SAIIER 2019:The Learning Community (TLC)

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SAIIER 2018-19
The Learning Community (TLC)

Educational research at TLC

Educational research is at the core of our work in TLC, as we strive to find ways to implement Integral Education. Each year, different areas have been given more focus, and in this way the methodology and curriculum have evolved over the years. A philosophy of education with so much depth, as described by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, will require a long and conscious journey.

Last year we experienced a need to start documenting our research more formally. For the coming year we are putting in place a research team to hold this documentation, and look forward to sharing our findings and observations in a more systematic way.

This year we explored two central areas for research and development:

1. How to develop a Free Progress Methodology based on the Three Principles of True Teaching

Our method of working is fully guided by the three principles. It is becoming clearer each year how to offer this approach to the children. Some essentials in implementing the three principles that have emerged from our research since the creation of TLC are: individualised curriculum for each child, uninterrupted time to develop concentration, individual pace of work, learning by doing, materials and experience to offer Aha! moments, the need for a thread from pregnancy to adolescence. Weekly planning and reflection is also used as a tool to help the children to get to know themselves, for their personal development ‒ their learning styles, time management, their strengths, needs and challenges.

TLC 2019 4.jpg

2. How to offer a Curriculum through which the children can develop their Faculties of Consciousness

When creating a system of education that is not based on the teaching of content but on the development of faculties, we need to reflect deeply on what this really means in practice. Our curriculum is constantly evolving from the curiosity of what consciousness is, and how we can support the children to connect to their consciousness by developing their faculties (vital, thinking, seeing, hearing, speaking and the body). Some examples of ways that we offer this to the children are: sensory learning in all areas of study through nature exploration, cooking, baking, gardening, travelling, stories, Montessori maths materials, and much more, as well as using Auroville and all its opportunities. The children are in a constant loop of reflection and planning, setting up their own goals, guided by the facilitators.
As a part of developing the collective consciousness we offer: weekly community gathering which involves the children in decision making, Ubuntu sessions, Awareness Through the Body, daily service (we clean and care for our spaces together with the children, and each one washes his/her own dishes – we have no hired help because we see care for ones physical environment as a part of the educational journey). From next year we will be working closely with the Restorative Auroville team, who will train children, parents and facilitators in compassionate communication (NVC).

Small groups and individual one-to-one sessions

When working with the three principles of True Teaching, we need to meet each child where they are at. We believe in a school for all, where we are willing to work with any child, and see how we can provide for the individual needs of the child. Over the years many children with more complex special needs have joined TLC, needing a very individually designed and flexible program.

Last year we received funding from a foreign donor to support this individualised approach, to be able to accommodate and meet the needs of these children. This has enabled us to provide one-to-one sessions for the students who are in need.

We use an online comprehensive ‘learn to read’ program to which we subscribe on a monthly basis for some children who have reading challenges. The program provides an engaging methodology through self pacing lessons with songs, games and visuals which invites them to keep on learning and tackle those reading challenges bit by bit. Combined with the writing and reading materials this has been shown to be a real help for progress, while still enabling the children to work at their own pace and ability, and is fluently integrated in our way of working. We are also working in one-to-one sessions with math materials which are designed to bring out a better number sense in the student. Through interactive games and activities the student discovers at his/her own pace what numbers are about in real life and from there slowly moves on to the more abstract learning. The one-to-one also allows the flexibility that these children need, with movement and flow, following their rhythm and combining hands on activities like gardening, animal care, cooking, or being in nature.

Development of our independent learning spaces

TLC is constantly evolving, and each passing year points us in the direction of deepening for the coming year. The principle ‘work from the near to the far’, points out the importance of using that which is alive and of interest to the child as an entry point for learning opportunities. When working from the near to the far the child becomes motivated, and with that comes engagement, focus, perseverance, joy, curiosity, and much more.

The children in TLC had requested more opportunities to deepen in the field of science. As we had very limited materials and books in this area, we decided to start to build up our resources to create a learning environment for such exploration. We have been working on this for the past year and a half. Preparing such an environment is a huge work, both because there are many different areas of study (geography, history, biology, chemistry, physics, environmental studies, garbology, mathematics, and much more), and the resources available need to cater to so many different levels, from children with early reading and writing skills, to more advanced levels. The children using the environment are now 8-12 years old, but the aim is to cover the span 7-14.

