understand learning - the learning that happens with my son, and perhaps most kids in the world, if only we give them a free hand to choose what they want to learn, how they want to learn and for how long they want to learn. Do we give children a choice in these matters? Do we encourage them to follow the path they want to tread, even if it is not the one we as their parents are walking on? Do we trust implicitly in their ability to think and learn everything that they need and want to know?  I wish we did. For then, they would learn to fly like the birds learn to fly and swim like the fish learn to swim.....on their own, and not because someone taught them to do that.

Man is by nature a learning animal. Birds fly, fish swim; man thinks and learns.”

- John Holt from How Children Learn

Because learning just happens, like shit happens! It happens when it has to and how it has to. It is not something that can be controlled and coerced to happen or taught from the outside.  It is inherent; it is natural. Because that is how it was meant to be. That is what I have come to believe.
So, one is not bound by time and space for learning to happen. It happens in its own time, in its own space and at its own pace. It happens in the bathroom, on the road, while eating, or arguing, as one opens one's eyes to see the day, or in the wispy dreams that one dreams at night. It happens in the most unexpected places, jumping out to surprise you like a Jack-in-the-box! It happens quietly and surely, like the breath that flows in and out. It happens even when you don't see it happen - in the silent spaces that flow between doing and not doing. It happens when one is "doing nothing". It just happens, like life.
Learning happens as we live each day, unhurried and complete... when we are truly alive in this moment....just as we nourish our bodies and yet don't wait endlessly for something (like shit :)) to happen. It just happens.
So then, why do we feel this gorging need to "teach" or "do" things with kids and a nerve-wrecking worry if children will learn and how they will learn? I think it is because we have compartmentalized learning and packed it into neat, air-tight boxes, stacked in a particular order. We have as many theories and philosophies as there are people, one contradicting or critiquing the other. We have definitions and labels and norms and standards. Learning has become too complicated. We have killed its inherent innocence and simplicity. We have caged the free bird that it actually is, and then sit and wonder or worry about how and whether it will ever fly. We have dammed learning and evacuated free will and thinking. We have lost touch with ourselves and forgotten that it is in our very nature, to think and learn.
We don't need "teachers" today. We need more adults to become children, as "co-creators" and "co-learners". We need to find the child within each of us that is still alive and calling out for attention from some forgotten corner. We need to hold hands with our children and look into the gorgeous heavens with a fresh wonder and joy every single day....without that voice inside our head asking if it is a session on geography or nature study or poetry...We need to wake up everyday with love in our hearts and an unflinching trust in ourselves and our children - that we are human; that we are here alive on this planet, to learn from and with each other, in every waking moment, what we need to and want to learn....not because we have to reach for a star or be literate or pay our bills, but because we are here to discover what drives our spirit and hearts, to open the doors to a world of infinite possibilities.

"Next to the right to life itself, the most fundamental of all human rights is the right to control our own minds and thoughts. That means, the right to decide for ourselves how we will explore the world around us, think about our own and other persons' experiences, and find and make the meaning of our own lives. Whoever takes that right away from us, as the educators do, attacks the very center of our being and does us a most profound and lasting injury. He tells us, in effect, that we cannot be trusted even to think, that for all our lives we must depend on others to tell us the meaning of our world and our lives, and that any meaning we may make for ourselves, out of our own experience, has no value." ~ John Holt

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Lego Meeting

We were all looking forward to today - the day we were to meet the Chairman of MRF - Mr. Vinoo Mammen. For a family which lives and breathes Lego, it was a golden opportunity to share dreams, hopes and a passion for Lego, as MRF is also the company that started Funskool India (as a joint venture), which is now the official agent and distributor for Lego in India.

It all started when we visited the new Lego store in Chennai,  that had opened recently, to exclusively sell Lego products. We had spoken to the store manager about exploring some possibilities of displaying some of Raghav's Lego there, his helping to build display sets for the store and sourcing some Lego sets that he wanted from abroad, that were not available here in India. The store manager was not very forthcoming and did not warm up to any of the ideas we shared. So, when we mentioned it to my father, he immediately took action!

