Our Very Own History Channel

Advertisement as a source of historical information. From Our Pasts III, NCERT textbook, p. 3

Advertisement as a source of historical information. From Our Pasts III, NCERT textbook, p. 3

I have written earlier about our out-of-the-book and into-the-world approach to the study of history, a process that is driven by questions that multiply each time one of them is answered.

What happens when a child who has grown up questioning the world and the past in this way encounters a history textbook?  I had heard about the improvements that the National Council of Educational Research and Training had made in the approach to history and was impressed by the names of the members of the Advisory Committee for Textbooks in Social Sciences.

We decided to find out. One fine day I unceremoniously pulled the NCERT textbook Our Pasts from the shelf and suggested to my daughter that she read the first chapter. Read the rest of this entry »

Jivanshala Blog in review (2014)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Homeschool+ Conference

Zero is Beautiful Presentation at the Homeschool+ Conference

Zero is Beautiful: Teaching Mathematics as if People Mattered

I presented my paper “Zero is Beautiful” at the recent Homeschool+ Conference, which is part of a series of conferences under the umbrella called “The Learning Revolution.”

It was really wonderful to have Dr. Maria Droujkova attend the session.

Here are the recordings of all the sessions including mine.  Read the rest of this entry »

Soul Energy

Just back from the IHC in Khandala ….met so many interesting people, heard new songs and stories, danced to African rhythms, went birdwatching for the first time in my life, with some serious birdwatchers, heavy-duty binoculars and an equally heavy catalogue.  I actually identified a couple of them including an incandescent turquoise Kingfisher (Sumeet will remember its precise name).

Was very happy to see more people talking about connecting with the social context of some of the issues that come up in our homeschooling journey, seeing that Right to Education really means meaningful education and not merely school admission, and connecting with the majority of children and youth who are learning through life (out-of-school) and seeing that public institutions including NIOS are open for them as well as for those who opt for homeschooling by choice.  Read the rest of this entry »

Zero is Beautiful: Teaching Mathematics as if People Mattered

Forthcoming in Home Education Magazine, November-December 2014


Can you imagine the time before the discovery of zero? My husband and I got a glimpse of this when we witnessed the discovery of zero, not on the world-historical scale, but by our two-year-old daughter.

It was not an easy road. Counting had come uneventfully, but when numbers became numerals and the number 10 appeared on the page not with its own symbol, but with a 1 and 0, suddenly everything had changed. Till that moment, in her world it was still possible to have a system of enumeration like the one used by Ireneo Funes in Borges’ story, “Funes the Memorius.” Funes gives every number its own unique name. He has “an infinite vocabulary for the natural series of numbers” and no use for the concept of place value.

When our daughter saw that the numeral 10 comprised a 1 and a 0 she flung herself upon a chair and cried. Read the rest of this entry »

Khandala and the Yule-tide Spirit

Article sent to Swashikshan, March 2013.

Khandala and the Yule-tide Spirit

"Does one desire the yule-tide spirit, sir?"
"Certainly one does. I am all for it."
– P.G. Wodehouse, The Inimitable Jeeves

We were looking forward to the India Homeschoolers’ Conference from even before it was proposed, wishing and hoping that there could be a time and place for all of us to be together for days. I signed up to help with Activities Planning and my daughter helped me help. Together we pored over spreadsheets trying to put all the activities that various people proposed into the time slots, without crowding the schedule too much nor leaving anyone out. And not to forget free time!

At last the day came. When we arrived our daughter surprised herself by climbing up and hanging down from the rope ladders tied to the beams of the roof over the porch area. Later Ravi told me that she had told him, "This place has the yule-tide spirit. It makes me spring and jump." As we strolled around we saw all of the lovely artwork that people had already made in the dazzling Art Corner set up in an open area overlooking the hills. Since coming back from the conference I have seen the many photos that different people took of the Art Room but none captures its busy, bustling brilliance. Even if you threw paint on a canvas (and believe me we did!) it became something you would want to put up and look at. Going strong throughout the conference, the Art Room continued to churn out dozens of new objets d’art every few hours.

Soon it was time to gather in the main hall, get an introduction to the sessions for the morning and disperse accordingly. I led a little theatre workshop, which turned out quite fun – even though we had a group ranging from age 5-15, meeting for the first time, and speaking many different languages. For our first exercise, we introduced ourselves in a language other than our first language. We went on from there and soon the hour was up and we proceeded to the Mela. Kids and grownups had all kinds of stuff spread out and we just went from stall to stall trying things out, looking, tasting, wearing the various products on display. Looking back I think we should have had this on all three days, especially so that the kids who had stalls would have some more time to look at other stalls.

