We all made this happen - Jaival, Aisha, Arinjay, Tara, Sonali, Sharmila
Thank you Anika, Aayush, Sarah, Sara, Shivansh and Supriya, Surabhi for sharing your time with us for a few days during this month
Experiences, learning and more
We complete one month of the DLRC Extended Experiences After School care program.
I asked an 8-year-old boy who is part of the after-school program, ’Would you like to join the others in the clay work?
Giving me an intense look, he said. “I am thinking.”
After waiting a few minutes, I asked him “Are you done with your thinking?”
He smiled, “I think I want to eat first.”
“Okay, let me know what you would like to do after you finish eating,” I replied.
He watched us while eating his snack, occasionally joining in our conversation, occasionally laughing and making suggestions at the creations of the other children.
As soon as he finished eating and put his snack box away, I asked, “Do you now have something that you would like to do?”
Taking his time (a few minutes) he said, “What makes you think, I am not doing what I want to do? I am already doing what I want to.”
What made me feel that he wasn’t doing what he wanted to? He was sitting with the others, watching his group members make their clay art, was listening to the conversation, adding his bits whenever he felt like contributing. And yet, here I was, asking him what would he want to do, completely disregarding the fact that he was actually doing something.
I smiled sheepishly and didn’t feel the need to say anything. We all continued with our clay activity for sometime before the children moved on to other things that caught their attention.
We had talked about clay work the earlier day and the children were excited about it. This activity was planned by me - an adult facilitator - however the difference was that apart from bringing the clay, old newspapers and a bowl for water - I had nothing planned. The children were excited as they got to do whatever they wanted with the clay. They looked around for tools to smoothen the clay, make holes and give shape to what they were making. While the children made their creations, I made my own creation and so did my support facilitator. We talked about the properties of the clay we were using. We also talked about ‘equinox’ as the day before was 21st March i.e. ‘Vernal equinox’’.
A five year old boy (the youngest in our group), took the penguin I had made and started dismantling it. When I said I was feeling bad that he broke my penguin, he apologised in his sweet voice and said, "Sorry. It’s just clay, you can do it again." I just nodded my head and went quiet. After a few minutes he said, “Different people have different feelings. Can you make a flower for me?” We smiled at each other and moved on with me making a flower for him.
Somewhere in our adult controlled living culture, we tend to forget that children have an awareness about themselves. They know what they want, they are observant about how their behaviour impacts others and they instinctively know how to make up for their errors and move on.
When I initiated the DLRC After School Program, I was clear that I wanted children to experience some time free from adult control. I wanted them to be in charge and lead the program. They would plan their day, execute their plan and reflect on it during the closing circle, said my logical mind.
I started the program with great enthusiasm. I learnt my first lesson on the very first day. After a lot of effort I got the children to sit together for an opening circle. Their heart wasn’t in it but mine was - I had planned it and if it didn’t happen, to my adult mind, my planning would have failed - ‘this self-talk was providing nutrition to my ego’. The children sat for a couple of minutes and ran out to the sandpit area where they were engrossed before I called them in for a circle. I stepped out to observe them. T was engrossed in the monkey bars; J was trying to manoeuvre his monster truck through the sand. A was busy completing the rope obstacle on the bridge. B was busy jumping through the tyres. T called out to me and said, “I had to rub my hands on the sand”. J said, “the monster truck moves slower on sand”. I was about to say 'what a great observation’ when he blurted out, "I know why! I know why! It's because of the sand. I am going to try on other surfaces and he ran to a smoother spot.” I stood watching the children. There was so much learning happening here. Each child engrossed in their own world - not wanting to be disturbed, not wanting to be pulled out. They were experiencing, assimilating their experience, associating with pre-existing knowledge and were making new associations and experiments.
Free learning means to let the experiences unfold for the child. Free learning means being open to having, ‘no plans, no structure…’
My second lesson came a few days later. The children had planned to make sandwiches. As soon as the bread packet was opened, the children took a slice each and started eating it. I was worried - ‘if they just eat the slices, would there be any left for the sandwiches?’ I decided to tell them so. One said, “Plain bread is so good.” After eating their slice they mixed the salad cutting and mayonnaise to apply on the sandwich. They had an idea - they would start a restaurant and serve sandwiches to all. They found they had less slices and so decided to cut the slices into smaller pieces. Everyone set out to do so and made a mess. I resisted with all my strength to intervene. Then another idea was suggested - make sandwiches and then cut them. Soon they made sandwiches and asked my help to cut and with excitement they served to a few people at the campus. They explored, they experimented, they found solutions to their problems. Had I intervened the experience would have been surely different. But the children would not have owned their experience if I had intervened.
