Conference Experience

I met a man whose children were not going to school.  This scene is coming into my dream every night since we got back from the conference.
Was it all a dream?  Let me write it down before I forget.

On the morning of March 1, a bear came into the chapel at St Mary’s Villa and greeted all who came to the India Homeschoolers’ Conference.  Following an enthusiastic welcome by Supriya and the bear (Archana), we ran down the list of sessions and dispersed – some for dough play with Charlotte, some for theatre workshop, some for martial arts with Nikhil  and some to talk about people skills with Mathew.    One hour passed in a flash and soon everyone was scampering to the long corridor where the Mela took place.    To display their wares, some spread sheets on the ground, some used the benches and some used the flat surface of the shoulder-high wall.  Handicrafts, baked goods, lemonade, used books and magazines, and of course, triflexagons were all out for sale – and Arvind Gupta toys were on display.  On top of that there was a loud and crazy stall where you paid Rs. 5 to “enjoy  life” by playing games like “put the bindi on the lady’s face” (without looking of course).
Amidst all that Ravi told me that Khiyali told him that “This place has the yuletide spirit.  It makes me spring and jump!”
In spite of snacking at the Mela I was ready when lunch time rolled around.  After lunch I strolled by the Art Corner where all those who had arrived on the first day (28 Feb) had created lovely things already on display.  The Art Corner was just stunning with a brilliant view of the hills and a table and benches for keeping various supplies and allowing artists to work at floor level or bench level.   With space even for those who wanted to watch or just be among the artistic bustle.
In the afternoon we sat in the toy area for the session on attachment parenting, while in the main hall the children were busy with the Harry Potter Quiz.  We started with a round of introductions and then I talked about attachment parenting and its relationship to learning and education.  I read aloud fromThe Continuum Concept, passed around a photocopy of the chapter on babywearing from Dr. Sears’Baby Book, and demonstrated the sling live and in person.   (Started writing about what I presented: Attachment Parenting and Continuum Learning.I had much more to present, on the relationship of each component of attachment parenting to learning.  Next time.)
After tea Shilpa conducted crazy races for all ages.  By then Keith and Roopa arrived and herded part of the flock off for what were called toddler games, but involved a wide range of ages nonetheless.  I went back to the toy area and chatted with more people about Attachment Parenting, specifically on breastfeeding and how much unmet need there is for breastfeeding support.  We shared stories, tears, and I read aloud a few more passages from The Continuum Concept including the scene of the boy and the pit.   Peter, who had read the book in the 1970s when it came out, talked about some ways his 4 year old daughter takes part in work around the house – as he has written in Tinkering Around.
After dinner we gathered near a campfire to sing songs.  Charlotte had asked for song suggestions from the registered participants and collected all the lyrics and prepared little song books so that we could sing along.   Starting with “Ati Kya Khandala” and going all the way to the National Anthem and beyond, we sang into the night with lovely guitar played by Deborah and Charles.
On Saturday Supriya came to the chapel without the bear and played a bunch of games with the kids until 10, when the morning session started.  Music for the toddlers, movie magic for the older kids.  Of course needlework and the Art Corner and the Arvind Gupta toy-making were going along at full blast with all ages gathered and busy.  I gazed longingly, dreaming of doing some as well.   At 11 we gathered in the chapel for a guided introspection on “Fears and Doubts.”   Urmila guided the group to a quiet space in the mind where we could hear our inner thoughts.  People then took turns speaking, first about practical issues like exams and RTE.  Some whose kids had taken exams shared their experiences and Sriram advised the group not to fear the law but to know the law and be able to stand up for one’s rights.
During lunch I overheard a parent telling Supriya, “my daughter is asking me when the bear will come back.”  After lunch a few of us had a session in Telugu because there just had not been time to do translation during other sessions  and I could only imagine how I would feel if the entire conference were taking place in Bengali or Malayalam.  I wanted to do something like that in Hindi as well, but could not organize it.  We wrapped up just in time for me to go and catch some of the IHC Talks – very interesting.  I am eager to see the videos.
At dinner Friday night Ravi had met Raghu and Kriti, and found out they lived in rural Karnataka and practiced natural farming, which is a step further than organic or low-external input farming.  In fact natural farming bears so many similarities, philosophically, to natural learning that one would have wanted to have a session on natural farming on the schedule.  Of course I did not know in advance that we would have among us a practicing natural farmer nor that so many others would be interested.   But like the plant grows when the ecosystem is right, I guess the session on organic farming just burst forth in the conference.   But when? Though the scavenger hunt involved the adults as well as children, eventually we managed to find a time for the Natural Farming Session and a circle of people gradually grew in the corridor outside the chapel.  Even so, not all who were interested in the session got to know that it was happening, and for that reason, in spite of Fukuoka’s message to do “nothing” I wish I had done something.
Meanwhile the scavenger hunters were back after a lively foray.  Results were being tallied and Shefali asked when we were going to continue the Attachment parenting session.   So we did, for a little while, amidst some confusion over when the Stage Night would take place.  During dinner Rebecca asked if she could use my sling and I was beside myself with joy to see little baby Alyah using it, right there during the conference.
I had no idea what had happened in the Movie Magic Session earlier in the day but at stage night we were treated to the results.  Wow!  Amazing 2-minute films made in one day, with impressive acting by the children (including Supriya).  After that children sang, danced, put on puppet shows, poetry recitals, mono-actions and more.  Some talented adults also took the stage – Srinath danced while his son sang, and later Sangeetha danced and Erica told stories which enthralled everyone.
Sunday morning a clown circulated among the children, and later the costume also got passed along and various children got to “be the clown that you want to see in the world.”  Whispers flew about as to who the clown was.  I thought it was Supriya but later Khiyali came and told me that she saw Supriya with the clown – so who was the clown?  Later she too got a chance to don the clown costume and even wore it into the next session.
Ravi talked about Particles in the Universe.  Though only 5-6 children came they asked very good questions.   The questions jumped from what is the building made of? to what is air?  Is it like a ghost?  Is there magic?  Ravi was able to entertain the questions while holding the thread of the scientific spirit – he asked the children to consider any number of explanations for a phenomenon, no matter how fanciful, and to figure out how to test them.
Parallel to that was Family Bonding which was quite popular.  Wish I could have attended both.  Some people who went to the Family Bonding session also told me they were upset that they had to choose between these two sessions.   We had thought that one would be for adults while the other was for kids but in retrospect the Particles in the Universe session would have been good for all ages.  Apart from that many of the older kids who might have been interested had gone trekking in the morning.
Afterwards came the session “What works for Us.”  We took turns sharing what we actually do as homeschoolers, and in what way we could help Swashikshan, the Indian Association of Homeschoolers.  We collected the ideas to share among the group.  After lunch we had IHC Talks and then headed out, guided by June and her kids, to Tungarli Lake for a short trek followed by a swim.

