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:


How Ananth and I use Storytelling to Explore Values

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, Ananth started his theater arts journey with Ramana Sunritya Aalaya in 2020. Since that time, he has explored many values through his theatre arts experiences. Value exploration is deeply embedded in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) experiences. TAHD was developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, Founder and Director of RASA.

The Need for Value Exploration for Neurodivergent Learners

Values give a sensemaking framework and along with movement and other TAHD tools and techniques can help neurodivergent learners manage stress and lead a fulfilling life. Storytelling has been used as a vehicle for teaching values for a long time. Neurodivergent learners experience language processing, auditory processing, working memory, executive memory, and other challenges that pose significant barriers to storytelling and value exploration. However, given these challenges, an explicit teaching of values and daily practice may be even more important for neurodivergent learners as compared to neurotypical learners who acquire values through interactions with many people in daily experiences throughout their lives.

In this post, I will describe our journey of discovery. Over the last 2.5 years, we have seen different ways in which values are explored through TAHD experiences. Ananth started learning Bharatanatyam from Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh, Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) Facilitator, Senior Faculty and Artiste, Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning in October 2022.
As Ananth started learning Bharatanatyam with a TAHD facilitator, value exploration became more systematic and consistent because of the way in which value exploration and storytelling were integrated with the structure of Bharatanatyam lessons. Today, we have started exploring values as a more intentional daily practice.

Exploring Values through Storytelling: The TAHD Way

Watch the video by Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh for an overview of his approach to teaching values through Bharatanatyam, the TAHD way.
Two key points in the video:
1. The Power of Repetition – Ongoing repetition of core values in dance classes reinforces the ideas for students. As mentioned in the video, values embedded in stories are like times tables that can be accessed and used at the right time.
2. Value Exploration – A Co-Production Approach

One key point mentioned by Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh in the video is value exploration as a process of co-production. Co-production is a useful lens especially for older learners. Parents have extensive experience exploring varied approaches and have identified many approaches, tools and techniques that work for their child.

As mentioned in the video, an important way in which parents can contribute is by sharing what values the learner is imbibing and exploring. This feedback can help the teacher refine the lesson plans and personalize it for the learner.

Read more about co-production here:
Quotes from the above article:
• Co-production requires a relocation of power into the hands of families and young people
• Collaborative co-production requires that users are experts in their own circumstances (which families often are) and capable of making decisions. Professionals need to move away from being fixers to being facilitators.
TAHD professionals are referred to as facilitators and this culture of co-production is easy to realize with TAHD.
Evolving a Daily Value Exploration Practice

As Ananth started Bharatanatyam lessons with Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh in October 2022, value exploration had also shifted though we did not realize it at that time. The first indication of this shift was when Ananth decided to narrate The White Peacock story on his birthday. Ramana Maharshi’s love and acceptance of all living beings was a theme that Ananth and I thought about daily as he practiced for his presentation.

Then, we realized that Ananth was drawn to Ramana Maharshi’s teachings on silence. As he practiced the nattadavu (a basic movement pattern that is repeated frequently during lessons) and learned The Golden Mongoose story, we discovered that silence was something Ananth wanted to explore.

As he heard about Ramana Maharshi’s journey to Arunachala and how he desired nothing, Ananth started exploring this value. He started questioning whether we can be completely without desires and how much desire one can have. He also started making connections to other stories. For example, he remarked how Bharat did not have desire and did not want Rama’s kingdom.

The Power of Repetition for Learning Values
Ananth’s first story narration at a SpecialSaathi webinar on his 25th birthday. When Ms. Shilpi Mayank-Awasthi invited him to present, we were thinking of a traditional presentation. Suddenly, he asked whether he could narrate The White Peacock story. I was surprised. So were his teachers. To this day, I am not sure why he wanted to narrate a story and why he chose The White Peacock one. Could it be that the simple story of love and acceptance resonated with him? As Ananth has become older, he is very aware that he is different and cannot make his way through the world as others do. I will never know what motivated him to choose story narration or why he chose that particular story.

