(by Rhea Rego)
As the gentle morning sun rises heralding a new day, it warmly embraces the Learning Center, the stoic white hybrid mud-cement building that cordially welcomes everyone to The Madman’s Farm. It has been two weeks since its shutters were drawn open and a sea of curious children streamed in, filling the room with laughter and mirth.
Initially, children weren’t quite sure what to make of the place. School to them is a place where they are made to sit behind a desk for six to eight hours, maintain silence, listen to the teacher, recite like parrots, and write down whatever is written on the board, regardless of whether they understand the content. The genial environment of the learning centre is alien to them. No being scolded or beaten? No stress or competitiveness? No bullying, failure, or rejection? Learning through music? Dance? Games? Outdoor activities? Could it possibly be… that learning can actually be… enjoyable?
Sadhna Vidyasthali is an early childhood alternative learning space at the farm that caters to children from three nearby villages between the ages of 4 and 13 years old. The entire endeavour is one sincere attempt to explore whether children learn better in an environment of love, care, and respect. Academic learning is secondary here. The focus is on providing a healthy, happy childhood. We use fun and games to explore experiential learning, relationship building, and imbibing values. According to our team member Twinkle, at the core of this experiment is the question: Can we create a learning space where children learn more by being nurtured with love rather than disciplined with fear?
For a long time, the burning question of “How do I make the world a better place?” lived in Shashi’s mind, rent free. After giving it much thought, he realised that it all boils down to two things: Children and Nature. If we nourish children and plants, they both have power to nourish the rest of the world. While keeping the alternate education philosophies of Gandhi, Warldof, Montessori,Jiddu Krishnamurti and in mind, the aim of this experiment is not to align with one particular philosophy but to start from scratch with the inquiries into the “what, how, and why” of early childhood intervention.
The time, effort, and courage required to start something from scratch without following a blueprint created by someone else are immense. It’s easy to just Google lesson plans or watch YouTube videos on what to teach. But how can we bring ourselves and our ideas to the space as authentically and creatively as possible?
A lot of well intentioned social initiatives have often ended up harming instead of helping. Thus, the thought of conducting a learning experiment on children, not creating a positive impact on the lives of students or, worse, impeding their future in such a way that they neither fit in at the village nor in the city are valid fears that grip both our learning facilitators. However, after multiple requests from the community and years of pondering, Shashi finally decided to give it one genuine, sincere attempt.
It has been a roller coaster of an experience for Shashi and Twinkle. Every day brings a fresh palette of chaos that splatters the four walls of the learning center. Since both facilitators are products of the mainstream educational system, their conditioning occasionally takes over while dealing with the children, and they have to be careful to make conscious decisions out of love. New questions arise like su babul trees. How do we make sure these children are academically on par with their peers in traditional schools? How do we fit all this into just two hours? How do we deal with parental expectations?
Their guiding light through these uncertain times is their pure intention. Sometimes the only way to navigate uncharted territory is to keep in mind that you only want what is best for the child. They speak to mentors and take feedback from people who have started similar endeavours. They maintain their sanity through these stressful, uncertain times by making time for self-care through meditation, running, journaling, dancing, and other things that give their souls joy.
And so, every morning, our two warriors prepare to battle their fears with love. Despite the dark clouds of worry that often crop up in their minds, they arrive with full gusto to illuminate the space with diyas and their dazzling smiles. The gentle sound of bhajans floats through the air, dissolving any negative energy. Cloaked in the warm, golden light of the morning sun, our dedicated facilitators Shashi and Twinkle prepare for another day of love, learning, and play.