One of our buildings was underused, so we decided to create the new science learning environment here. The children chose to call the building “The Lab”. The task of building up this environment from scratch was (is) huge, we needed to do it systematically, and in a way that it enables the children to use it before the setup is fully completed (which will take us a few years). The building in which The Lab is taking form, is a roofed open building. The challenges that come with an open building (monsoon rains, dust from the roads, leaves from the trees, dogs, scorpions and snakes) is a daily challenge. Now we have made an attempt to close off the most open sides of The Lab with fishing net to keep the animals out. But as we develop the environment we will need to get cupboards to store the educational resources, as well as some stage to enclose the building to protect from the weather.

Inspired by learning through stories that awaken a curiosity and link areas of study to become an interdisciplinary exploration, we decided to build up the environment around three great stories. The first story is the story of our universe, from the Big Bang to the formation of our Earth and Solar System. The second great story is the story of evolution of life on Earth. The third great story is the story of humankind, which takes us from past history, to present reality and finally to the future (where Auroville really is a living example for the children of change and what is needed to bring it).

This past year we have collected and created educational resources for The Great Story of the Universe and Earth. This includes material on:

  • Astronomy: solar system, stars, galaxies, comets, constellations
  • Meteorology: wind, currents, weather, fronts, erosion, water cycle, clouds, glaciers
  • Chemistry: states of matter, changes, mixtures, reactions, elements, atoms, periodic table, compounds, molecules, chemical formulas, equations, lab work, experimentation
  • Physics: magnetism, electricity, gravity, energy, light, sound, heat, friction, motion, experimentation
  • Geology: types of rocks, minerals, land forms, volcanoes, earthquakes, plate tectonics, ice ages, eras of the earth
  • Geography: maps, globes, latitude/longitude, climates, land/water form names, continent and country research
  • Mathematics: most areas ready for children up to age 12/13

The children are using the environment every day, and the atmosphere of activity and concentration that is evolving is beautiful. It shows the need that the children had for this work, and how the environment is starting to meet those needs. When buying or creating materials we try to provide those through which the children can discover something themselves and experience Aha! moments. All materials are created and presented in a way so that each child can work at her/his own pace. The setup offers a self-directed and child-led learning, with small group or individual facilitated lessons when introducing new areas.

TLC Kitchen

Since TLC’s conception 10 years ago, we have been aiming at including the kitchen and cooking in our educational journey. We have witnessed that when children are involved in the harvest and cooking of their own meal, they are more open and curious to taste the less-known vegetables, millets and dishes available in our area. We see the connection to our food and were it comes from as an important part of the Integral Education that we are striving to implement in TLC.

This academic year TLC moved away from receiving lunches from Auroville’s Solar Kitchen and instead approached several of Auroville’s eateries with a request to supply our children and adult team with affordable, simple lunches, with the priority being the use of organic and locally grown produce. We began this pilot by receiving meals from 4 Auroville eateries who were willing and able to comply with these parameters, as well as one day a week where a team of parents cooked lunch in TLC’s base camp. The pilot was a success and saw children eager to eat and try new menus.

After the initial trial, we decided to reduce the number of lunches provided by outside sources and increase the number of cooking days in Base Camp. With a team of 3 permanent and dedicated people, we began to cook 3 days a week. In addition to the adult team, all the children have been involved on a rotational basis in the preparation of snack every day, and lunch on the 3 cooking days. Each day 2 children have had ‘cooking service’ and have worked in the kitchen preparing the food for the rest of the community. This has been a great success and we have witnessed how the children have taken immense pride in their involvement and in their abilities to offer food to the other children and adults. It has been a continuation of the work we have started in our ‘daily service slot’ where adults and children work in base camp to clean and maintain the learning spaces and the garden. Service in the kitchen is a natural extension of this work.

We continue to work toward refining and deepening the project – to introduce even more local and seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains and to expose the children to local preparations and spices. Next year we will be cooking 4 days a week with the children, and have a team in place to help develop our kitchen gardens.

