The first Indian Homeschoolers’ Conference under the umbrella of Swashikshan – the Indian Association of Homeschoolers, was held between 28th February and 3rd March at St Mary’s Villa in Khandala in Maharashtra. St Mary’s Villa is located on the hills of Khandala overlooking a valley.
Two hundred people from all over India attended the conference to share and celebrate their homeschooling journeys. Many families attended the gathering to understand more about home education from other families who had already taken the plunge some years ago.
It was a historic event of sorts as it was the first time that so many people gathered to congregate as homeschoolers in India. As one of the organisers of the event, I felt like collecting the reflections of participants to help Swashikshan to understand if the expectations of participants were met and what they would like to see next time. I also wanted to get feedback as to what aspects of the conference enriched the participants.
I found the moments of the gathering very emotional as for me personally it was a validation of all the difficult choices made by my family when we embarked on this radical path of home education and learning without school.
I hugged every participant who arrived at the venue and was thrilled to see faces with who I have so far only interacted in the virtual world. Some families I had met over the last five years when I travelled with my children to meet homeschoolers in different parts of the country. As I watched them and myself now grounded more in our choices, it was very overwhelming and also satisfying beyond words.
It was great to hear words of love and affection and regard for the support that many homeschooling parents have been providing over phone, online and in person to many who wanted to be held at the start of their journeys.
I hope everyone who participated in this event grows stronger in their choices and continues to support the movement of learning without school, in whatever way it is most suitable and possible for them and their families.
With a poem that I wrote sitting out at the venue where the projector was displaying happy and content faces of homeschooled children, I present the personal accounts of some participants, who wrote in to me after I sent out a questionnaire asking them to share their experiences of the conference.
Walk, Climb, Jump and Fly
As we stand at the threshold of the old
Ready with new and strong wings
To plunge and dive into the new valley
From the top of the hill
That we climbed together.
We take one last look
At the road and the climb behind
Not with relief but with courage
At the clues we leave behind
For others to climb, if not the same
But another hill as high
As the one we have!
Rebecca Manari from Goa
I regularly visit the Swashikshan website to read articles put up there, so I was pleasantly surprised when I read about the IHC there. It couldn’t have been better timing for our whole family, for a number of reasons. I have been waiting long to meet with like minded people. Not just since I began homeschooling, but ever since I got married and moved away from home. Sometimes it feels like people just don’t ‘get’ me. Coming to IHC made a huge difference. I was expecting to learn a lot from the conference and yes, definitely I got a lot more than what I was expecting. My whole family got a great sense of freedom, belonging, relief; we made many friends. And yes, we all learned a lot. Not just about homeschooling, but even about our own personalities!
I don’t usually open up a lot about my feelings, but hearing what others had to say so openly and generously, about what they feel and experience, was freeing and enriching. It made me feel like I’m not alone.
This has nothing to do with homeschooling itself, but when I saw that slideshow of the kids’ pictures at the opening night, it brought a realisation of the love that we all feel for our kids. The feeling really overwhelmed me and made me shed a few tears. And thinking about it just now again brings tears to my eyes! It was an emotional moment for me.
I hope to see the conference longer than 5 days! I also hope that there are sessions conducted for adults while the kids’ sessions are on, and not two adults’ or kids’ sessions simultaneously. I’d love it if the venue never changes. It was perfect. My son Ishaan kept saying he didn’t want to leave and he wished it went on for a month! Ever since we got back home, he keeps saying he misses his new friends.
Ravi Sheshadhri from Ahmedabad, Gujarat
I came to know about the conference from Dola Dasgupta. It was the first organised effort in this direction, is what I felt. We were expecting to meet other homeschoolers and hence happy that we were able to do so at IHC. What I found most enriching was the simplicity of the organisers. In the next conference I expect a more organised schedule, more experience sharing by homeschoolers, and presentation of case studies. My twins Mauj and Masti liked being with other homeschooled children at the IHC. We as a family would like interaction with other families which is more planned and deliberate.
Anja-Daniel Kalinka from Germany
I was invited to the conference by Hema Bharadwaj through the Indian Homeschoolers.ning.com website. I was inspired to attend the IHC because of the interesting and enriching conversations on the NING group and the Swashikshan Website.
I was to meet other people who trust in the ability of their children to learn and discover the world in their own pace and direction. And my expectations were more than met! I am very grateful and happy to spend these 4 days with all these beautiful people. The many life stories shared really encouraged me on my path. It was enriching to be in the company of so many open minded and open hearted human beings, the warmth, friendliness and community spirit especially amongst the children. I was emotionally touched by the small group of mothers including me who shared our life stories in the adoptive parents group.
In the next conference I would like to see myself getting more involved and explore more aspects of peaceful parenting through sharing with and letting me be inspired by other parents and children. My daughter, Leyla was very happy meeting so many girls in her age group. She said that she enjoyed every minute and that she definitely would like to perform at the next stage night. My sons Lada and Bada didn’t really want to leave Khandala and asked in the car when we will go back. When my children get a little bit bigger, they will get more involved with the other kids and I will hopefully get more time to attend the sessions
I want to thank everybody who made this wonderful conference possible, deeply from my heart and I wish there will be many following in the next decades….!
