Schooling update: choosing right and wise as R transitions to a ‘big school’

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My posts on schooling, especially alternative schooling are the most popular and re-read ones on this blog so I thought I would write a little bit more on what we intend to do for Rumi’s schooling over the next couple of years.

I want to start off by talking a little about ‘the right school’; something that is on the top of most parents of preschoolers’ minds that I speak with. My single piece of wise advice here is: there is no such thing as the best school. So the right school is simply one that fits in with your lifestyle and echoes your parenting / family values to the greatest extent possible so that the child is not confused or torn between having to follow two diametrically opposite ways of living as he / she grows up. For instance, growing up, it was important for my family, as I’m sure for many other families of that time, that the children speak excellent fluent English. Somehow the association between being ‘posh’ or ‘cultured’ and speaking ‘faad-faad’ (super-fast) in English was very strong. So convent schools were looked upon as a notch above the rest.  At home, however, we never spoke any English, nor did we watch or hear anything in English that would help us hone our language. The music and T.V we were exposed to was mostly Hindi (remember Swat Kats on Cartoon Network in Hindi with Chhota Billa, Bada Billa?) and Bollywood. As a result, I vividly remember the struggle to understand my teachers and to respond appropriately! I remember my singing teacher saying “stop grinning’ to me when I was eight; I just froze with this foolish smile because I didn’t know what grinning was!

This mismatch was evident when my Mum attended a PTA and I actually watched some teachers being a little condescending or treating her differently than some other parents. I don’t think kids should have to experience any kind of embarrassment or shame for where they come from, especially not for speaking a certain language a certain way.

So what matters to you as a parent? Would you like a school with an infrastructure in place, with access to labs, swimming and music lessons so that your child is exposed to different things under one roof? Have you noticed that your child is quiet and would find his voice better in a place with fewer classmates? Do you need a school that is close to where you live so that you save on valuable time and energy? Do you want your child to attend a school with friends he or she has had since toddler-hood? Would you be OK for your child to study in a regional language / his mother tongue?

Ultimately, I think the choice of school matters as school spans over a decade of a child’s life. On the other hand it does not matter more than the parenting and all the things you do apart from school.

For Rumi, we definitely wanted a school that would be more flexible and easy-going in terms of what we deem ‘importance to external factors’ such as hair worn a certain way,  sitting in class a certain way and so on. We are willing to be lax on the discipline front but we do not want what we call her life-spirit to be quenched because of a language barrier or because she does not do something exactly as it is prescribed by an authority. We want freedom in the way she chooses to learn, as long as the end goal of understanding a certain topic is achieved. I do not foresee doing any school project for her or her having to sit every evening with a pile of homework that she somehow manages to finish before bedtime.

I want her to be pushed and challenged and discover what she loves to do and get enough time to do it. I want her to not be intimated by any school figure such that her questions are silenced but feel inspired and cherished by those who teach her.

My last post on schools was written when Rumi started going to Grammangal and we had our eyes set on DLRC The Learning Farm from the first grade onwards.

Grammangal has been a good experience for us. The best thing for R was getting over her squeamishness for anything muddy and grubby; she made seed bombs and shadu clay Ganpati idols and now has a great tolerance for mud puddles and tiny creepy-crawlies. She was free to be her own playful, social self, often going into the staff room and having a chat with the teachers if she got bored of her class activity. I love how the staff room, office space etc. are easily accessible to the littlest of kids.

The school also took great efforts in culturally immersive programs such as a Palkhi procession on Ashadhi Ekadashi. There is some scope for improvement, especially in older grades where freedom does not guarantee an outcome and a sense of lethargy may set in. Also, as the kids move up to higher grades, specialized knowledge on part of the teachers becomes important and their love and passion for a subject plays an important role.

But I was very happy with the Balwadi or preschool section, with its cooking day, and loving and nurturing Tais.

Rumi would ideally be looking at starting first grade in June although she would be amongst the youngest kids in her class. With this in mind, we attended an open house at DLRC.

