Sonnal Pardiwala began homeschooling her children several years ago, when her firstborn son was 13 and her younger one was just seven years old. Contrary to the middle-class Indian belief that structured schooling is the only way to career success and personal development, Sonnal and her husband Nozzer took a road less travelled.
Today, at 18, their elder son is a Positive Psychology coach and hypnotherapist. He is an earning member of the family, scripts and acts in short films, anchors shows, and has a web-series to his credit. The younger one, a dog lover, aims to become a canine behaviourist. Besides being immersed in canine research, the 13-year-old is a versatile athlete excelling in cricket, badminton, tennis and football. Both boys, Sonnal says, are “great cooks, excellent conversationalists and sensitive, thoughtful people.”
The Mumbai-based couple run a homeschooling group Active Parenting to counsel other parents. Born in Surat and raised in Mumbai, Sonnal, 45, holds a Master’s in counselling psychology. Her book Fan For the First Time is in the Limca Book of Records. She also has a Master’s training in Reiki and is a certified card reader and hypnotherapist. She shares her homeschooling experiences and lessons with us.
What are the usual concerns that parents have?
A parent exploring homeschooling is standing on the ‘schooling shore’, and wants to break through the rigid school structures, find newer pastures and yet trembles with fear.
Most parents realize that school is not working for them. Yes, for them first. The children, too: they have had scuffles with school authority, changed schools, sometimes changed locations only to realize that the crows are black everywhere!
When they connect to us, their questions are very academic. Yet, the only experience I can share is mine. The only illustration I can give is my own. Here are some questions I am typically asked.
“How many hours should a child study daily while being homeschooled?”
This is a schooling territory question. It narrows down studying as an activity in a timetable. Do we set aside time for living? We live round the clock.
As homeschooling parents, we substitute the word ‘studying’ with ‘learning’. My children are forever learning. You will see my elder son with a book, Ted Talks or notes all the time. The younger one is constantly learning about animals. He began with dogs, moved on to rabbits, snakes and other animals.
When they purchase stuff in a supermarket they are learning. When they look over the EMI documents, they learn. When the elder one earns money, he takes up a course on finances and stocks. The younger one reads Ruskin Bond and cooks up stories with strong plot lines, and brings them to logical conclusions.
Every single minute, they are both learning.
“Can parents really take on the role of teachers?”
School convinces us that only a specialist teacher, accredited with a suitable subject, can teach. Then why are school systems failing to bring satisfaction to parents and children even with qualified teachers?
Self-learning is the cornerstone of home-learning. No one can teach anyone. Learning is inbuilt in a learner. If child loves math, he will devour sums. If child loves poetry, he will pick up the nuances. It is the ‘interested child’ who is required. An observant parent who understands the dynamics of the subject matter at hand and her children’s preferences would never compel her to do something.
The one who can observe the child can teach.
The one who can create questions in the child can teach.
The one who can expose the child in the area of her interest can teach.
There is only facilitation, never teaching.
“Should one hire teachers to come home?”
This is the most devastating question. When you ask a teacher to come home, your action says a few things. You express to your child: “I and you both are inadequate so we need another expert to come in and pour a few concepts into you.”
Second, you give the child a message: “Things will be arranged for you. Your time. Your comfort. Your terms. As the teacher comes home, she has limited authority to exert any disciplinary influence or even frown when a given task is not completed or done half-heartedly.”
Mothers jump in to ask the teacher to excuse the laxity. The child gets a message: “Mom will bail me out anytime. Let us do nothing. She is just a teacher. If she frowns, we will sack her, get another one.”
Welcome to entitlement creation in progeny. The individual has learnt to rely not on self but on outside forces to bail him or her out: mom, dad, money, whining, tantrums and excuses.
If a child must learn, send them to the teacher. It is the first step to create respect. This person is important enough to go to. Create relationships on personal dynamics, not one mitigated by parents.
“What if my child is young and cannot go out on her own? I have no time to teach.”
If the child is young and you have decided to homeschool, why do you need to impose a teacher? Why is time running out? ‘Mommy media’ today puts so much pressure on a parent that she feels obligated to send her child for some classes or hire someone. Freedom is what one aspires for in a homeschooling scenario.
If you will resurrect school at home, what is the purpose? The child is still a prisoner to your or the educator’s times, whims and personality traits. Where is the scope for the child to truly follow her rhythm and understand life on her terms?
Be your own teacher. Go to the teacher if you must. At home, you are only playing ‘school, school’.
“What about board exams?”
This is a weird one, considering that the children are just three or four years old when parents come to us. We are talking a decade (!!!) to public exam. Yet we are so married to school that we covet the certificates while unanimously agreeing that these certificates don’t mean much in the long run.
A lot is changing in the education scenario the world over. Already the IGCSE and IB curriculums and exams are widely taken all over the globe. They have an option of accommodating homeschooling students.
There are schools that accept homeschooled children as private candidates. Others offer a hand-holding approach and take 50 percent fees, maintaining the homeschooled child on their roll call, sharing timetables, resources and assessments.
The NIOS board also allows any child to give 10th and 12th board exams with a wide variety of subject options. They send all materials home. Recently, Maharashtra Board announced its own Open Schooling offering grade five, eight, 10 and 12 exams. There are many such options available.
“What about employability?”
Is it honestly possible to answer this question in this fast-paced world? We have employment issues not due to illiteracy or lack of education but due to entitled attitudes and preferences of a person.
As a parent, do you really need to micro manage your child’s life? It comes up with an assumption: “I will hand an enriched, well-planned life to my child on a platter.” Can you really?
Rest assured: Kids will earn. You and I did, not because of, rather, despite our degrees.
“How will my child be able to give medical / engineering tests if they homeschool?”
First things first: does your child want to pursue this or are they parental plans?
Homeschooling encourages lack of structure and a relaxed approach to learning. The learning of medicine or engineering requires rigorous work, adhering to schedules and rules laid out externally. They are both diametrically contrarian formats.
If you or they wish to go in the drill, keep them in the race. Adapting to restrictions after tasting freedom will be difficult.
“Can working parents manage homeschooling?”
Ironically, this question is never asked when managing children with their schooling and allied activities – from dragging them out of bed every morning, to packing tiffins, school pickups and drops, homework, parents’ WhatsApp groups, sports days and other school events, after-school tuitions, field trips, birthdays. As a working parent, you manage all that.
As a homeschooling family, too, we face tasks. We are the “in-sources” of education for them. We don’t have deadlines but we have children constantly expecting us to fill in their waking hours. We have to expose them to the right opportunities and experiences, and let them choose what they want so that they whine less.
Schooling and homeschooling both require every parent’s complete investment. School may absolve the dad’s role at times as mostly moms can manage, even if they do get exhausted. When homeschooling, the absence of either parent will be palpable and potent.
However there are single parents raising children in both arenas with success. It is the parents’ vision for their life that counts.