My children love virtual reality. Good old toys and board games were pre-maturely replaced a long time ago, by Netflix and Youtube, games on the ipad, mobile phones and the ps4.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I had not set a time limit for their ‘screen time’. If they were allowed unlimited access, would they ever look up? Would they ever stop and wonder at the world around? Would they ever admire life, nature, beauty, art? Would they have any bit of imagination left? Would they want to create, dream, run around, play, or love? Be in a relationship? Make conversations? I really wonder what would happen to their ‘sense of wonder’. It’s sad but its true, but if I may call technology the enemy, my children, according to me are victims of a cruel era to come. And it scares me.
Which is why, when my husband Abhishek and I first visited Abacus Montessori School, we felt it was just what they needed. A school that encourages a simple and holistic, artistic and organic way of life, which would probably set the balance to ground our gadget enslaved children.
Initially when I heard about the farm program, I didn’t have a clue about how happy it would make me to see my child working on a farm. (Or him) But it has been amazing. The 30 acre Abacus farm located in Vellaputhur, is a place where kids from middle school have the opportunity to work and learn.
My son Aatman joined in Class 7, and his was the first batch that made regular farm trips all of last year and they continue going this year too. The children visit the farm twice a month for an overnight stay. Here, they are all divided into groups and each child has a slice of land that they cultivate and look after through the year. Though the main produce is rice, they also grow a variety of vegetables and crops including banana, groundnut, and coconuts.
At the farm, ‘Songlines’ as it is lovingly called, they learn all the essential facets of farming, from the cleaning of the plant seeds to sowing them, ploughing and harvest, to minute details about the chemical composition of the soil.
The tasks at the farm vary each time, usually determined by the crop. Does it need manuring or pesticides? One trip they may be working on the the transplantation of paddy, and sometimes the collection and study of pests.
On Friday mornings, which is their usual time for animal care, they clear the cowsheds, bathe the goats, feed the animals, milk the cows and of course have a lot of fun at that.
Activities like shelter construction, like a pen for the chicken or a shed for the cows are season dependent. Other fun activities I saw the kids enjoy were braiding a coconut leaf for a thatched roof and making garlands with flowers. There is an immense lot of learning that goes on, in these day to day activities at the farm besides life skills, bonding with friends and connecting with the environment.
Biology is taught here, through the study of plants and animals, chemistry too, when they learn about the composition of pesticides, manure, water and soil. Math they learn when the prepare the fertilisers and composts which require calculations, or even how to calculate the yield related to what they are growing. They learn physics by knowing how to use the hardware and tools on the farm. And most of all, they learn humility, simplicity and a great respect and love for nature.
When I asked Aatman, why is farming so important, here’s what he said to me: “Farming is an essential part of life. It is the basis of the very economy the world stands on today. Without farming, the world is nothing.”
The journey to the farm each time, is another fun aspect. It’s a 2-hour bus drive from school and the kids usually spend it sharing jokes or playing cards or singing. A thorough check up of the vehicle and the first aid kit is done by the kids themselves each time. The best are the night stays. It’s like going on an excursion every other week. The children have a fun activity planned for the evening, followed by dinner. Then they play cards or games like dark room, and eventually go to bed in their respective dorms. The food provided is wholesome, organic and nutritious. The most fun of all is just being with friends, for 2 whole days!
When I visited the farm, (parents are welcome to go) I loved it. Far away from the urban jungle we live in, I felt really good about these young boys and girls enjoying this unique opportunity no other school offers in the city. These children have learnt to value the simple things in life, simple comforts they often take for granted, like a soft pillow to sleep on. They have learnt to value the worth of every grain of rice. They have learnt to respect the earth which they will inherit from us, and understand truly the meaning of conserving, nurturing, and caring for it, unlike us who pollute it every single day.
After a beautiful day I spent at the farm one evening, as the final activity, we were asked to walk in a single file, across the farm in pin drop silence, for about 5 minutes, just to listen to the sounds of nature. As I walked with the kids, those sounds of the birds and the leaves seemed most melodious…. and those 5 minutes the most peaceful I have experienced in a long long time. And no virtual world can beat that feeling. Ever.
About the author
Ami Gupta is a doting mom to two boys. She finds her creative outlet in photography and travel. If she isn’t doing any of this you’ll find her hanging out with friends or supporting a good cause/charity. She is an amazing photographer and was featured in my top 5 Chennai photographers list here!