How Ananth and I Explore Service-Learning Together-1

Service-Learning series (part 1) by Dr.Dasaratha Rama and Ananth Raghunandan

Over 25 years ago, I was the editor of a monograph on service-learning published by the American Association of Higher Education (AAHE). This monograph was a part of a series of monographs on service-learning published by AAHE.
Service-learning integrated community engagement and academic learning. Integration of academic learning distinguishes it from volunteering.
I was also an Engaged Scholar with the Campus Compact, an association in the US dedicated to higher education civic and community engagement whose members include thousands of presidents, faculty, researchers, students, and civic and community engagement experts at colleges and universities.
These early efforts continue to influence how I engage the world and also how I encourage Ananth to engage the world.

Fast forward 25 years…
Service-learning is an approach for empowering neurodivergent learners by encouraging and guiding them in community engagement. As Ananth develops communication skills through theater arts, he is using these skills to create resources for the community. As he learns digital storytelling and web development skills through his coding and other skills, he uses these skills to create something of value to the community.
Ananth may not have had access to institutions and formal service-learning programs in the same way as his neurotypical peers. However, he has been fortunate to have excellent mentors in theatre arts and dance, and a community that encourages and appreciates his contributions.

Our current Projects

1. Creating e-books for RASA

One of our major service-learning projects is to create a series of e-books for Ramana Sunritya Aalaya (RASA). Ananth experiences the magic of Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) explorations daily. He has been blessed to learn from senior facilitators and to explore different forms of TAHD experiences. These e-books and associated resources (videos) are our effort to pay it forward. We want to share our journey and show why and how TAHD can be used to achieve a range of outcomes for neurodivergent learners.
Read our first e-book Teaching Values to Neurodivergent Learners using Theater Arts here.

2. I have encouraged Ananth to create his Youtube channel, Ananth’s Adventures. By sharing our experiences, ideas, and lesson plans, we hope to provide useful resources for parents, neurodivergent learners, and others. Ananth’s regular story of the month and other video projects have helped create a video presence. Thus, I had a space to share my video for the e-book here.

Ananth is also a blogger for SpecialSaathi. View his posts here.
These experiences paved the way for our collaboration on the e-book series.

3. Ananth is now an ambassador for Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) and RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya). Dr. Ambika Kameshwar has done pioneering work in not only using Indian theater arts as a vehicle for learning but also by creating an eco-system for artistes of differing abilities to learn together and perform.

Co-creating Magic with TAHD Facilitators

TAHD ingredients (dance, drama, storytelling etc.) play a critical role in TAHD explorations. While parents can use TAHD tools, skilled facilitators can choose the right combinations of tools to create the right experiences for learners of differing abilities. We are grateful to Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Dr. Vaishnavi Poorna, Ms. Usha Sankaran, and Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh for their encouragement, guidance, and support in Ananth’s TAHD explorations.
We are delighted that we have the opportunity to work with the RASA team to engage the community in exploring the value of TAHD and in charting a path forward together.

Tips for Parents
Seek ways to engage your community with your child. Many neurodivergent learners have interests and talents in the visual and performing arts, and in other areas. Use these interests to create opportunities for engagement.

Dr. Dasaratha Rama is a professor and home educator. 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!

Join the discussion in our whatsapp group here:


Daily Rhythms: A LIFESMART Perspective

Daily Rhythms: A LIFESMART Perspective

Routines provide structure and predictability. However, life is often unpredictable. Rhythms are more flexible and fluid. What would a healthy daily rhythm look like?
Does your child have a balanced and healthy daily rhythm? What kinds of activities should be included in the day?
This post is an updated version of an earlier post on daily rhythms. I have updated my earlier post to show how to analyze your child’s daily rhythms using the four LIFE components and four indicators for each of these components. Read the post and complete the worksheet at the end of the article. Email me at if you want to discuss your child’s routine in terms of these elements.

Artwork by Morpheus Nag

Discovering daily rhythms that work means the process of finding the right combination of activities for the day. For example, we start the day with long walk. Dance is an important part of Ananth’s daily routine. A list of some activities to include in the daily rhythm is given below.