Balamurugan R. from Pune, Maharashtra
I came to know about IHC from the NING website. I came to the conference to meet other homeschoolers and to get a lot of group photographs to show-off to my families and relatives (see how big the group is : ) ) I wanted to meet other people, knowing about the challenges faced by them. Most of my expectations were met but I could not perhaps connect with all the participants.
I found it enriching to listen to the life stories of people, so different, so interesting, the passion with which they go about their learning journeys. It set me thinking on what better I could do in my learning journey and not about defending and explaining about what I am currently doing.
I very much liked the ‘stage night’, the almost chaotic and unplanned sequence. I hope it remains the same in the next year too i.e. not organised like a school event.
My daughter was very happy. We had to literally drag her while leaving the conference. I think she enjoyed being with other like-minded kids and adults who really know how to interact with kids.
Charlotte Whitby-Coles from Panchgani, Maharashtra
I came to know about IHC through NING and Pune Homeschoolers. I attended the conference as I was inspired to meet other homeschoolers, develop friendships and share with a community on the same path. And my expectations were met adequately.
It was enriching for me to see others being with their kids, like I try to be with mine. I liked interacting with homeschooled kids and watching and observing them with others. It was a relief to know that I wasn’t being judged.
I was emotionally touched by the sharing circle on the last day. The reaction of my husband, Amin to some of the sessions he attended and the emotional effect of his experiences and his sharing of them was very emotional for me. I was really touched by seeing a Dad dance carefree with his son. I was pleased to watch my kids develop such a deep bond with their friends. I felt inspired by seeing the dedication with which those in the organising team worked.
I hope to see it open up a bit to others who could facilitate sessions for kids and possibly for adults, which could affect or enhance our journey as homeschooling families. Having said that, I also enjoyed the fairly close feeling that the conference had, which I think was possible as it was kept quite tight. Facilitators could be used from outside if that is all they are used for, to come, do a session and leave.
My children Summer and Sky, loved jumping along all the beds in the room and they loved Raghu, Zoya, Ishaan and Gourika and they want to play ‘snap’…..’bus’!
The conference fulfilled all my expectations and so much more than we as a family could have imagined. It was a magical four days…what dreams are made of!
Yugandhar S. from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
I came to know about the IHC from the Swashikshan google group. I was dying to meet people who had similar thought processes as mine and who in a way inspired me to take a daring decision to homeschool my children. Moreover, I wanted my wife to understand, what I was trying to convey all along about the thing called ‘homeschooling’.
I was not expecting anything but just wanted to meet people who shared a common vision about children and learning. I enjoyed the conference very much. At the same time, after the conference was over, I was thinking how I missed out meeting some people and attending some events at the conference. We were busy for all the five days, but so much could not be done. I wonder if it is the same feeling for many. Keeping expectations aside, I met a great bunch of people who are hell bent to help!!!! I will remember this conference for the rest of my life and those happy faces will linger in my mind for a very long time to come.
What I found most enriching were the people! More than the events and the activities, the conference came alive with all those lovely families who dared to take a different path because they believed in themselves and their children. Just interacting with such a diverse set of people was very enriching. As I normally talk less, I was benefited by listening to those lovely and inspiring stories.
For me everything from breakfast to bedtime was emotional. Those lovely and confident faces of children who were being nurtured in freedom gave me that loving feeling. Those beautiful smiles on people’s faces gave me great strength and conviction.
In the next conference I would like more time. The event can be organised in such a way that we may not miss out on many events. Probably, the next event is going to be much bigger with more newcomers. So more free time for interactions with others is what I expect. But the spirit of the conference was lovely. No force (this is not a school. Is this? Eh!!) on anyone. Just do as you like. That free spirit was written all over and I want it in the next conference too. We should invite more homeschoolers/Unschoolers who are in the woods, who do not know that such conferences are happening.
My children enjoyed tremendously. This was one of the best gatherings I have attended in my life till date. Our entire family went back with a sense of love and happiness. We made some good friends, thanks to the Homeschooling movement in India. And finally, may God bless everyone who made this a reality.
Priya Desikan from Chennai, Tamil Nadu
It being the first ever homeschoolers conference in India – I wanted to be a part of that historic moment! The fact that so many people from all over India perhaps were going to come together for 5 days, made me want to make most of this opportunity to see all my online friends in flesh and blood and come to life!
I was not expecting much – just wanted to be with everyone and go with the flow…have fun and get to know more people and have real, deep conversations…..and make friends in the community for myself, my husband and my child.
All my expectations were more than met! Although I did not get to attend many sessions that I would have loved to, I was not really sad, because I have so many little pockets-full of memories with little babies, young kids, new homeschoolers and other homeschoolers / unschoolers that I will cherish for a long time to come! We made loads of friends, shared tears, laughed, sang, played games and talked our hearts out most times….
