“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 or 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, and 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 and 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.