The school has grown by leaps and bounds since we last visited with sustainably-built  classrooms and a wonderful library shaped like a huge turtle, signifying knowledge and wisdom. One of the co-founders took us on a tour and answered all our questions. At DLRC, they combine two grades into one classroom. So first and second grade (P1 and P2) are together as are P3 and P4 and so on. What I certainly would have liked at the open house is for the P1 and P2 facilitators to be present so that we could talk to the people who are actually going to be teaching our kids. DLRC follows the IGCSE (Cambridge) curriculum but uses it as a guideline rather than a strict enforcement of what is done in class every day. There is a weekly trek to the nearby hills and daily tinkering in the Toy Lab.

The space is beautiful and old-worldly and green where every effort has been taken to use sustainable upcycled material and folk-art.

Our dilemma then was whether R is ready for first grade now or whether we should wait for her to turn 7, as suggested by Pavan, one of the co-founders of DLRC. He spoke to us a lot about how the ‘readiness’ of the child plays a big part in their whole learning process. My husband who is ever ready to tread on crazy, offbeat paths leaped at this opportunity to keep Rumi home for a year before DLRC. His own school experience has taught him a lot about what being the youngest in the class does to overall confidence and learning ability and he is completely on board with R starting grade one as one of the older kids among her peers.

I found myself a little taken aback at this new development. In spite of my best efforts I am very conventional and love to follow prescribed rules and norms. One year of being at home doesn’t sit well with me. I know that I will enjoy it for sure, but I am concerned with the social pressure of having a child ‘repeat a year’. When I voiced the ‘repeat a year stigma’ fear to my husband he laughed incredulously and said “You can’t be serious Allu!”

While these conversations were on in full swing at home, I got a call from DLRC saying they are planning to have a P0 transition grade for kids aged 5.5 to 6.5 who come from preschool and are directly thrown into the long hours and studying of grade 1. This grade would have lesser hours, a little more play; giving tots time to adjust and find their bearings.

Doesn’t that sound perfect? I love that the size and scope of a smaller schools allows for this kind of flexibility to shift and adjust for the maximum benefit of everybody involved. I also love that I can call Pavan with doubts and feedback and that the school does its best to accommodate them. Open communication between parents and teachers was really missing in our days.

DLRC is more expensive than a few other schools we looked at so that is also a point of consideration for us. However, even here we have been assured that they are mindful of different income brackets and work out a payment plan together so I am very pleased on that front too.

So now we are waiting for Rumi to attend a demo day at the school and decide where she fits in grade-wise. If the school wishes for her to attend in 2021, I am actually looking forward to planning a fun learning experience at home next year. I will write an update as soon as we know more. In the meantime I would love to hear your thoughts. How did you choose a school for your kid? Are you happy with it? Please do write in, it is always super-helpful for parents like us to connect with other parents and learn from their thoughts and experiences!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Annika says:

    Dear Alisha,
    I am very impressed that in a country where I experienced a school system so much more old-schoolish, authoritarian and front-lecturing (does that word exist?), compared to our schooling system in Germany, that you do have something like alternative schooling systems or free schools now. Even in Germany they are rare but I really love the idea!
    With a 10-month toddler we are far away from having to choose a school but yet I am already wondering if we will find a school of (our) trust and also if we will have the courage to actually choose an alternative schooling.
    As my partner and I both have only experienced the traditional schooling system and are obviously shaped by that with expectations and the idea how things are “supposed to be” and when a child should be able to read/write/calculate stuff etc., sending the child to an alternative school is also a challenge to the parents (e.g. all the arguments and self confidence you need to defend the decision towards the ever critical family // stay convinced by your own decision even in times when its not all going well or as expected).
    Here is a movie that really convinced me to try for a school of trust, to at least let it become a real option:
    https://youtu.be/S3X3FgOd_bU
    This is part 1/3, all three are available on YouTube.
    I really love your thoughts on whatever you think of. Keep it going and thank you for giving that deep insight into your live and family.
    Annika

    Like

    1. Rumi's mommy says:

      Hi Annika!
      Lovely to hear from you, thank you so much for sharing the movie link and writing at such length on your thoughts on schooling. Lots of love to three of you from India xx

      Like

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