Raghu, reading and ramblings

Its been a big deal for Ravi and me to see Raghu reading more and more this past week. We come upon him standing in underwear and pants around his ankles with an intent look on his face and his mouth making phonetic sounds, sometimes just plain reading and otherwise sounding out words silently… its such a delight. It might be the cover of a cd or cartridge or a comic book or like this afternoon a book on ants that he is trying to read. Its magical to watch. Just like when he learned to walk. Perhaps i feel validated a bit? I feel like saying YAHOOOO…. you see they do learn to read… because they want to. Of course we go on reading to them and do not say “well you know how to read that… so why do you want me to?” or some such short-sighted comment. I can see how reading to them whenever they want me to is the best thing to do.

I think I have been a struggling a little lately with Raghu being so focused on the PSP and hence i am the primary playmate for Zoya. I miss the game sessions and other lovely times the 3 of us enjoyed before this psp phase. I keep reminding myself that Raghu is happy pursuing his interests. So perhaps seeing him read makes me feel a bit like…”right… there are many processes at work… even as they watch the 100th re-run of Little Bear or Magic School Bus or play seemingly endless video games… they are processing so much info inside their heads” They are contacting the world around them on their own terms. I shall strew interesting things and be available to converse and be a good facilitator etc… yet the final word is theirs. And that is how their inherent interest in learning (whatever they want) is preserved.

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Learning.

The biggest challenges in RU’ing for me and Ravi have been learning to parent peacefully, to be fully present in the moment and seeing the shine in each of us all the time. Sad huh? These should have been the easiest. Anyway…. we became parents without truly understanding how to be with children. Glad we are figuring it out and working on our path.

Funnily we never discuss if the kids are learning. Why? Well its so, so obvious to us. Learning is like breathing… you don’t teach it to kids. Its natural to ask questions if you need an answer and otherwise natural to just live and experiment and ‘do’… and hence learn.

We don’t divy up the kids’ activities into subjects or think… cool now he’s doing math. Instead we see it as ‘cool… he discovered addition as a means to an end’ even as he worked on some lego creation. The word Toys is used in a not-so-serious way. But they are only things. Things that children use to learn. Things like paper, color, books, work tools etc… all are just things. Everything is used for a purpose. So it does not make sense to divy up and say toys are less than a book.

The characters in a fav show, the conversation about mirrors in the elevator, the intense emotions you feel as you leave a friend, the 1/2 cup of flour you measure out for baking, the strong words exchanged over a toy, the food you eat, the airplane ride, etc… everything leads to something. There is no line dividing up the day. No bell and no authoritative voice telling you that you need to learn. Just making choices and doing. Everything is connected and overlaps during our conversations. So we see the water-cycle-aspect in so many aspects of our world/daily life.

In Zoya’s case… there is an intense need to label everything… “what that called?”, a need to paint everything near her when there is paint in front of her, a need to jump and do flips and other tricks, etc. In Raghu’s case… an intense need to make sense of large and larger numbers, geographic distance, time lines, pedaling as fast as is possible, etc…

These needs cause the learning.

The why and how of our being on the RU path

We have gone thru stages of different parenting and education philosophies over the last couple of years. In fact I’m sure our current RU path might be mis-understood by or be baffling to some friends/family who have met us at earlier stages. I have one friend who was on quite a Waldorf path and i really hope i have not alienated her by sharing our blog of RU experiences off late… with no preamble of how and why this change came about.

So I thought I’d list our experiences and how one led to another:

– Early on when Raghu was about 2.5, we enrolled him in a lovely little Montessori school for 3 hours a day. Raghu told us he only liked being there on Fridays (the day they made Challah-bread)… So i sat outside the classroom (the only way Raghu agreed to stay in the class) reading John Holt and others on homeschooling/unschooling… and the first strands of freedom-from-school thoughts percolated in my head. My memories of school left me with a distaste for schooly-people telling me what to do and how to do it… unless it was someone i gave that right to… like my ex-professor at SVA… whom i loved and admired. And despite the absolutely lovely women who ran this Montessori, the splendid classroom layout and freedom given to children etc… Raghu still resented being told when to work with what and when it was time to go for circle time etc. So we pulled him out.

