A couple of things have really struck us since we've been travelling in India; two things that will make our life way easier:
First of all, where possible, we need to be in rural or semi-rural areas. Indian cities are crazy, there is no space for the children to explore away from where we are sleeping and I'm unconvinced they bring out the best in any of us.
Secondly, where possible, we need to be catering for ourselves. The adults amongst us love spicy Indian food, the children (as exemplified by the spicy pizza story in the previous blog which many of you commented on!), do not. And the sound of my scratched record self droning on in each and every restaurant we go to Just TRY a few veggies; Come on, you NEED to eat vegetables is becoming hugely tedious to both say and listen to. At least if we have a kitchen, there is no menu, there is just us, a saucepan or two and a bag of fresh veg bought from the local market.
AirBnB has revolutionised the travelling experience; gone are the days of one's only option being from a clutch of hotels. So we're pledging from hereonin that whenever we can, we're going for an AirBnB so we can cook for the kids and ram some healthy food down their throats. Otherwise they will arrive back in England looking like chapattis.
We were all VERY happy to get out of Bengaluru and (again, thanks to AirBnB, but this time it was not self-catering) we found ourselves on the outskirts of Tiruvannamalai, our first jaunt into the state of Tamil Nadu. We stayed in Ashok Tree Nature Resort which could not have been a more soothing balm to our frayed nerves after Bengaluru. Think: yoga, Ayurvedic food, hammocks, meeting some very interesting people, watching the lunar eclipse and stunning views of ancient volcanoes, the holiest of which (Mount Arunachala) we climbed early one morning.
It was a very special place. Actually, none of us really wanted to leave. We even met another child being homeschooled, though in quite a different style from how we're doing it (but for her, it's a permanent thing.) Actually, a few thoughts here on home schooling as lots of people have asked us about this and how we're doing it. It's interesting, because home schooling seems to ignite a fair few passions and opinions in people. I'd like to say straight off that I believe there's no 'correct' way to educate a child as children are all so different, obviously. So from this premise, Andy and I decided we would engage in six months of self-motivated, world schooling. If this sounds a bit wishy-washy and hippy, well it isn't.
Here's what we're not doing:
☆ Following any kind of curriculum
☆ Making them do any kind of school work unless they are interested in it. If that happens, we jump on it. For e.g. Maya is crazy about geography so we're getting lots of geography resources for her
☆ Stressing about what they're missing at school.
And here's what we are doing:
☆ Encouraging the kids to write a journal every day
☆ Encouraging them to read every day (the girls need zero persuasion). We bought Maya and Lily kindles for Christmas and I can't even begin to hazard a guess how many books they have got through since then.
☆ Every night (I've done this for a few years now), I read them a story. At the moment we are reading the completely brilliant 'The Explorer' by Katherine Rundell. There is always lots of interest and discussion around the story.
☆ Trying to follow their own interests as far as possible. For example, Benji adored a paper-making factory we visited so Andy took him back for a second time on his own.
☆ Making the world and the environment around us our classroom rather than in the traditional sense of being in a room with many other children and a teacher.
☆ Stressing the importance of asking questions, exploring and being curious. In fact, just last night I highlighted some great words from the aforementioned 'The Explorer' and I think this may just become our family travel mantra:
'Every human on earth is an explorer. Exploring is nothing more than the paying of attention, writ large. ATTENTION. That's what the world asks of you. If you pay ferocious attention to the world, you will be as safe as it is possible to be.'
I'm not saying all of this is perfect, or it always works. Sometimes it doesn't, as we are just feeling our way. But this is what we've opted for and, on the whole, it is working. I'm far less concerned about what they're missing at school and far more interested in encouraging the three of them to fight less! To be empathetic, generous and kind. I was so fed up with their squabbling last week that, in desperation, I shot an email over to our great friends Bex and Pablo who took their three kids travelling for a year a couple of years back through North & South America, one epic journey. Bex reassured me that things got easier at the two month mark and interestingly - as we were beginning to find this anyway - as soon as they were out of cities and in nature, the arguing drastically reduced. Thanks Bex! I think I needed to hear that. Here are their family playing chess in some rather spectacular surroundings:
And here are a few more photos of our time at the beautiful Ashok Tree Nature Reserve:
After Tiruvannamalai, we headed to Pondicherry on the coast of Tamil Nadu (now officially Puducherry, but still affectionately called Pondi). Wow, what a difference. And already we have broken our no-city pact! But, I have to say, Pondicherry is a very laid-back city with more of a small town feel, especially in the old French Quarter. It has an interesting history, colonised by the Dutch and the Danish and then Britain and France proceeded to battle ferociously with one another for dominance over the decades until the French finally well and truly claimed Pondi as their own, re-building the French architecture that the British had razed to the ground (which must have P'd the Britts off no end!), and it remained in French hands all the way up until the 1950's.
We loved wandering around this quirky town with it's wide, leafy boulevards and Bonjour, Madmes! and fascinating blend of French and Tamil architecture. I can't deny we also managed to sneak in a few croissants and I seriously enjoyed the coffee 😆 (Indian coffee is very sweet hot brown milk as far as I can tell). I found a cultural centre with lots of interesting activities happening and so that I could get some writing done, Granny Amma took the children off two afternoons in a row, first to have a rangoli workshop (rangoli are the beautiful geometric patterns drawn outside houses first thing in the morning with rice flour & sand):
They had so much fun! The second workshop was to make flower garlands from both crepe paper and also real flowers. This was a little less of a success as the lady kept telling Benji that this was a 'girls' activity - harrumph! But they still had a good time and Lily loved wearing her fragrant jasmine garland in her hair, just like the Indian ladies.