However, I think the process of learning used in TAHD classes played a role in sparking this interest. As Ananth repeatedly heard several stories in his dance class, he was processing these stories and would share some thought based on these stories. Imitation is powerful. Young children pick up values as they narrate their favorite stories repeatedly. Dance created an opportunity to imitate The White Peacock and other stories many times while practicing hand gestures. This repetition created multiple opportunities to think about the story and values over time.

It struck me that the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise is a process for learning values too. Repetition builds a vocabulary of values as well an understanding through story and movement. Repetition sets the stage for recalling the value as needed.

Integrating Value Exploration and Daily Experiences

We are also finding ways to integrate daily experience and values presented in class. For example, we went to a theatre show in London. A few days before the show, I had injured my leg. So when Ananth went to drink some water, he thought of bringing water to me. In his latest story on Cow Lakshmi, one part of the story was about how Ramana thatha fed idlis to Cow Lakshmi and how he cared for all his devotees paying attention to even small details. I reminded Ananth of the theatre incident and told him that was an example of how he was caring when he brought me the water. This type of reflection is useful because spotlighting small successes makes the individual more aware and more likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

Bharatanatyam and Value Exploration

The following features of the Bharatanatyam class shifted value exploration:

1) Specific stories and values are attached to the adavus (basic movement patterns that are typically practiced at the beginning of each class) and hastas (hand gestures that are also practiced in every class). Since the adavus and hastas are repeated, story and value presentation is also repeated. Repetition is important for drawing attention to and thinking about the values of characters multiple times.
2) Since Ramana Maharshi stories have been carefully selected and sequenced for presentation in the dance class, there is a values curriculum in the dance class.
3) Before the dance class, Ananth was exploring different values in different experiences such as storytelling and drama but aligning the story presentation to the Bharatanatyam lesson structure made the value exploration systematic and consistent.

Ananth has also learned Bharatanatyam in a traditional format for over ten years. In contrast to his earlier experiences, storytelling and value exploration has been a focus in Ananth’s recent TAHD informed Bharatanatyam experience.

A TAHD informed approach to Bharatanatyam may be better for neurodivergent learners because a flexible mix of technical elements of dance, storytelling, value exploration etc. can be crafted based on individual needs. Even for Ananth, this flexibility has been invaluable. For several months, he was more focused on storytelling and developing his monthly storytelling practice and Youtube channel. Now, he has turned his attention more to dance practice.

Value Exploration with Neurodivergent Learners

Consider language processing, auditory processing, working memory, executive memory, and other challenges while practicing storytelling and value exploration. We have used visual and tactile tools for storytelling for years because of these challenges. Since starting storytelling through theatre arts and especially as an integrated practice with Bharatanatyam, Ananth’s ability to process stories through auditory input without any visual support has increased tremendously. Looking back, Ramana Maharshi stories have been an excellent choice for value exploration. Earlier stories such as The White Peacock and Robbers in Ramana thatha’s ashram had few characters and simple storylines. Thus, Ananth was able to pay more attention to value exploration. As stories have become more complex, he also become more familiar with the life and teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Thus, he is able to process more complex stories with auditory input. He is also initiating value exploration in other stories.

Value exploration is important for all learners. I wonder whether it is more important for neurodivergent learners to experience explicit value exploration through storytelling since they experience communication challenges that make it difficult for them to explore values and practice using these values in life experiences through daily experiences. Based on our experiences over the last 2.5 years, I am glad we have had the opportunity to explore values in a systematic and consistent way through Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD).

A Memorable Moment

Ananth attended the Saturday satsang by Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning (RMCL). I suggested that he attend Ujwal’s part as he is accustomed to his storytelling style. The next day, I asked Ananth about the story narrated by Ujwal. He was able to explain about a girl throwing stones to get fruits from a tree, bees getting disturbed and stinging her, and the girl telling Ramana thatha about the bees. Attending to auditory information, comprehending the story, and narrating it with ease are outcomes from Ananth’s Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) experience. While we have explored storytelling for years, we used visual aids to organize and recall information. Further, it is easier to process information and recall during a dance class when there is a lot of movement. Processing oral narration and recalling while sitting down is exciting to see. Exploration of another value, compassion has now started for us.

Author Dr.Dasaratha Rama
Dr. Dasaratha Rama 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.