• Include movement daily
• Include visual and performing arts
• Include activities of daily living
These activities support overall development. Include them as part of your child’s daily rhythm!
Activities of daily living
• Hanging up clothes
• Folding clothes
• Setting the table
• Cleaning tables
• Making the bed
• Cooking
• Putting things away
• Watering the plants
• Loading Laundry in the washing machine
• Helping in sorting vegetables and grocery items and putting them at proper place
Structured movement activities
• Swimming
• Cycling
• Running
• Karate
• Skating
• Yoga
• Playing a sport like – table tennis, football, badminton etc
• Drawing
• Painting
• Crafts
Performing arts
• Singing
• Dance
• Instrumental music
Theater Arts activities
• Movement and dance
• Music and Rhythm
• Storytelling
• Drama
• Arts and Crafts
Academic learning
• Language and communication

Daily Rhythms for LIFE
I am not the first one to talk about daily routines or daily rhythms. The activities listed above are familiar too. What I can add to this discussion is the LIFESMART perspective.

L: Learn daily
Four words to start thinking about how to support daily learning: imitate, repeat, memorize, improvise. Starting with imitation and evolving to own exploration (improvise) is the way I see the progression of learning.
Practice the imitate, repeat, memorize, improvise steps daily. This is an important component to build into the daily routine.

I: Interests
The words I chose are motivation, initiation, commitment, and effort. Initiation is an important indicator of interest! Not everything we learn is interesting to us. But we are likely to be motivates, initiate, commit time, and put in effort when are interested.
Interests are discovered during daily learning. Encourage exploration of interests daily. However, the daily routine should include activities of high interest, medium interest, and low interest. Everything in our daily routine cannot be of high intrinsic interest!
F: Family interactions
Safety (physical and emotional), encouragement, support, and enjoyment are the words I chose for family interactions. The four words spotlight the role of parents. Ensuring safety, encouraging children in varied experiences, providing support as needed, and enjoying experiences together are the foundations of parent-child relationships.
Family interactions are the foundation for daily rhythms. Parents discover ways to engage their child in varied activities. Parents play a key role in discovering and implementing daily rhythms.
Family interactions are of particular importance for neurodivergent children and for much longer than for others because educational and other systems pose numerous challenges for them.
E: Engaging communities
The words I chose are acceptance, inclusion, expression, and co-creation. All four components are linked. Learning daily, discovering interests, the right types of family interactions enable our children to find the right inclusive environments for expression and co-creation. Being part of such environments daily is something that is happening for us only now.
While access to the right environments for neurodivergent children and adults continues to be a challenge, I believe systems are evolving. By being proactive, we can discover the right environments, facilitate inclusion, and change the system for the better.

Activity for Parents
Use the LIFESMART Parenting Worksheet below to analyze your child’s daily routine in terms of the four LIFE components and the four elements of each of the four LIFE components.
Based on these sixteen indicators, what changes do you think are needed in your child’s daily routine?
Every parent is a change agent. Every neurodivergent child and adult is a change agent. Change begins with discovering the right daily rhythms for yourself and for your child!

Author Dr.Dasaratha Rama


How Can Parents Take Short-term Focused Action to Support their Child’s Long-term Development?

Part 1 – Implementing 100-Day Projects

The process of parents learning with their neurodivergent child at home and supporting their child’s development through experiences outside the home is dynamic. While parents have long-term goals in mind, they must observe, see what is doable and worth doing, and decide on next steps. The daily Routine, 100-Day projects and monthly plans are three LIFESMART tools for creating structure and order while being flexible and adaptive. In this blog post, I will introduce the three tools and explain how we implement 100-Day projects in more detail.

Daily Routine

A parent role is different from a teacher’s role. Predictability, order, and structure along with flexibility and adapting to change is how parenting works and what learning at home involves. Further, the daily routine integrates activities with parents and other activities to provide a comprehensive picture of how the child spends his time daily. The point of the daily routine is not to be rigid but to provide some overall structure to guide the flow of activities while being open to what happens!