Over the three days, we had various planned and unplanned discussions about learning, playing, society, family bonding and even farming. Every night we gathered outside for song and dance or both. As well as storytelling, puppet show and other cultural sharing. Of course we sang "Ati Kya Khandala," led by an actual Bollywood actor. Amidst it all there was a scavenger hunt, some outdoor sports and games, and even a visit to Tungarli for a refreshing swim and short hike. Many kids found treasures, in the form of shiny rocks that were scattered around the rocky path from the pond back to the woods leading up the hill.

Apart from discussions related to homeschooling and parent, child and family relations, we also had opportunities to play with dough, make movies, learn to knit, make Arvind Gupta "Toys from Trash" and even explore particle physics. Near Hema’s amazing Art corner, (another) Hema and Ranu set up a handwork station and Sejal, Megh & Ashna sat and made / demonstrated Arvind Gupta Toys for a few hours each day. On Sunday morning, with a small group of kids and a handful of parents, Ravi eased into the topic of Particles in our Universe. Questions went all over the place and it was fun to see how he brought all of them into the flow of the talk. Rather than wow the children with the vastness of the universe or the infinitesimal smallness of the particles, Ravi lingered on the question of how do you know? He asked the children to suggest explanations for the movement of the curtains in the room. To the window flocked the children, checking for causes of this motion. Ravi encouraged them to come up with any number of explanations, as well as ways to test these. Though few children attended, many interesting questions came up, and continued even after the session.

One of the central spaces at the Villa was a large porch on which we had hung up a couple of swings and this proved to be the most popular place for kids and adults alike. Kids used to keep swinging late into the night. Surrounding the area were long benches and parents would gather around and chat while their kids played late into the night.

Monday morning came and it was hard to say goodbye to this rich environment swarming with interesting people and so much open space to roam, hide, seek and breathe.

While we are all waiting for the next conference, we can look at the reports and recordings from different sessions that are gradually coming out. I have started writing about the session on Attachment Parenting and Continuum Learning. Of course one never knows what thread from the conference will get picked up where – on the last day someone happened to ask me about the menstrual cup and when I mentioned that momentary conversation on a note I wrote in India Homeschoolers (After the conference), I got more correspondence about that than anything else. Often we feel too shy to talk about certain things … staying together for a few days helped bring about a sense of confidence, empowering us to share and ask questions we have no one else to ask. And to spring and jump.

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.  Read the rest of this entry »


Which Bird is Closer to Home?

Which Bird is Nearer to Home?

Children, please open your Math-Magic Books and turn to page 6.

Now which bird is nearer to home? 

Child points to brown bird.


Shows with finger the path from the bird to the tree.    Both bird and tree are slightly in the background.  The bird has a slightly lost expression, but seems to be headed towards the tree.

Showing the lavender bird, “What about this one?”

Child points to the brick house and says, “that is not the bird’s home.”   This bird is headed straight for the neatly thatched roof of the brick house.

* * * * *

Above is what actually happened one day, years ago, when I brought out the Math-magic book and looked it over with my daughter.  I could have gone on to show that even if we were talking trees, the lavender bird is also closer to the trees.   But that would have just been contrived, as if I was trying to get the answer expected by the book.   And it is not even entirely clear that the lavender bird is closer to the tree in the background – even if on paper the linear distance is less, the perspective in the drawing suggests that one tree is further from the viewer than the other.  Same with the birds.  Which tree is home to which bird?  We don’t know.  The drawing does not give us this information.  In retrospect, it also seems likely that in judging “close to home” she looked not only at the scalar distance, but also at the direction in which the bird was travelling.   It may be near the tree, but if it is flying towards the mud house, then it is closer to home than another bird which is actually flying towards the tree?

What is clear (to the experienced worksheet user) is that the textbook intends for us to recognize the thatched-roof house as the “home” and is asking which bird is closer to that structure.  The “right” bird is aiming for that roof with a bright expression.  The “wrong” bird” looks lost and far away.  At least these are the clues that must have indicated to me which bird we were expected to circle.  I did not take into account the depth in the drawing nor ask where the bird made its home.  Only because our answers differed did I examine my thoughts at all – had she circled the lavender bird, I suppose we would have forged ahead to Tick (✓) the Cat Farther from the Tree.

Since I asked why, rather than moving to “correct” her, I learned something about perspective – in drawing and in our relationship with nature.

Tick the Cat Farther from the Tree

Tick the Cat Farther from the Tree

Images from Math-Magic Class 1 NCERT Textbook, page 6. Accessed online.