Contributor – Ananth Raghunandan

Join the discussion in our whatsapp group here:


How Ananth and I Use Visual and Tactile Tools for Storytelling

How Ananth and I Use Visual and Tactile Tools for Storytelling

Over 15 years ago, I learned about Dr. Cabrera’s work on the Distinction, Systems, Relationships, Perspectives (DSRP) method. According to Dr. Cabrera, DSRP are four universal patterns of thinking that support systems thinking, critical thinking, and other forms of thinking.

Using Thinkblocks

Ananth and I started exploring DSRP and Thinkblocks when he was in Elementary School. While we stopped using Thinkblocks after a few years, we continued using DSRP and other DSRP tools (e.g., Plectica). DSRP guides our use of all visual and tactile tools and gives us a systematic and consistent way of thinking about ideas.

Enki Approach to Homeschooling

In the meantime, we had started using the Enki approach for homeschooling. Enki is based on Waldorf and other approaches. Ananth also attended a Waldorf school for two years. We used many Waldorf materials in our homeschool. We used colorful scarves, wooden figures etc. Slowly, we started combining Thinkblocks and scarves for storytelling. We would use scarves to visually demarcate different settings. For example, Ananth used to love The Magic Treehouse books. We would use one scarf for Jack and Annie’s home and a different one for the place they visited in that story. We would also use treeblocks to build the treehouse.
While we narrated stories with Thinkblocks regularly, we did not record videos. Now that Ananth is older and developing interest in storytelling, we have an opportunity to share our storytelling ideas and experiences with parents and others.

Watch Ananth’s narration of Cow Lakshmi’s Daily Visits using Thinkblocks. After his narration, I have explained our journey and provided tips for using tools such as Thinkblocks for storytelling. If you don’t have Thinkblocks, use household objects or other blocks! 3-D objects have a different feel than pictures.

Now, Ananth is able to process such stories without visual support. He is also able to narrate without visual aids. In fact, he had prepared this narration (over 500 words) without visual aids when I suddenly thought that we can use this opportunity to demonstrating Thinkblocks. We will use such visual aids with more planning in future videos!

Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD)
Ananth also weaves in TAHD tools (movement and dance, music and rhythm, storytelling, drama, and arts and crafts) in his presentations. We are enjoying integrating Thinkblocks and TAHD! Our goal is to explore the use of visual and tactile tools as well as TAHD tools for thinking, learning, and communication.

Watch the video and join the discussion in our whatsapp group here:

Dr. Dasaratha Rama is a certified leader in systems thinking, mapping, and leadership under a program developed by Cabrera Research Lab. She is also doing a certificate in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) from RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya).

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


The Golden Mongoose

Please watch the video of the Golden Mongoose Story below and follow me on Ananth’s Adventures. I will be sharing one story each month for parents to enjoy with their children.

This story is about how Ramana Maharshi’s silent presence attracted people and even animals. I am grateful to Sri Ujwal Jagadeesh, faculty and artist at the Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning for his encouragement, guidance, and support of my story of the month project.

Thank You Shilpi mam for encouraging me to share my first story on my birthday on December 2, 2022 on Special Saathi. In March, I practiced the story of the Golden Mongoose. I shared this story on Youtube on World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, 2023.

Thanks to Vinayak Raj, Morpheus Nag, and Dhrov Tikoo for their creative representation for The Golden Mongoose story .

What is Silence?

My mother and I also did a short role play and narration to explain the idea of silence. Silence does not mean absence of speech. Watch the video to explore what Ramana Maharshi refers to as silence and think about how a silent mind can help neurodivergent learners overcome stress and achieve calmness.

Activity for Parents and Children

My storytelling project is a Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) project. TAHD was developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar. Use the five TAHD tools to explore The Golden Mongoose story with your child!

Movement and Dance

There is a short dance piece in the story narration itself. In addition, you can also try this longer movement activity

Music and Rhythm

The movement activity includes music.


Watch the Golden Mongoose story with your child and encourage them to tell the story.


Enact the story. Assign roles for Ramana Maharshi, the golden mongoose, and devotees.

