Advay

Advay 5yrs old, goes around and picks to do what he likes to do. He can surprise you with his presentation on his interest map or what is electrical fire or how to file a coconut shell. He is wind, flow when and wherever he wants to, spend his time playing and playing at Aarohi. He is clear what he wants to do or do not want to do. He is been busy with filing coconut shells for making models. Plays around, interact with people, chooses what he wants to do and preserves the genie inside him.

Nandini, mother of Advay who accompanies him to the campus, sharing - Hi there! This is Nandini, mother of Advay and a resident parent at Aarohi. My husband (Prashanth) & I got married in 2008. I worked at SAP Labs until 2011 and my husband runs a software consulting business. We attended atleast two, if not more, study retreats at KFI (Valley School) between 2009 and 2010. It was during our participation in those retreats and reading Krishnamurti that a giant question mark about the idea of education came up for us. But we didn't start actively inquiring into education ourselves, until about a year later.

I quit my job to work as a full-time mom when our son was born in 2011. Since his birth, we have felt many times the natural inclination to question a lot of assumptions about life and living. When Advay was about 2 years old, our search for schools started. Once again, we really began to look at "What exactly is education?” It was at that time we stumbled upon Genie Kids and visited the school in Indiranagar.

Through the process of searching for schools, we began to wonder if education was only about gathering knowledge from a fixed set of pre-picked subjects and from the set of life experiences a school would offer. While reflecting on our own education we saw that a lot of the subjects and experiences from our school made little impact in preparing us for the challenges we were facing in our lives. One of the most critical challenges we saw in our lives was not knowing how to deal with the question: "what will our life be about, if someone is not setting the agenda for us?"

Listening to Ratnesh talk at Genie Kids, we started to feel that a comprehensive and profound exploration of freedom and responsibility was perhaps THE most fundamental subject. Not just for kids, but for us adults also.

Between 2012 and 2015, I read a lot of books, articles and watched YouTube videos about learning methodologies, home schooling culture and alternative education systems in different parts of the world. Around the same time we chanced upon meeting Genie Kids and Ratnesh in Indiranagar. We loved the opportunity of education we saw for our son at Genie Kids. We were very eager to enroll Advay at Genie Kids in 2014. However, we couldn't because our house was very far away, 15kms away! In fact Ratnesh himself advised us against choosing Genie Kids in 2014, when we first met him.

We enrolled Advay to a Montessori school nearby. It was in our opinion the best of the 15 odd schools we had visited and researched. Two years at that Montessori school got us convinced that we can’t fall back to reasons like distance and workability anymore. We had to take radical steps to claim the education approach of our choice. Throughout the 2 years that Advay went to the Montessori School near our house, more so in the second year, we were beginning to discover how the style adopted in his school was not gelling with our notion of education.

We started to explore once again. We visited a lot of alternative education schools in Bangalore. Around the same time, I enrolled myself to the TTT program led by Ratnesh. I personally walked away with a lot of value. My husband and I would spend time talking about all that I learned and discovered in TTT. We started to see a new direction in our exploration of education.

Our friends, Srilakshmi and Kowshik were also actively exploring schools, methodologies and opportunities for their daughter Avani. We all would meet up every once in a while to "exchange notes". During one of our meetups, we talked about Aarohi and TTT and decided to visit OCampus once. We visited the campus for the first time in Jan 2016. We absolutely fell in love with the campus and everything we saw. During our visit we got a chance to speak with Ratnesh and also Pineapple (nickname for Sunita, a parent at Aarohi). We were left with more questions than answers, but in a very good way. We drove back with a feeling that in Aarohi, we have a better environment and structure to stay with the questions and discover the answers for ourselves.

Srilakshmi, Avani, Advay and I joined the 2016 Summer Camp at Aarohi. We got a real and live experience of the life at Aarohi. There were about 20 kids at the summer camp during the week we stayed there. We saw that most kids were 8 years or older, as opposed to Avani and Advay who were only 5 years old. Through the activities and practices in Aarohi we saw a lot of insights, value and opportunities. It was very exciting. And it was very scary. Personally I felt exhausted and overwhelmed during that one week. However, it was not a disempowering experience. It was in fact more empowering than a lot of other things I had done up until that point.