Do 100-Day Projects

Short-term focused action has been the biggest challenge I have faced over the years. We are faced with too much information, many competing perspectives, and many goals and skills to work towards at any given time. It is not possible to address everything that needs to be addressed at any given time.
Stay focused on the doable.

Your routine today has taken shape because of what you and your child can do. That is your starting point. Write down how your child spends time throughout the day. Then, think of possibilities for improvements.

The 100-day project is the core LIFESMART practice. It is intended as a tool for organizing short-term effort in the face of unpredictability and uncertainty. Choose one or two of the activities in your daily schedule for targeted improvement with a 100-day project. Ground yourself with a daily routine, monthly plan, and 100-day projects. Then, use observation, information from family members, therapists and other professionals, information from other parents etc. to make progress gradually over time.

Develop your Monthly Plan

There is no point worrying about what will happen 5 years from now, 10 years from now etc. Visualize what you want to see happen in the future but then focus on what you are doing now. Short-term focused action is what moves you towards your long-term goals.
While the 100-Day project is also a short-term technique, the monthly plan is of shorter duration. Also, a 100-Day project is about making a small, targeted improvement through focused and consistent action. On the other hand, the monthly plan brings together 100-day project activities and other activities in the daily routine into a one-month plan.

The Five Ps of Planning

Identify priorities: What is doable and worth doing now is an important question. For example, I may think reading is very important but if the child is not ready then this activity is not doable and may not be the best choice for focused effort at that point. Consider what is doable at that time to identify possibilities and prioritize. Once you have priorities, you can choose your path forward, identify what you and your child will practice (all skills development needs practice!) and how you will track progress. Consider the five Ps (Possibilities, Priorities, Paths, Practice, Progress) when you make the monthly plan. The five Ps of planning and other LIFESMART elements are shown in the LIFESMART canvas below.

Implementing a 100-Day Project

In this blog post, I will introduce the LIFESMART Canvas and discuss one of the three implementation techniques – the 100-Day project. In my next post, I will discuss how l three components (daily routine, 100-day project, and monthly plan) work together
The LIFESMART Canvas is a visual tool that provides a systemic view of 100-Day projects. It shows different interacting elements to consider in implementing effective projects.

The LIFESMART 100-Day Lab Worksheet

The LIFESMART 100-Day worksheet integrates the elements of the LIFESMART canvas into a planning tool. Below, I have shown how we are planning our 100-Day projects using the LIFESMART worksheet.

I. Add the right experiences in the right environments
The daily routine is the starting point for adding the right experiences. List the activities and think about the design of your current daily routine. Analyzing your current routine provides insights into what is doable and worth doing not.

The goal of our 100-Day project is to develop routines, habits, and systems for independent learning. This goal will guide the design of experiences.

Ananth’s Current Routine

• Walk
• Dance
• BBA study
After lunch
• Coding
• Walk
• Dance
• Video planning/ taping
After Dinner
• Tamil
• BBA study
• Video planning/ taping
• Ramana Maharshi Self-inquiry satsang

II. Make your monthly plan
A. Map the Journey: The Five Ps

2. Make a list of possibilities.
Consider your son or daughter’s daily routine and make a list of possible 100-Day projects that you can do now.

Our list as of July 14, 2023
• Independent Learning
• Smile Brightly and Dance
• Storytelling videos
• Fold, Color, Talk videos
• Ramana Maharshi Satsang stories
• Academic study
• Coding

3. Make a list of priorities for the month. Priorities are identified through an ongoing process of discovery. Ask: What is doable and worth doing now?
Encouraging independent work is the priority for this month and for the next few months.
Independent Learning
o Smile Brightly and Dance
o Storytelling videos
o Fold, Color, Talk videos
o Ramana Maharshi Satsang stories
o Academic study
o Coding
In the prioritized list, all possibilities have been listed under independent learning as that is the main100-Day project. In all the projects, we will focus on how to encourage independent learning.