Raghav with Mr. Vinoo Mammen of MRF

My father wrote to his friend from his Round Table days - Vinoo Mammen, who responded immediately and gave us an appointment to meet him in person. We were quite thrilled with the outcome as we were hoping to share our ideas and more with him. Raghav of course felt very important, and wanted to pursue the idea we had of making a presentation of  his Lego work and creations until now, to show him at the meeting. He also wanted to take the Lego Technic UNIMOG U400 that he had recently built as he wanted to "tell uncle that he had built something which was for an older age group of 11-16 yrs, when he was only 8yrs old".

Raghav got ready for the meeting like an office goer would for his meeting :)....for someone who needs a lot of time to transition between things usually (and one never really knows how much time that actually is!) and for someone who has a tough time to get ready and be somewhere at a particular time, he flummoxed us by getting ready first :) He then packed his Lego in a bag himself and was all set to go!

In the car, we briefed him about what could happen there and how he might have to wait, and speak about his Lego crisply, as that uncle might not have too much time. We also picked up a lovely bunch of flowers to give him, which Raghav agreed to give.

I watched myself as we got ready and went....I was a bit tense and nervous as this man was quite like a VIP, and I had problems talking to people, especially those in authority. I quickly asked Srinath to take over and do all the talking and show him the presentation too. Srinath agreed, but I could see how we both had butterflies in our stomachs :) But not Raghav. He was himself, completely carefree, as he placed his Lego on the sprawling conference table in their conference room, and explored the room, asking a hundred questions about things there, while Srinath and I sat and waited with pounding hearts! Watching Raghav smile and jump around like he usually does at home, relaxed me immediately. I closed my eyes briefly and took some deep breaths. A meeting like this could be an ordeal for introverts like me! Whew! But I wanted to do it for my son, however difficult it was for me. Fifteen minutes seemed like an hour as we waited for the door to open and for Mr. Mammen to arrive! I kept preparing Raghav for a very short meeting as it was already late. Raghav wanted to know why the meeting might be curtailed, and I told him how busy this uncle was and how he might have other more important meetings after ours. Raghav of course couldn't understand how our meeting could not be important, and how something else could be more important :)

As soon as the door opened, Raghav ran and shook hands and said "Hi!" (things he rarely does!) Then he picked up the flowers and handed them over to him with a beaming smile (another rarity!) My, this son of mine was surprising me out of my wits :) Then, we all got chatting. Mr. Mammen was a simple, unassuming person,and started chatting with Raghav and asked him questions about what he had brought to show and Lego in general.  Raghav explained the main functions in the UNIMOG and showed him how it worked. He listened intently to Mr. Mammen talking about how he used to also play with Lego when he was a kid, but had seen nothing like the UNIMOG. Raghav then asked him whether they (MRF) made tyres for Laborghini cars too! Mr. Mammen was surprised, laughed and said that they didn't, but that Lego was the biggest tyre manufacturer in the world (the tyres they made for their Lego sets were much more in number than the tyres manufactured for all the cars across the world!)

 Then came the usual questions of how old Raghav was and which school he went to. He was surprised to hear about homeschooling, but mentioned that one of his friends was also doing that :) We spoke briefly about self-learning and pursuing one's passions too. All the while, he kept saying that he had to rush, but waited and watched our quick presentation too. Raghav added to what we presented, while I managed to share bits and pieces of our ideas too, amidst all that! I was very pleased with myself for overcoming some of the barriers inside of me too and patted myself on my back :)

Here are the presentations we made for him:
While watching the presentation on the Taj Mahal, he asked Raghav how old he was, to which Raghav retorted : "I already told you! I am 8 years old!" I draw inspiration from my son who speaks his mind and heart with no malice or ill-will......just pure, undiluted, innocent truth - of what he feels and thinks :)

We took a photo with Mr. Mammen, while he told us how much he liked our ideas of a Lego Club etc., and that he would give us the phone number of the CEO of Funskool, who we could meet and discuss all that further. We left, pleased with ourselves on accomplishing our mission. While we learned a lot about what they do and about stretching ourselves, I am sure Mr. Mammen learned more about a product that they were distributors for in India, but did not perhaps care to know it thoroughly, before they plunged into this deal :) Well, Raghav gave him a good run through on that one for sure!