Our Long Field Trips this year: Rajasthan and Goa

A reflection from one of the participating facilitators on the way home from Rajasthan…

“We have boarded the train bound for Jaipur. This part of the endless journey is slowly approaching its inevitable end. It has been a pilgrimage into ourselves. An initiation, a deepening, above all it has been an absolute honour to spend time with these amazing children and adults. To observe the kids, support them when needed, and whenever possible to encourage their freedom and their path to discovering themselves. We have had the challenge of quite some illness, a bout of “Rajasthani fever” washed over our little group like a rolling wave, sparing very few along its course and leaving us as TCC (the coughing community). Physical conditions were not always the easiest, but the open hearts and amazingly warm reception received wherever we went, made the physical challenges fade into the background as we were invited for yet another delicious meal into yet another sumptuous Rajasthani home. Camels, jeeps, tractors, colourful bazaars, sleeping under the stars, It’s been a journey through many sandy arenas. For me, this trip has served to further strengthen my resolve to continue on the path of never ending learning, and has once again reinforced my conviction that deep learning occurs when we step out of our comfort zones, when we step back and allow life to steer, and above all, when we are driven by love and care. I thank you from the depths of my heart for the trust you have shown by entrusting your beautiful children into our hands for these 2 weeks. I feel humbled and awed by all of you. With much love and gratitude.”

“Open Spaces” in Base Camp

On Friday afternoons we have opened Base Camp to the wider community, beginning at 12:30 with a potluck lunch, followed by our “Open Spaces” activities until 3:00pm. These are various activities including art, craft, gardening, carpentry, outdoor games, dance, board games, carving, lego, to name but a few. Open Spaces are open to all Aurovillian, Newcomer and Guest children of all ages, with the aim of bridging between children of all schools, nationalities and ages.

A sharing from a facilitator in the workshop space:

When I first heard of TLC, my children were not born and yet I knew right away, that's the ‘school’ I want them to go to. I never had a doubt about that. My passion (not my profession) is sewing. I learned and taught myself sewing over the years and I love working with the materials, being creative and always learning new methods and tricks. I am also passionate about upcycling and recycling and those are the passions I wanted to share.
So when I joined TLC about 2.5 years ago, it was clear to me that that should be my participation. Sewing is for me a very meditative activity which requires a lot of concentration. So when I started I didn't really know how to go about it. The first year I joined I was given a task of creating bags for the children so they could keep and transport their books and material from one space to the other. We had plenty of old folders and so I created the ‘folder bag’. Each child brought their own fabrics and they created their own beautiful upcycling bags.
Then we had many small projects, the older children often came with their own ideas and I supported them when they needed help. The younger ones started sewing simple bags, small pillows etc. Then one day a child asked if they could sew a bear. So I needed a pattern. I found an old book I had used years ago with beautiful patterns which I then printed out and created sheets with easy explanation so the children could work as independently as possible. I asked of each child to first master hand sewing before trying out the sewing machine. I thought all of this would be much too difficult for them and they would quickly give up, as I knew how challenging it was for myself! But to my big surprise the children became so passionate about these stuffed animals, cats, dogs, giraffes and co. they created. At first I had to help a lot, with putting the needle in the thread, correcting mistakes all the time, making knots etc... but very soon I noticed they were asking less and less help and now they only come once in a while for help and work very independently, highly concentrated which creates a quiet and beautiful atmosphere.
The most beautiful part is to see the joy on their faces and how proud they are of what they have achieved. The parent of a young boy told me that her son is looking forward every week to his workshop day, and nothing makes me more happy to see and hear that my passion has jumped over.

Looking toward the future: TLC Crèche/Kindergarten

As much as we feel that we are taking many steps forward in the work we are doing with the children, we experience a gap. The gap shown itself in several ways:

  • When we start working with children of age 6/7, it is challenging to work with Sri Aurobindo’s principles of education. We realise that his theories of education are fully based on the child getting what they need at each specific stage in their development. If the needs in the stages of development of a child have not been met, it proves itself very difficult to implement the principles at a later stage, as development and ability/skills are then not in sync.
  • Many parents are afraid to take the step of a new way of education for their children. Therefore there is not a full trust in the emergence of a new way of education, and parents fall back on comparison and see a traditional method of education as a safety net for their child. This causes a lot of confusion for the child, and some parents choose to put their children in a more traditional system of schooling half way through TLC. To bridge this gap we see that we need to start working with parents already during pregnancy, and children from when they are in their early formative years. This year we have been exploring the possibility to expand TLC to also include pregnancy and the ages 0-7.
  • This year we prepared an environment for toddlers on our campus, with the help of parents' work, input and donations. For next year we will offer this space to be used for an Integral Education program for Toddler parents, as a start in creating this thread from birth to adolescence in TLC. Eventually from this we would like to develop a crèche/kindergarten in TLC in 2020 or in 2021.