Srilakshmi and I did, however, leave the summer camp with a conclusion that Aarohi was not yet for our kids, especially because they were only 5 years old. We should perhaps enroll them to Aarohi when they are atleast 8 years old. But we kept meeting each other and revisiting the opportunity of Aarohi. Meanwhile, Kowshik also completed TTT. At the end of which, we were all very clear that beg-borrow-steal we are joining Aarohi.

In the end we did not have to work really hard to join Aarohi. The hard part was being at Aarohi every other week and getting used to the lifestyle and learning experiences. Since our kids were only 5 years old, we opted to have atleast one parent be at Aarohi as a resident member of the community during the weeks that our kids are there.

Life at Aarohi can be, at times, a stark contrast to what we are used to back home. It’s not easy. It is challenging, very challenging. But we signed up for that challenge. Reminding ourselves that we signed up for it doesn't always make it anymore easy to deal with the life at Aarohi. Obviously there are aspects of living at Aarohi that I don’t personally like. But the value I am getting out of living there far exceeds the minor irritants I face. Being around Aditi, Ratnesh and Leela – I feel that we are in good hands.

The decide-do-reflect culture at Aarohi is very empowering. Every morning we all decide what our day is going to be like. We choose our activities for the day, which would obviously also include those that are required to manage and maintain the campus. We spend the rest of the day doing what we planned. Each evening, we spend time reflecting on our day. Sometimes through thought club, sometimes meeting with our mentors and so on.

As a parent, I constantly experience being challenged. I am invited to question a lot of my beliefs, judgments and opinions about education, children, community living and the idea of freedom & responsibility. It sometimes comes across as threatening, sometimes as an opportunity and sometimes as a revelation. It’s a mixed bag of feelings really. It doesn’t feel like privileged or “nice” treatment at Aarohi. I feel drawn to Aarohi every fortnight, more because of the curiosity of what I stand to discover than anything else.

My son has now crafted his interest map - a mind map of things he wants to explore. He is treated as a person who has valid opinions, aspirations, self-directed with a mindset for exploration rather than as a kiddo who needs to be told what to do or be monitored, taught, moulded and shaped into something. When he was going to Montessori school, he would constantly have this question at home: “mama, what should I do?” He would constantly experience boredom at home. Now, almost always, he has something to do.

Recently, I overheard him telling one of his friends near home who was helping another younger kid with coloring; that we should let everybody discover skills (even coloring) and not necessarily teach them. I am very moved to know that my 5-year-old son has discovered "through experience"; that skills can be self-learned and need not always be "taught". There are several more Satori moments like this; I can go on and on.

Four months into Aarohi, we are at a place where we have just begun to get acquainted with the lifestyle and discover something.

When we joined Aarohi, we had questions like:

  • Can a campus teach?
  • Can my son learn by himself without help?
  • Can this approach to education really work?
  • Can he learn math, science and language without formal classes?

Now, we have other questions like:

  • Have I underestimated my son? Because he seems to already have a compass for exploration.
  • My son wants to learn x-y-z, how can I allow him to explore them?
  • What is our role as parents?
  • My son speaks better English, Kannada and has begun to speak a little bit in Hindi also, even though there are no formal classes. Could it be that he can also pick up science and math in the backdrop of life experiences that he encounters within and outside the campus? Is he picking them up already?
  • At home, he often constructs activities for himself in addition to enthusiastically participate in learning activities that I plan. Has leaving him free to explore actually left him empowered to construct his learning experiences?
  • Sometimes at home, he offers to help me with gardening, cleaning and cooking. And he does a good job at that. What else can he do?
  • How will he join the "mainstream" in the future?
  • What kind of career choices will he have?
  • What kind of career will he want to explore?
  • Am I thinking too far ahead?

And off late, the other question that is beginning to show up for us is:what does it take for us to be parent of a child who values freedom and responsibility?

I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. The good news is: I don’t have to know answers. I can just be with them - while continuing to explore.