4. Choose your path for the month. What changes will you make to your current path? Consider the four LIFE elements:
o L: Learning Daily
Develop independent learning habits, routines, and systems. We have found “second brain” solutions to be critical for independent learning.
o I: Interests
Increase motivation through pairing independent work with areas of interest (dance, storytelling)

o F: Family Interactions
One of the goals of encouraging independent work is to reduce my interactions and involvement. Due to high stress experienced recently, independent learning has been affected. Now stress issues have been addressed enough that we can focus more on independent learning.

o E: Engagement with Community
Ananth’s Adventures Youtube channel is becoming an integral part of our family interactions as well as engagement with the community. Practicing some video development tasks independently is part of our 100-Days of Independent Learning project.

5. What skills will you practice daily?
In all the independent learning projects, we will practice the skills of imitation, repetition, memorization, and improvisation.

6. How will you track progress?
One key metric is the amount of time spent in independent work daily,

B. Implement 100-Day projects

7. What 100-Day project(s) or activities did you start this month?
Starting independent learning projects
8. How is your 100-Day project changing the daily routine? Why?
Carefully designed independent learning activities will be an integral part of the daily routine.

9. What 100-Day project activities are you continuing daily? Why?
We are continuing oral story narration from our previous 100-Day project daily.

10. How can you extend your 100-Day practice with open-ended explorations?
Extension happens naturally through our imitate, repeat, memorize, improvise is our core process

Join our 365-Day Exploration group on Whatsapp to learn about LIFESMART and practice techniques such as the 100-Day project. Our goal is to encourage, inform, and support parents in thinking about possibilities and implementing focused and consistent short-term action towards long-term goals

Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Morpheus Nag


Learning by Playing it Forward 1: Learning about Trees

By Ananth Raghunandan

Learning by Playing it Forward 1: Learning about Trees

Learning by playing it forward means sharing our explorations with others. Recently, I started my Youtube channel, Ananth’s Adventures to share what I am learning and to give ideas to parents, teachers, and neurodivergent learners on different tools and techniques for learning. The SpecialSaathi blog is another way I play it forward. Thanks to Shilpi mam for encouraging me to blog.

In this blog post, I want to share my project on trees. I have shared two videos on my Youtube
channel. I hope you enjoy the videos and use them to teach your child about trees!

The Tree Song Video

Exploring Trees with Thinkblocks Video

LIFESMART Project Planner

Since I have started creating resources regularly, I have also started using the LIFESMART
planner to organize my projects.

The Planner is organized into four sections:
I: Lesson/ Project Goals and Activities
III: Narration Tools and Techniques
IV. Progress and Next Steps

A key feature of the planner is that the LIFESMART elements are used to organize outcomes for the project. The four LIFE components (L: Learning daily, I: Interests, F: Family interactions, E: Engagement with Community) are consistently used to think about the outcomes of every lesson.
SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-framed) goals are written to address these LIFE goals. Finally, the longer-term impact of projects on the Six Cs (Connections, Conversations, Clarity, Choice, Competence, Coordination).

Trees Project Plan and Progress

1. What is the goal of the lesson/project?
To teach how a tiny seed becomes a big tree with many parts such as the roots, trunk, branches,
leavers etc. The goal is to wonder about the miracle of the tree adnd to appreciate what trees give
us. Thanks to my friend Kabir Vernal for a beautiful painting of a child looking at a tree.

2. Describe the activities in the lesson/project.
– Learn the tree song dance and create a video
– Create a video on the use of Thinkblocks to describe trees.

