In this article, I describe our efforts to build ecosystems of parenting through our LIFESMART communities. Facilitating the launch of the Ramana Bala Kendra Family Immersion program was an important milestone for us. As our experience shows, parents can play an important role in working with professionals and organizations to create effective programs for neurodivergent children. They can also play an important role in developing and evolving inclusive ecosystems for their children.
Ecosystems are important for parents to be able to play their role and sustain their efforts for many years. Through LIFESMART Parenting group conversations, 100-Day projects, and facilitating efforts such as the Ramana Bala Kendra Family Immersion effort, we hope to grow ecosystems for parents to learn and grow together. We need inclusive ecosystems for intergenerational learning where parents, professionals, and neurodivergent learners can learn together in their own way and at their own pace.
Each neurodivergent learner, each parent, and each professional is a changemaker. It is through the process of integrating them into learning processes in effective ways that we can accomplish significant change. The Ramana Bala Kendra Family Immersion program is one effort to build such a learning ecosystem.
I. Ramana Bala Kendra – Family Immersion Model
The launch of the Ramana Bala Kendra for neurodivergent learners in September 2023 was an exciting moment for us. This event seemed to happen suddenly but it was developing gradually for about a year through conversations in LIFESMART parent groups.
A pivotal point in our journey was when Ananth started learning Bharatanatyam from Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh, a senior faculty member and artist at RMCL. Ujwal is an experienced TAHD facilitator and Ananth’s Bharatanatyam classes are enriched by TAHD. In addition, Ananth started exploring the life and teachings of Ramana Maharshi through Ramana Nritya.
Ananth’s Adventures Youtube channel was launched in January 2023. Ujwal and Ananth shared many small lessons for parents to try with their children. Ananth also narrated stories under the guidance of Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh and Ms. Usha Sankaran, Senior Facilitator at RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya). Ananth’s Adventures has become a critical resource in our daily interactions with the LIFESMART community.
As Ujwal, Ananth, and I learned together from October 2022, I shared many ideas and resources daily in my LIFESMART group. The community had seen many of Ujwal’s videos. Thus, when I discovered the Ramana Bala Kendra announcement from RMCL and shared it, many parents joined. There was enough interest that a separate group was started for neurodivergent learners.
Since the initial cohort of students came from my LIFESMART group, the parent role in learning is a topic that the entire group has seen discussed in different ways over the years. I suggested that the Bala Kendra experience be organized as a family immersion experience. Parents are invited to participate in activities with their child. Thus, they can learn and continue the activities throughout the week. I support the process through our 100-Days of Movement and Body Awareness Lab and by other means.
Watch the overview of the Ramana Bala Kendra experience by Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh:
View a sample Ramana Bala Kendra lesson here
A unique feature of this program is that parent perspectives have shaped this program from its inception. We are making efforts to encourage parents to share their experiences. Listen to the perspectives of Ms. Shinjita Joshi-Pant and Ms. Anila Janapareddi.
Shinjita and Anila are both highly engaged but in different ways given their children’s needs, strengths, and challenges. Despite the differences, the participation by Shinjita and Anila are key to discovering the point of learning for their children and to gain more from the Bala Kendra experience.
Listen to Dr. Ambika Kameshwar’s explanation of the point of learning and its importance in TAHD here:
II. 100 Days of TAHD (Theater Arts for Holistic Development) Lab for Parents with RASA
The seeds for the Ramana Bala Kendra were planted when Ananth became a RASA student.
A critical point in Ananth’s journey was when Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Found and Director of RASA participated as the chief guest in Ananth’s Bharatanatyam arangetram (first solo performance by a Bharatanatyam student after years of training). While we did not realize it at that time, a new phase had started for Ananth and for us! Ananth had taken a step from Bharatanatyam to Indian theater experience that included movement and dance, music and rhythm, storytelling, drama, and arts and crafts).
I became interested in TAHD and started doing my certification in TAHD. I learned more about the framework and practice. My focus has been on taking TAHD to parents as I believe that the value of TAHD will be better realized in parents are an integral part of the process.
We started a LIFESMART 100 Days of TAHD lab for parents in collaboration with RASA. Since Ujwal was one of the faculty members for this lab, this experience created opportunities for Ujwal to demonstrate lessons with Ananth. Ananth’s experience with Ujwal had started their lessons off in a different direction than a traditional Bharatanatyam experience in yet another way! Thus, the 100-Day Lab played an important role in the emergence of the Ananth’s Adventures channel and other activities.
III. 100 Days of Movement and Body Awareness
This 100-Day project was launched in the LIFESMART community in September. Since the Ramana Bala Kendra was also launched in September, the 100-Day Lab is emerging as a support system for parents of children in Bala Kendra. Parents are encouraged to choose pieces of lessons and incorporate them in their 100-Day experience. This approach helps sustain Bala Kendra teachings. At the same time, it gives parents a concrete set of lessons to build the 100-day experience.
LIFESMART Parenting Goals and Family Immersion
The family immersion model moves away from focusing only on learner outcomes to family level outcomes. The six key LIFESMART Parenting goals are:
– Managing parent stress
– Reducing child/ learner stress
– Build foundations of guided participation with parents
– Encourage independent learning
– Expand opportunities for guided participation with other teachers/ mentors
– Facilitate inclusion
We stumbled upon Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) about 20 years ago. Since that time, developing the guided participation relationship between parent and child has influenced my approach and practice. Over time, I defined six key goals for LIFESMART Parenting:
Given our RDI experience, we started with the goal of building foundations of guided participation. Ananth has been blessed with excellent mentors in piano and dance. Hence, we were also able to expand guided participation to other mentors. Over the years, we realized stress and emotional regulation needed to be addressed explicitly as a foundation without which the other pieces fell apart.
Finally, all these pieces are coming together in addressing the last goal of facilitating inclusion. We refer to our journey as a Journey to Bharat through Natya. It is our journey of connecting to our roots and discovering the foundations for Ananth’s lifelong learning in Indian natya. This journey has opened pathways for inclusion for Ananth.
My support for the Family Immersion Model comes from these experiences. We hope to work parents and organizations like RASA and RMCL to help create ecosystems for parents and professionals to work together.
Dr. Dasaratha Rama is a professor and home educator. She was the editor of a monograph on service-learning published by the American Association of Higher Education. This monograph was a part of a series of monographs on service-learning published by AAHE. She was also an Engaged Scholar with the Campus Compact, an association in the US dedicated to higher education civic and community engagement at colleges and universities. She is currently doing a certificate in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) from RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya).
Ananth Raghunandan is a student ambassador for RASA and TAHD. Ananth Raghunandan will be starting a diploma in Bharatanatyam shortly.
Their journey from homeschooling to collaborators and co-creators continues!