Arts and Crafts

See the creative representations by CreativeSaathis and draw the story while narrating!

We hope you enjoy the story! Share your explorations and additional ideas as comments or email

Author Ananth Raghunandan


Reduce Stress and Enhance Engagement through Imitation – I

Why use imitation?

  • Imitation reduces stress by reducing use of verbal prompts, instructions and directions, and performance demands, reduces stress: Many neurodivergent learners experience considerable stress and anxiety. Low arousal techniques have evolved as a way of teaching neurodivergent learners. See an overview here. Some techniques are reducing demands, reducing talking, providing quiet time, and including movement. An imitation-based approach can be used to create low-arousal environments.
  • Imitation expands opportunities for engagement: Learners can engage in many ways by moving their body, using facial expressions, hand gestures etc. Imitation is based on observation and use of the body Mindful use of imitation changes communication between teachers and learners. Imitation provides a opportunities for those with language processing and other challenges to stay engaged in lessons.
  • Imitation creates opportunities for parent engagement: When a guide uses imitation as the core teaching process, there are many opportunities for parents to engage their child in simple and meaningful ways. Lessons taught through imitation can be repeated by the parent with the child. As the learner gets used to this process, the parent can routine use this process to provide predictability and variation in the learning process.

Imitate, Repeat, Memorize, and Improvise

Varied experiences over the last two decades have brought us to our basic learning process:

  • Imitate
  • Repeat
  • Memorize
  • Improvise

In today’s world, three of the four steps in this process (imitation, repetition, and memorization) seem unfashionable. The push is for creativity and innovation! However, I believe that imitation, repetition, and memorization support creativity rather than hinder it. We learn from a model, practice repeatedly, store things in memory and eventually improvise and use in our own way.

So I was very happy to read this blog post by Simmi Vasu on imitation. Imitation is not just the first step towards learning for babies and small children, it is a process we can use throughout our lives!

As Simmi notes: “Imitation skills are one of the most important developmental milestones. It clearly shows that the child is environmentally present, he is aware of his surroundings and is responding to the stimulations he receives from them.”

As Ananth learned Bharatanatyam for over ten years, this process slowly came back into focus for me. As I see it being used repeatedly in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) lessons, I am learning more about this process and applying it in a more mindful way. Here is an example of a video demonstrating imitation. Imitation is often used to teach movement and dance.

While imitation is a poweful way to teach any individual, there are additional benefits for neurodivergent individuals such as stress reduction and expanding opportunities for interaction beyond speech. It can also be challenging to implement imitation with neurodivergent individuals because they may have difficulty reproducing movements, gestures etc.

Learning Drama

Ananth’s drama teacher, Dr. Vaishnavi Poorna of RASA India uses this process to teach drama to differently-abled adults. Students prepared for the RASA Day performance on February 23, 2023 using this process. Movements, gestures, and facial expressions were learned through imitation in class. Then, Ananth repeated these movements, gestures, and facial expression at home. Repetition led to memorization. Finally, one has to be well-prepared but be ready to improvise as things unfold on stage. Read about Ananth’s drama experience using this process here.

Learning Dance and Storytelling

Ananth also uses the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise process for learning dance and storytelling. Parents use imitation and repetition with young children. However, we often do not use it for older children or adults. Neurodivergent children may have missed developmental milestones and have language processing and other challenges. Hence, it is useful to implement the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise process in a more deliberate way.

Here is Ananth’s first story of the month created using this process:

Enhancing Learning with SMART Projects

Our basic process is

Imitate –> Repeat –> Memorize –> Improvise

The monthly SMART project focuses and organizes this basic learning process.

Key benefits:

  1. Ananth has a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-framed) project to complete each month. Having a SMART project keeps him focused.
  2. Since the stories are attached to aduvus (basic movement patterns in Bharatanatyam) or hastas (hand gestures), Ananth has a narrow and clearly defined set of skills to practice each month. He practices other skills but the targeted practice for the story of the month is proving to be a very helpful part of learning.
  3. Ananth is practicing the story until he can narrate it fluently. This process is creating opportunities for memorizing and recalling language, thus growing his oral language capacities.

Author DrDasaratha Rama

Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Shubh Pathak