– Then we transitioned into a Waldorf-esque lifestyle at home with little TV, tons of food restrictions (however lovingly imposed…they were impositions), no-battery toys, more of wooden stuff (if you can’t afford them… make them… yeah right… ), lots of some what false conversations with children… with me thinking i know what is best for them. We thought this was The PATH! All along there seemed to be serious discrepancies in the Waldorf way. But it took us more than 6 months to see this phase thru to its natural demise. While i love wooden toys… i love electricity too 😉 Also the artist in me was irked by the curved corner papers and the wishy washy style of painting and withholding black crayons/paint from the child. There were wonderful things too that we learnt from this phase though… like making candles, using an axe, doing needle work and including children in all our regular work.

– We then got busy with the adoption of Zoya (Raghu is our biological child) and watched the love that only siblings can share. Meanwhile I had to read up on more unschooling practices as Raghu kept pushing the limits our homeschooling had set. And he kept learning things that weren’t on the curriculum for an almost 4 year old. Esp not on a Waldorf curriculum.

– We then moved to Singapore and found out slowly by the end of our 9 month stay there that Radical Unschooling was a big scary place… “”where our dreams might come true.”” Where everything in the world was food to be played with (still can’t bear to watch my kids play with food though… working on this), where work and play were one, where everything was freedom-oriented and hence resulting in laughter, joy and complete respect for one another… surprise, surprise! This was still a RU theory stage though.

– Then we moved to India and settling here brought its own peculiar issues. Everything kept falling into place with Law of Attraction type precision…. i found a lovely Radical Unschooling Mentor, a homeschooling group formed which helps me out in many ways (Me and mentor are the only RU’ing families in the city). Kids are grooving like never before. Dh and I are not worried at all about schoolish learning… but still working on deschooling other habits.

– Battery driven toys, wooden trucks, TV, DVD, mud, straw and glue, composting, playing with screws and bolts…. you get the picture. Everything is connected and everything leads to learning. Even when Raghu is immersed in Lego all day long sometimes…. being given the freedom to explore this to its fullest means that when his body aches from being bent over and in concentration mode for too long… he simply stretches, goes for a walk, does some swinging from the beams, chases his little sister around and then just goes back to his hunched over Lego position. In the meanwhile as i observe this intense Lego phase he comes up with number combinations, simple equations, playfully creates war like scenarios with his Lego characters, talks to his imaginary pals, tells me about his latest creations and shows so much play-versatility that we are astounded.

– Today we were at the typical mall (I can’t stand them but find them the best places to shop in Pune as they have clean bathrooms available… imp as Z needs to pee every 30 minutes or so!!) to get jeans for the kids. The kids spent 30 minutes staring at the transparent sided elevator…. we talked, observed and absorbed the mechanism of the elevator. Pulleys, levers, weights, cords, emergency lights, pistons…. what fun. I can see this coming thru in his lego creations soon. Like the space ship he made for E.T. after watching E.T, the movie. Also at the mall… Raghu spent his Diwali gift money (from his Nainamma) and had fun weighing the options between one hot wheels set and another. I just can’t take it any more… there is just too much learning going on in our lives!! And we don’t even go to school!

My choices of food, holisitc type stuff, love for all things wooden, vegetarianism, need for cleanliness and neatness, etc. might never be those of my children… nor those of my dh. Why would we force our personal choices on them? There are enough choices that our young children are not a party to…. like where we work, where we live because of work, how much money we choose to make etc. So we’d rather not force them to finish the milk in their cup… but rather see if we can add it to the kids-yogurt-making 😉 Or add it to the kadipatta plant in our garden after the milk sours… so it grows well.