 

When we got back from the lake to Saint Mary’s Villa, I saw rising steam and flying red buckets.  Supriya was busily filling buckets of steaming hot water from the boiler in a Sorcerer’s Apprentice-like frenzy.   Worrying that some emergency had taken place while we had gone frolicking at the pond, I quickly went to put my things away and be prepared to help out.  Meanwhile I heard Supriya telling someone “These buckets are for you only!”  It took me some time to register that – so when she showed me a bucket and asked if I wanted it I automatically said no and only a few minutes later realized how welcome a nice hot bath would be.After dinner Srinath & Priya lined up some music in the Main Hall and moved the chairs to the wall so that we could dance.  Alas the acoustics made it hard to hear the music that they spent so much time putting together.  At first we were all sitting in the chairs.  Preethi noted that it was like a birthday party.  Finally someone put a row of chairs in the middle of the floor so that we could play musical chairs.  We started off with the usual musical chairs but eventually it morphed into a game where when the music stops, as many people try to fit in the chairs as possible.  We could call this version Musical Chairs General Compartment.

 

Later that night, knowing the conference would soon be over, a few of us sat and chatted about the avenues for online support.  People grumbled that people wanted to be spoon-fed and kept on asking the same questions again and again without searching the site or the internet at large to see what information was already available.  Questions about board examscurriculumbookshow do you teach?  How children learn.  Then I thought of Mothering Dot Community, which has been and still is my go-to when I have a question.  There no one cares if the question has been asked many times before.  Even today if I ask “can a homeschooler go to college?” some kind soul will come forward and post a link at the very least.  And then I might post a reply saying what I thought of that link, and a conversation might ensue.  Before long I might be sharing more about my day, my self, my related and unrelated concerns, and more people might jump in to reply to that.  That way posting on the forum supplements searching the internet myself.

We also talked about having more support in real life – forming local groups and trying to visit each other whenever we travelled to other places.  I already have invitations to Goa, Delhi, Hyderabad and Berlin!  And within Mumbai we also try to meet (for example, at the farmers’ market  – all are invited 🙂

Monday morning we assembled in the toy area for a Sharing Circle involving a small stick which we passed around.  Khiyali came in and shared a poem that she had just written: ‘School me not’.  Our brief was to share what we felt in our hearts – our thoughts regarding parallel sessions or facilitation or acoustics or accounts  could wait for the next session.  It was not my first experience with sharing reflections after a conference but it was the first time I had done so with a stick.  Who knew its power?  I wasn’t even planning to ask for the stick because I had no idea what was in my heart.  Eventually I did take the stick and without expecting it in the least, I too cried when I started sharing.

We saw the same effect on others – the stick is like that only.
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