It’s only apt that this first blog post begins with describing the place where it all began.
Since 2012, this terrace atop Govandi Station Municipal School has been the venue of every class at Apni Shala. So what does one see when one enters this haven of a terrace? (Thank god for the grill around this one and the tin roof.)
Typically, you’d see that a few boys and girls have managed to climb up one side of the grill. They’d be on their way up to the ceiling, mostly in an effort to prove (just this one more time) that they can touch it. A few others would be trying their luck on the other side. Rainy season it is you say? In that case, you’d definitely see some brave bandits squat all around the place, and slowly make it from one end of the class to the other; slowly but ecstatically, as they catch flies that dared to set foot (or wing) onto their beloved terrace! And no, they wouldn’t stop at catching. It’s usually, catch, kill, hoard dead ones in one palm, squeak in delight, shove competing friends. Repeat. Person with the maximum number of dead flies is the uncrowned queen or king of it all.
But on any such day, once Amrita didi enters ‘class’, the children start to slowly either jump off the grills, detach from that love-hate relationship with the flies or stop some incessant terrace running and then together, form a big circle. Class begins!
Too fast. There’s one kid who hasn’t got off the grill yet. “Sahil! Yetos ka? Ki mi suru karu?” (Are you joining us, or should I start?) Sahil gets off the grill, proud to be the last one to do so, then half-runs and half-skids his way to the circle. He giggles intermittently, every few seconds, still excited about the grills. He won’t stand still.
But the Apni Shala class is not a place we stand, sit or do anything still! The children spend the next hour executing a mime sequence that they’ve created themselves. Some of them are to hold still poses. Sahil takes his position, one hand in the air, his legs curled up. But not for long. In 5 seconds, he starts smiling and looking around. Then, he gives up, flashes an even broader smile and jumps about the class. He won’t stand still.
Since that day, we’ve travelled many weeks and months and even years and we’re here today. Sahil still won’t stand still. But it doesn’t bother Amrita didi anymore. Here’s why.
Last month, his class participated in a massive social research project called City as Lab, that required them to select and research a social issue relevant to their community, and finally submit a scientifically concluded research paper, written all by themselves. Phew!
For 3 months, Sahil and his research partner Gaurav worked together on that paper. Since Gaurav was meticulous and planned about his work, we thought Sahil, who although in the 7th std. struggles with reading and writing in Marathi, ‘was in good hands’. Alas, even Anukriti didi (their research mentor) had them brainstorm data collection methods and literature, Sahil was busy shaking his leg, waiting to dart right off to some place else, and made it seem like he would rather do ANYTHING else in the world, than analyse why people broke traffic signals (their research topic). Gaurav somehow managed to plan out the data collection process by himself, while Sahil fidgeted, giggled and danced about him, occasionally suggesting a few ideas for the paper! He wouldn’t stand still.
Come data collection day, and Anukriti didi braced herself. It was going to be 4 hours of Gaurav and Sahil roaming the streets in the sun (and rain), interviewing strangers about ‘Traffic Signal violations’. How on earth was she going to manage with Sahil who couldn’t stand still?
Yes, you’re right – we were absolutely wrong. Sahil was the star of the show the next 2 days! He got a kick out of talking to strangers! He loved asking them questions he wanted answers to! In fact, while Gaurav was busy taking notes, Sahil would even try to convince reluctant, shy or indifferent people on the road saying ‘Hey, don’t you want to answer questions that will help improve our society? Don’t you want to do it for a good cause? Come on, just answer 5 questions. That’s all!’ It was lovely to watch his enthusiasm, his spirit to complete the work assigned to him. So what if it meant sweat, tiresomeness and lots and lots of walking? He anyway didn’t like standing still!
And the spectacle continued the next few days. We were finally down to collating our data, finding patterns and writing the paper. While Gaurav did the bits that involved a lot of analytics, Sahil was being the perfect partner to Gaurav. Doing what, you ask? When Gaurav needed a new pencil to replace his broken one, Sahil would magically produce one in a few seconds. When Gaurav needed a ruler to draw that graph on the next page, Sahil had already foreseen that and borrowed one, ready for his partner to use. And when 2 of them had finished writing their paper, Sahil stayed back to help the others. Needless to say, he was all over the place, not just figuratively. He was doing dictation for one team, keeping stationery ready for another, and tried hard to add up numbers for yet another. He couldn’t write much. He couldn’t read too well either. But he wouldn’t stop helping. He wouldn’t stand still.
Today, when Sahil darts about the class, we no more think of him as ‘fidgety’, ‘distracted’, ‘disrupting’, ‘restless’. Why label a child when all we need to do is create experiences for him or her that help him discover what he’s best at? Why highlight all that we ‘expect’ of children, when the onus is really on us as teachers to see their spark, and love it in them. Why tell Sahil we’re disappointed he can’t hold a pose, when really, we should tell him we love how he dances about. And how we love that he just won’t stand still!
Here’s to the spark we love in every child. A very Happy Children’s Day to you!