Alternative schooling options in Pune

Discussions pertaining to Rumi’s schooling have begun at home with renewed vigor. We had successfully warded off persistent, nagging questions from my Mum saying that we would send her off to school when she turned three but her third birthday is around the corner and we are still exploring our options. My Mum, who is a pre-school teacher, is haunted by nightmares that Rumi will not get admission anywhere because she witnesses the nerve-wracking admission process year after year, where parents stand in serpentine queues and are willing to move mountains just to get a form for a particular school. She begs, cajoles and threatens us every time and manages to scare me into checking out a few websites and making a few calls but the husband remains firm and unwavering in his belief that we are doing right by her by keeping her home with us, till we find a school that really appeals to our idea of education, growth and development (this includes lots of unstructured free play, dabbling in creative pursuits, learning about sustainability, nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit, the list goes on and on).

In our hunt for a school that does not put Rumi in the rat race for marks and grades, we found the following schools. If you are looking for an education system that is moving away from the standard unit tests and 45-minute 10 period days, you might want to consider these.

1. Swadhaa

We really loved Swadhaa, a school based on the Steiner philosophy. I have written about the school in detail in an earlier post and we were all set to send Rumi this year onwards. As you can see in the pictures above, she really had a blast there and did not want to come home! However, the one thing that kept us from immediately taking admission was the current school campus, which is in the basement of the Orange county building on Pashan-Sus road. While the teachers and staff do a wonderful job as regards safety, I did not feel comfortable with the fact that so many people (strangers on the road, people looking out of their balconies) could watch our child at play for hours on end if they so wish to.

Another concern the husband has is about the whole Steiner philosophy of Anthroposophy. He feels it tends to become cult-like and he does not agree with it in all its extremes. For instance, the Steiner philosophy abhors all use of electronics and electronic media for children, which is something that Abhi is not a 100% OK with.

The school has been on the lookout for a campus but they intend to continue pre-school in their current premises. We might consider it from the 1st grade onwards if the school shifts by the time the she turns six.

Since we do not yet have Waldorf high schools in India, Swadha students will appear for the IGCSE board exam.

Check out the school website:

http://swadhaawaldorfschool.org/

Read more about the Steiner / Waldorf philosophy:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education

I recently found out about another school based on the Steiner philosophy called Red Hill: The Earth school, also in Baner. You can take a look at their website here:

http://redhilltheearthschool.com/

 

2. Gram Mangal (Learning Homes)

The biggest advantage for us with this school is the location, just a stone’s throw away from where we live! The school’s philosophy is that the learning environment should be as comfortable as our own homes, hence the name. Children work on various projects that go on for about a month, as opposed to the subject-based approach. This is a Marathi medium school; I am a little concerned as to how that will shape up for us as a family, since my Marathi is not quite there in terms of writing and grammar. We are planning to start Rumi in this school from June and let her complete at least her pre-school years here.

The website:

http://grammangal.org/

 

3. DLRC (DriveChange Learning & Resource Centre)

I really love how they call it a Learning Centre as opposed to a school. We found out about DLRC from a colleague and our conversation with one of the founders as well as their website, seems to be ticking all the right boxes for us (learning with nature, sustainability). I receive their newsletter week after week and I always love how the kids are coming together to build their classrooms and community. There is a lot of talk of polishing wood, stitching, constructing, gardening (I LOVES it already!) Saturdays is when they have an open house but we are yet to visit. They take admissions 6 up so we will probably send Rumi here after her pre-school years.

Do take a look at the website!

http://www.dlrc.in/

 

4. Aksharnandan

This school has been the torch-bearer for an alternative style of education for many years now. From what I hear, admission is also quite difficult with a very few open seats every year. However, off late, we have heard mixed reviews about the school with some parents telling us that the standards seem to be slipping a little and that things tend to be a little to slack and easy-going. I think, this will always going to be the flip side of picking an alternative school though. Aksharnandan is also entirely Marathi Medium. It also follows the SSC board of education, which is not my favorite as far as curriculums go.

Here is the website:

http://aksharnandanschool.org/

If you know of any other such schools, please write in, I would love to add them to the list!