My inner drive to reach for more… more freedom, more happiness, more peace, more everything… has even me reeling sometimes. Often, Ravi comes home and asks if he needs to read up on anything before he says hello to the kids 😉 But I think the path is now set for us…

What is this journey of mine like? There is a zen moment every minute of everyday. There is space to grow for me and the kids.

But would it be nice if there were similar free environs for the kids to feel safe, happy in… and places that they ‘WANT’ to be in?? Yes… a resounding yes. I wish for a few homes like ours… where the song “home, home on the range…” (part of which applies to my thoughts is pasted below) has a parallel in city dweller terms. I wish for parallel worlds where the kids roam free and learning is an all-day, every-second adventure. Where people and children mingle all day and learn from each other. But i do not have any other homes/places i can truly send my children to… or where they would want to be without me or Ravi around. And a school/institution/place of controls is only going to be possible if they (the schools etc) are open to the idea of a child being free to roam, free to say ‘no thank you’ to the day’s project, free to express thoughts as they strike them, free to ask awkward questions, free to take advantage of a particular interest even as others move onto other topics, free to assess one’s self and not be judged…… Quite a contradictory world. And i do not live physically near any like this.

So i stay home, make art, sing, play with my children, arrange playdates when anyone one of us feels the need for socializing, go to new places, explore ideas as they strike us, play with fire, make pancakes, enjoy the weather, respect each other, cherish each other’s playful and silly side, talk about death and life, and so on. Everything is grist to the mill.

I admit all the while i do have a tiny voice inside hoping to find other places for the children to hang out at. But in the meanwhile… as we search for such places… my children know that we will keep exploring and when they do try out a place where they stay without me… they know there is a door open behind them always. So there is no forced learning. Only an unconscious love for learning that seems to happen whether we/they want it or not. The line between any subject and another is blurred and wonderfully mixed up. Math and science, Lego and hydraulics, art and history, geography and biology, etc. … all can weave into each other. Cooking leads to fractions, boiling points, chemistry, love, recipes, becoming inclusive of the little sister trying to help stir, talking about how we love somethings and don’t like others or hate them even and why. Nothing in my childhood came close to this kind of learning, growing and never being blocked… by anything.

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play,
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

Chorus
Home, home on the range,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.
Where the air is so pure, the zephyrs so free,
The breezes so balmy and light,
That I would not exchange my home on the range
For all of the cities so bright.

Ravi’s cousin sent us plasticine from the UK. Very different from ‘play-dough and home-made-dough. So vibrant and colorful! Lovely to make fruits with and other inedible delights. R, Z and I had a neat time making sandwiches, slicing up white rolls of bread and making bowls of noodles. So a big thankyou to P and R.

There is something so stinky and sticky and playful about the craft that kids get naturally inclined. R and Z’s play made me remember Al Dhafra days…. lots of time and tons of inspiration. Perhaps Sush will remember those days with fondness? She and I were great at making pies, cakes and monsters with plasticine. Its interesting how Raghu and Zoya interact with each other and make funnies 🙂 Also, Raghu started to offer sandwiches for sale and immediately created his own minting machine and gave me my change.

Off late he and I talk about money and change, number games, sequences of 2s and 10s, different counting possibilities and also make much ado about large numbers. The larger the number, the more powerful the number is, in his mind.

Again the power of connecting dots, making simple assumptions, clearing up concepts, clarifying thoughts, thinking before talking, making games, learning without conscious attempt… are all aspects of our day. So even as i go to pick up Ravi from work and we listen to Roald Dahl’s BFG or some jazz or “pappu can’t dance sala” … its all learning!! and its happening all the time. We discover words and thoughts like ballerina, jazz, imagination, reading in our head, idibongers, catapult, what are opinions etc… and they lead to other interesting words and thoughts. Or sometimes we just listen to the rain, squabble, sit in silence or simply day dream.

Its a lovely world we live in and much of it comes about because Ravi, my dear dh, selflessly goes to work and brings home the moolah. He does enjoy his job but it means he can only enjoy with the children and be a part of our activities on the w’ends really.