Aneekah Ssonawane’s son is no regular school-going boy. Instead, the trips they take across India serve as his classroom, teacher, books, and school all in one. His mother shares why this option works for them, and what tips other parents can take.
For Pransh, aged six, a regular day begins with him choosing what he’d like to learn that day. Will it be about cities and states and cultures? Will it be languages? Will it be an interesting science fact? Or will it be music and dance?
“There is always so much to learn,” says his mother Aneekah Ssonawane. “The two of us explore different subjects through activities.”
Pransh, you see, is no regular schoolboy. Instead of limiting himself to the four walls of a classroom, he learns through real-world experiences that majorly involve travelling — something his mother introduced him to a couple of years ago.
It all started when the COVID pandemic hit, and the family began working from home.
Choosing the road less travelled
The pandemic forced everyone to slow down, pause and reflect. It made Aneekah realise that life had gotten so hectic and busy that taking time out for oneself was almost unheard of.
Wishing to change this for herself, Aneekah decided to quit her job as an IT manager in 2020 and take a solo trip to Banaras.
“It was a time of pure bliss,” she recounts, adding she then undertook a winter trek to Uttarakhand in the next few months. On her return, Pransh took such a liking to his mother’s pictures of the scenery and landscapes that he begged her to take him along on her next voyage.
Aneekah was sceptical about how he’d react to long hours on the road and unpredictable schedules, but she agreed. She explains that Pransh was just one of the many children who were experiencing loneliness amid COVID.
“Despite everyone working from home during the lockdown and being together, children were often not being given the attention they needed. In our case too, my husband and I were busy with our own work and all this while, Pransh’s childhood was just passing by,” she says.
“Moreover, schools were holding classes online at the time. I felt children of his age should not be learning through a screen, but rather experiencing what they learn,” she says.
In January 2021, she took Pransh out of school with the thought that he would resume the following year. But the experiences and memories the duo built along the way made Aneekah see that life was as good a classroom as any for her son.
The start of a memorable journey
The mother-son duo took their first ever trip together in April 2021 from Pune to Spiti Valley. The plan was to stay at Thanedar village near Narkanda for a night and then continue the trek.
However, the weather wasn’t kind and Aneekah did not want to risk continuing through the storm. “We decided to spend the next four days at the village itself, and take off once the weather got better. But, life had other plans.”
The second lockdown hit and Himachal shut down, thus forcing the duo to stay put in the village until they could find their way out. It was an entire month before they finally left. But Aneekah says she is glad this change of plans occurred, as it gave her insight into her son’s view of the world.
“Pransh surprised me,” she says. “He thoroughly enjoyed basking in nature, playing with the kids in the homestay, and running around the area.”
This confirmed her belief that travelling with her young son was a good choice, and that these travels would shape him in ways no classroom could.
Once the lockdown eased, the two stayed in Manali for another month, following which they left for Ladakh.
“During the three months we had been away from home, I saw a change in Pransh,” says Aneekah. “He would talk to strangers, be curious about the culture in this new land, quiz the locals about the looming mountains he saw, and was always ready with another question. I realised he was really happy and did not miss home.”
She even says he picked up some Tibetan words. “Whilst on our travels, I would sometimes crave the comfort of chapati and homemade food. But even though Pransh is so young, he would want to taste all the local food. He’d ask locals why they grew barley and not wheat, or why certain food tasted a certain way,” she says.
This was when Aneekah decided she wanted to explore homeschooling while taking her son on trips across India so he could witness the beauty of the world instead of learning about it in a textbook.
English through stories, maths through expenses
It is very often that she gets questions about Pransh’s future — Will he ever go back to school? Will he give his board exams? — but Aneekah says, “I’m not worried. Why is everyone else?”
“Our society has made us believe that board exams are the ultimate goal and this pressure is put on kids right from the time they are young. In the process, their childhood is ruined.”
She adds that nothing is set in stone when it comes to whether Pransh will go back to school or continue being homeschooled. “We are taking one day at a time. He can always go back to traditional schooling if that is what makes him happy,” she says, adding that schooling has today become much more flexible, with the number of open universities, project-based admissions, etc.
As for how she covers different subjects with Pransh, Aneekah says daily life offers many opportunities to learn. “We learn maths through counting and managing small expenses. English grammar is taught through novels and short stories.”
She adds that Pransh practises his writing through a daily journal as well as a travel journal where he writes about his experiences.
“Sometimes, Pransh has a science question and I try to find a YouTube video that will answer it correctly. I am learning along with him,” says Aneekah.
As for whether he misses interacting with other kids his age, Aneekah says this is not a problem, as she ensures that when they stay at homestays, there are kids around or even NGOs where Pransh can play and learn.
For instance, when they visited Dhankar village in Spiti, he instantly bonded with a girl his age who was living in the homestay.
“She and Pransh immediately began playing, despite not knowing each other’s language. They played for an hour and we were taken by surprise. Adults usually take a long time to interact but with kids, it is seamless.”
Tips for parents to travel with kids
As for where they wish to travel, Aneekah says she wants to focus on India and let Pransh discover the beauty of the homeland before venturing abroad.
“I don’t want the travels to turn into touristy experiences wherein we check into hotels and have luxury trips. I want Pransh to see the world for what it is and experience the beauty of slow travel.”
The duo has explored Maharashtra, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, and North India, and is now looking to venture towards the South.
Aneekah says that while she has taken the decision to homeschool her son, parents shouldn’t think it’s an “either/or”. “I think travel is a wonderful way of letting children discover the world and themselves,” she says.
She goes on to share some tips that might help if you wish to take a solo trip with your child.
Don’t start big
“Go to a place that is nearby,” she suggests, adding that it is imperative to establish a comfort level with your child before travelling. She also recommends speaking to your child and planning the trip with them so that they do not feel overwhelmed later.
Homestays over hotels
Travelling with a child is no easy task. You will need help such as having familiar faces around, someone to watch the child while you are occupied, etc. This makes choosing homestays a great idea, she says. Plus, it also means that your child will learn plenty.
Light packing is not possible, says Aneekah. “Instead, resort to mindful packing. Sometimes we think our kids need a whole host of things to keep them busy, but when they are on the road, they actually find their own ways of enjoying themselves.”
It is not school
“Everything does not need to be made into a learning experience. Things will come naturally to the child. Don’t force a trip to be a lesson.”
She adds, “Sometimes, you will be able to cover only one point or attraction a day. It is okay. Kids get hungry, kids get cranky, and you need to keep their schedules too in mind.”
Aneekah also emphasises on the budget.
“We save a lot on tuition fees and school fees since Pransh is not in school and use it for the trips we take. We opt for homestays and local travel, thus ensuring that our trips are well within the budget.”
Edited by Divya Sethu