For Aai

For Aai

I have not been able to write for a while now, owing to upheavals on the family front but i thought i would share these sketches that i found yesterday, made by the husband for his mother (Aai). I found them really heartwarming and sweet and loved how he has included his favorite memories with Aai: mango milkshake, a thermos of hot tea, her arm covered with his bites, music lessons, and always finding her waving in the window whenever he left for school.
Here it is:

On minimalistic parenting: How less can be more for your child

Last week, my daughter threw the biggest temper tantrum ever, because her father bought home the wrong lollipop. Not ‘no lollipop’, but the wrong color. No matter how tired the husband is, he always makes time to stop on the way home and pick up a ‘treat’ for our daughter. This has become a little game: when Rumi hears his key in the lock, she shuts her eyes and puts out her hand and giggles with delightful joy and anticipation and he hands over a treat. There is no reason to buy her a treat every day. There is nothing that she needs to be rewarded for. Yesterday, when she threw herself on the floor and screamed till she turned blue because the lollipop was red-and-yellow instead of orange-and-green, I started thinking about how she does not even perceive these lollipops as treats, but as something to be taken for granted whenever her Baba comes home.

We as parents are obsessed with making sure our child gets ‘everything’. Whenever our daughter expresses a wish, a desire or even a mild interest in anything, we go out of the way and occasionally out of our budget to make sure she gets it. On the days that we do put our foot down, she knows that her adoring grandparents will fall for her face and voice, and give her what she wants.

Since when did we become so consumerist? I remember my childhood, where I had to ‘earn’ every single Enid Blyton through good grades, chores done well, or good behavior. Whenever my Mum felt that I deserved one, she would give me a hundred-rupee note and I would walk down to the nearest bookstore on my own. I would spend hours in choosing the book because I knew that the next opportunity would probably come months later. I remember the exquisite agony of waiting for a title I badly wanted and the quivering joy when the book finally made it into my hands.

My daughter needs to wait for hardly a week before her parcel of goodies arrives. Online shopping has made it possible to order a toy as soon as we see the advertisement for it. There is hardly anything that we can’t immediately get. But is all this necessary for our children and their growth and development? The clever marketing gimmicks that are employed, sure make us think so. We are led to believe that a particular toy is absolutely essential for hand-eye coordination, for brain development and so on. And because these strategies play on our absolute worst fear of “Am I inadequate / not doing enough as a parent?” we fall for them and end up buying more so that our children may never lag behind in this ruthless, competitive world.

Except that you sometimes see your child happily playing with a spoon and bowl from your kitchen and ignoring that high quality ceramic tea-set “especially designed” for role-plays. Or talking to a block and pretending it is her little baby and not even throwing a glance at the dozen dolls in the cupboard. Or sifting her hand through the bowl of dried kidney beans instead of playing with her abacus.  Children are essentially creative and have vast imaginations. A little actually goes a long way for hours of blissful play.

What we do when we fill their rooms and cupboards with all the latest toys and gadgets is create stressful and cluttered environments for them. They need room and space and air for their bodies and minds to develop. A new toy is convenient because it distracts our child for a while and we can fall back on the sofa in exhaustion and check our phones. But in the long-term, it is teaching our child nothing about the value of patience, of working hard to earn and deserve something. If she gets everything she asks for, she does not learn to cherish and take care of the things she has. She can throw her blocks around and break her new train knowing that there will always be more. Is this what I want for her?

Instead, what if we focus on replacing new purchases with time and memories? We decided to try that. Her father did bring home something every day, but instead of sweet treats, he got something we could all do such as a ball of clay or glitter and wool. While I would cook, they would sit cross-legged on the floor and make a painting or collage. Sometimes he bought some veggies and fruits and Rumi helped us cook dinner by tossing the salad or mixing the cucumber and the yoghurt. In the last week, she has not seemed to need any noisy toy or App at all. Our home has been peaceful with the TV switched off and our phones away. And it really seems to be doing our daughter good.

The next time you click on your phone App to shop or feel like your child needs the latest toy on the market, remember that all your child needs is your time and attention. As for brain development, a few household items such as spoons and dried beans are more than enough to do the trick.

(A version of this post first appeared on Kidsstoppress on 09.04.2017)