Here is what I wrote in the Ati Kya Khandala blog before the conference: “I have started dreaming now……of all the “Hi’s” filled with excitement and joy….hugs and feeling overwhelmed….kids meeting and playing……prancing and screaming all around…tender moments….tearful moments…funny moments….happy moments…each one finding his own little space bubble amidst the others….lots of chatting, discussing, bustling, walking, sitting quietly, watching, listening to each other, arguing, dancing, singing around the bonfire with the heavens witnessing this historic event….and very soon, I know….my dream is going to come true! Wow!”
And my dream did come true! We did all of these and more!
Everything about it was enriching for me. Just being with my tribe and doing nothing was also very enriching, because I finally found another space besides home, where I could be myself and do what I wanted to do, without anyone judging or questioning us.
The closed group unschooling session was also very enriching as I found a space where I could share very deeply what I felt, with a very understanding and inspiring group.
The kids – of all ages, shapes and sizes were what enriched this experience the most for me, as I have so many fond, touching, joyous moments of watching them, being with them and playing with them….that made me forget everything else including myself! It was great to see them get along so beautifully with minimal supervision and share their talents with everyone else so fearlessly!
Another thing that was very enriching for me, was that in spite of all our differences in our individual homeschooling / unschooling journeys, we stood together, participated and carried this off with happiness and unconditional love.
All the moments described above touched me emotionally. Besides that, the closing circle with passing the stick around and sharing, touched me the most. All of us singing around the bonfire and watching the kids’ show were also very touching.
I would like to have more small group sessions perhaps with more focused sharing and discussion – I felt that in a large group, many a time, we spent a lot of time in just introductions and did not have time to get everyone’s opinions/thoughts and close the discussions in any way. I wish we could have more unstructured time to just chat and bond, which I hardly found time for this time…..sometimes it felt like there were too many things happening and at times (like the rest period in the afternoon), there was nothing to do.
I also feel that we could have a small group session perhaps on things like – what all of us want from Swashikshan, discuss it over a day or two in smaller groups, and then one person from each group presents it to the rest on the last day perhaps, after which we could brainstorm and decide on things….like areas for volunteers, etc.
My son Raghav loved it and made friends in his own way – from babies to kids his age to older kids….with ease. He did not want to come back to Chennai! But he did not like the food at St. Mary’s at all.
A few more small-group, closed sessions would have helped me open out and share more deeply. I would like better arrangements for food, especially for children, which would have perhaps allowed us to spend more time with everyone.
Above everything else, I felt a great expanse of space….where I could breathe freely…by being myself at all times.
Roopa Kline from Pune
Keith and I felt privileged to be a part of the first ever India Homeschooling Conference. The atmosphere was beautiful – brave parents, eager to provide the best for their children no matter how different their choices may look to others, mingling and sharing from their hearts. As an American expat, I don’t normally think “brave” when I think of homeschooling; it is common and widely accepted in the US. Homeschooling is still very new here, though, and I want to stand and cheer when I think of the many courageous parents I met marching along this novel path, knowing they are paving the way for thousands in India to follow.
During the initial planning stage, Keith offered to lead some active games for little ones, thinking their parents could then be freed up a bit for conversation or sessions. Instead the game time ended up being part of a larger melee, with adults and children all playing together in the open field. We were dusty and hot, but enjoyed the running around and goofy fun that ensues whenever you have kids in a large open space!
On Sunday we led a session called “The Love Life of a Thriving Family.” The essence came from two books: How to Really Love Your Child, by Ross Campbell, and The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. As we spelled out what we see as a major goal in parenting – helping our children feel unconditionally loved – a lively and honest conversation followed. We discussed the various ways individuals give and receive love, and how our differences in this area can sometimes cause misunderstandings. We also looked at the definition of love found in the Bible: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13) We were in a cozy little dorm room, about 25-30 of us, with most sitting cross-legged on beds. Frank comments and heart-searching questions were asked and discussed. It was a memorable time of laughing and connecting over our shared desire to ensure our children feel as loved as they are.
We left the conference with a bit of regret that other obligations kept us from staying on the premises with our kids; maybe next time. I met many I would love to spend more time with, and I have been thinking ever since of ways to make the larger Indian homeschooling community a more regular part of our life! Thanks once again to the hardworking team that made this event such a success. Your months of thoughtful planning were evident throughout the weekend, and it was undeniably a fabulous first for India.
The first Indian Homeschoolers’ Conference saw a confluence of diverse individuals and families following diverse paths of learning. It was way beyond our expectations, just the way it turned out finally. And all were more than satisfied. It also laid the ground work and enthusiasm for the next conference.
With each next conference I see and visualize more enrichment and adventure. I see the future conferences taking a life form of its own as a creature that wants to thrive. And we as supporters and organizers surrender to this creature that will take our brave hearts to unimaginable heights and unfathomable depths with time to come.
Looking forward to seeing all next time again and would like to conclude with the lovely poem my dear friend and fellow unschooling mum wrote about her feelings.
My Space Bubble – by Priya Desikan
From the comfort
of my little
sounds of the world
muffled to a drone;
I look at the world
through sheer walls,
as I float free
on the wind
that carries me,
I haven’t seen,
with rainbow hues,
in the sunlight
my world too,
and in that expanse
of a new-found light
and unfettered love,
my bubble popped;
my world grew!