3. List the roles of people involved in the lesson/project.
Tree song lesson is by Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh, Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD)
Facilitator and Faculty/Artiste
Trees using Thinkblocks created with Dr. Dasaratha Rama

4. How does the lesson/project address the four LIFE goals:

L: Learning daily
Narration (retelling or communicating what we have learned) is an important tool for
learning. I have used movement and visual tools such as Thinkblocks since 2007. Both
types of tools increase learning and are fun to use. Now, I have more opportunities to
practice narration daily as I create videos for the LIFESMART community.
I: Interests
I am very interested in dance and music. So learning and teaching with movement and
music is more fun than just reading books. I also found Thinkblocks more fun than just
reading from a book.
F: Family interactions
I enjoy doing the tree song and other dances with my nephew. My nephew is one and a
half years old. He does not understand the whole song. But he loves it when I jump
around and even tries to copy some movements. When I was young, I used to learn with
movement and visual tools with my mother.
E: Engagement with Community

I have fun learning these songs for my nephew from my teacher. Now I can also share it
with the LIFESMART community. My mother and I are also creating video lessons on
Thinkblocks and other tools.

5. Write SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-framed) goals for the

Recording the Tree Song
S: Specific: Record the tree song with my teacher
M: Measurable: Post a video of the song on Youtube
A: Attainable: The project was easily attainable because I have to learn enough to imitate but do
not need to perfect it like a dance for a performance.
R: Relevant: This project was relevant to goal of enjoying my time with my nephew
T: Time-framed: I had to finish the project before leaving for London.

Recording the Thinkblocks Video
S: Specific: Describe the parts of the tree, relationship between trees and people, and the miracle
of the tree growing from a tiny seed using Thinkblocks.
M: Measurable: Post a 3-5 minute video on trees with Thinkblocks on YouTube
A: Attainable: The project was easily attainable because I have used Thinkblocks for many
years. I have also been practicing making short videos for a few months.
R: Relevant: This project was relevant to goal of creating resources for the LIFESMART
T: Time-framed: I had to finish the project before leaving for Bergen because my Thinkblocks are in London.

6. Describe the Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) tools (movement and
dance, music and rhythm, storytelling, drama, arts and crafts) used in the lesson/project.

The tree song uses music and movement to teach the parts of the tree. There is also a story of how seed becomes a tree. We can expand the lesson by telling stories about trees by enacting stories about trees and by drawing or painting trees.
Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) has been developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Founder/Director of RASA (

7. Describe other tools (e.g., visual mapping tools) used in the lesson/project.
This lesson introduces DSRP (Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives) method and the Thinkblocks tool. According to Dr. Cabrera, DSRP are the four universal patterns of thinking. We have used DSRP and associated tools for many years as a way of structuring information in consistent ways.
DSRP and Thinkblocks are creations of Cabrera Research Lab (

8. How is the process of imitation, repetition, memorization, and improvisation used in the
Imitation: I learned the tree song by imitating the teacher.
Repetition: I repeated it a few times because I was going to do the video with my teacher. When I
do the video myself, I have to repeat many times until I can do the movements well, and until I
can narrate the story well.
Memorization: I did not have to memorize the movements or the song for the video because I
was doing it with my teacher. But as I do it with my nephew, I will memorize it.
Improvise: My mother and I improvise in different ways as we do the song with my nephew.

9. Describe your progress on the lesson/project.
I completed the tree song video and we have tried it with my nephew a few times. We will
explore it when we see him again.
I have completed my Thinkblocks video and shared it on my YouTube channel.

10. How is this lesson/project growing Six Cs?

· Grow Connections: Our connections with the teacher and community are evolving
through the story of the month and other video projects.
· Participate in Conversations: We have regular conversations to plan the story projects.
· We clarify goals and activities for the story of the month project and other video projects
over time.
· Make choices with ease and confidence. I chose the story for the first narration and we
have continued to choose stories and make other choices as we have progressed.
· Evolve knowledge and skills (competence): I am developing multiple skills. One of the
most important skills is listening to and retelling stories or reading and retelling stories.
· Coordinate activities (workflow, routines): We are also collecting and curating resources on Ananth’s Youtube channel. We coordinate the story of the month projects including the development of the Youtube channel.

In this blog post, I shared a lesson about trees and a lesson/project planner. Join the conversation on LIFESMART Parenting group ( for more details.

Author Ananth Raghunandan


ParentSaathi talk 1.1 on Lifesmart parenting approach (parenting as theater ) by Dr.Dasaratha Rama on 9th November’22 from 8pm to 9m only on Google meet link