Children own their experience when they are free and in charge and their mind isn’t cluttered by adult ideas. When they own their experience, they take on responsibility.
When children enter the campus, they are unplanned and usually clueless about what they want to do. My biggest challenge has been to resist taking over charge. The first 15/20 minutes are usually spent just walking around aimlessly or sitting somewhere doing nothing. My conditioned mind often urges me to bring them together and do an opening circle. However, I have found that this time is crucial as they are acclimatising to the place, soaking in what the environment is offering and inviting them to explore. To break this space and force them into something else is like putting a full stop to everything they are processing in their mind.
When children seem to be doing nothing, they are actually doing a lot of inner work. Their mind processes everything and prepares them to take in more experiences.
Boredom is good. The other day, T kept coming back to me every few minutes stating that she is bored and nothing is interesting. I hugged her saying I understand. I continued my work occasionally glancing at T with a smile. She did test my patience as I was getting frustrated with her boredom too. After continuously bothering me with, “I am bored” words for about half an hour, she stopped and walked away. As I completed my work and closed my laptop, I went out to see what she was doing. She was making sand donuts. She had figured out a way to use just enough water and sand to scoop out the donut. I was in awe of the perfectly shaped donuts.
Accept children in their state of boredom. They will eventually figure out a way out of it and it is rightly said, ‘Creativity is the result of boredom.’
We have a soap nut plant on campus. The other day the children came to me with excitement and shared that they are busy collecting some squishy fruits. I recognised them to be soap nuts. I said, come let's go wash some and see what happens. We went to the wash basin and I took a few in my wet hands and rubbed them with both my palms and voila. There was soap lather. The children were super excited. They all tried the soap nuts and tried to bring out as much lather as possible. A new discovery, a new knowledge. They all had many questions around soap and soap making. Some I had answers for though for many I admitted ignorance. All the kids have been using soap nuts to wash their hands since then and now know which nuts give more lather and which don’t. They have also found out that natural soaps use soap nuts and other soaps use chemicals.
Children are highly curious and get inquisitive about things they are curious about. They use all their senses to know more and develop a sense / meaning.
Conversations have been a huge part of our time together. During these conversations we talk about things that have caught the attention of the children. The other day, A came up to me and said, "See what I can do with my finger." He had bent and twisted his fingers to form what we call mudras in dance. As I engaged in his world of discovering what his palm and fingers could do, I tried copying his mudra and then showed him one of mine and he tried making my mudra. Our conversation moved to finger joints and other joints in our body and other parts of the body. I received so much from A during the conversation. Similarly a paper craft led to a discussion on ribs in our body. None of us, including me, knew how many ribs we have. My support facilitator shared that we have 24 ribs. The children started counting their ribs. Together we decided that we needed to find out when we didn't know. We left the conversation at that. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to get that information. However I am sure someone curious enough will find out and talk about it.
Knowledge derived through such conversations leads to more curiosity and more learning that remains life long. Such conversations and dialogues are crucial in free learning.
We did a lot more during this month and every experience is treasured in my heart. Our visit to the cowshed, our lemonade and bhel making experience, creating an obstacle course, playing board games and reading books, holi celebration, feeding fish at the aquaponic center, planting methi, wheatgrass and mustard seeds and our last day party - each of these activities brought in new knowledge, learning and more meaning in the life of all of us.
The DLRC After School program is curated to value this innate nature of children and facilitate an environment in which they thrive in their being. The choice based, child led program aims at freedom for the child and believes that children need freedom and autonomy to learn and grow.
The core principles of this program:
1. Learning all the time and everywhere - Children are learning all the time through every experience.
2. Freedom - Children need opportunities to experience freedom in making choices and deciding what and how to spend their time. This freedom is important to help the child develop self awareness and build their identity and agency.
3. Child led - The child has the ability to lead their own journey. They have the ability to decide what they want to do, how they want to go about it, how far or how in-depth they want to go.
4. Choice based - Children have complete autonomy in decisions.
5. Mixed Age groups - Children of different age groups will spend their time together. The belief is that both younger and older children learn from each other. Children will not be intentionally segregated according to their age groups.
6. Trusting environment - children thrive when they trust the environment they are in and are assured that they won’t be judged or labelled and are accepted the way they are.
7. The facilitator acknowledges that though they are in charge of the program, they value the above mentioned principles and are in a constant process of review, reflection and transformation.
If you want your child to experience the joys of freedom and be part of a child led, choice based, mixed age group program do connect with me @7350920769 or email - firstname.lastname@example.org to know more.
Writer - Sharmila Govande
Curator of DLRC Extended Experiences