Exploring Without Limits: My Self-Directed Learning Adventure
In my early days of unschooling, I started off my learning journey right from home, exploring subjects on my own terms. From there, I took what I learned and put it into practice out in the real world. I tried my hand at everything from working with computers to getting my hands dirty in a cowshed. Along the way, my friends and I started a learning club where we learned everything we could from video editing, 3D animation to programming.

Photo of author climbing a vine hanging from a tree
Self-directed learning wasn’t new to me because I, like most kids, was an explorer of this world. When I started going to school I couldn’t fit in the system like many children. Five year old me did not want to sit in the same place and learn and repeat the same thing every day.

Growing up I mostly said no to going to school. I said this because my parents allowed me to. Many parents don’t allow this behavior for their child but my parents did. If I said no my parents would most of the time let me stay home and do my own stuff. The only time I wanted to go to school was when there was a sports event or an exam. I liked exams when I was a kid, I still don’t know why.

My parents thought that the school might be the issue. I went to school for four years and changed four schools. I still remember that conversation to this day after ten years. At the end of my second grade my parents asked how the idea of not going to a school sounded. And I said yes while balloons filled with joy and burst inside me.

At the start of my journey, I started learning the school curriculum from home. My mom taught me most of it and I asked her a ton of questions. Sometimes she could answer and the other times, my parents tried finding people who could answer my questions.

Photo of author with his dad who's pointing up at some columns on an ancient building
In the first year of my homeschooling, I finished the school curriculum in four to five months. Suddenly, I had time and I didn’t know what to do with it. I was very interested in arts and crafts in that period of time and specifically in origami and making superhero weapons and suits.

My mom and I learned how to make origami shapes and objects from some apps and YouTube. I decorated a door with all the origami shapes I made. I also had a huge passion for painting the walls with my art. After I got used to scissors and glue, I created an Iron Man suit, a Captain America shield, Ninja blades and many other things mostly by recycling my old cardboard and papers.

I also spent a lot of my time playing with friends. I was the go-to option for my friends because they knew I was going to be free and willing to play anytime. Many people assumed that I didn’t have friends growing up because I didn’t go to school. But it was quite the opposite. Many times during the holidays, my friends would come to my home and help me create cool projects and drawings because they knew Sneh’s parents wouldn’t scold us for playing.

Photo of author sitting and reading a book in a bookstore
This is what I did when I was in my home. But whenever my dad was free, we used to go outside — from trekking, visiting museums, attending plays, going to events. We went everywhere we could. We have a few favorite places, one of them is a bookstore in my city, where we visited once a month and all three of us would go through books and buy the ones we liked.

In India, I live in a state called Maharashtra. In my state, we have a large plateau region called “Sahyadri.” Many of these mountains are forts and those forts have a rich history dating back to thousands of years. I lived close to many of these forts, so we always explored these forts. When the books I used to refer to mentioned these forts, we always used to go to the specifically mentioned fort and imagine what was written in the book. This way of learning really helped in the long term. I understood the importance of visualization and practical learning.

As more time passed by, I started drifting away from the school curriculum and started learning on my own. The first example was learning English. My mother tongue is Marathi, but when I was learning how to make origami, I was watching YouTube tutorials in English and was not able to understand what the person in the video was saying. To improve my English comprehension, my parents suggested that I listen to English stories. So I watched English cartoons such as Peppa Pig, Thomas & Friends and a few others. After a few months, I started to talk in broken English then I improved and slowly read English from story books and then eventually I learned to write in English. Whenever I think about this journey, I always remember that one time my mom’s friend heard me talk in English when I was just getting started and she asked why I had a British accent. I didn’t understand her question at first, but at around fifteen years old I understood what accents were and had a good laugh after finally understanding why she was confused. Though I wasn’t surprised I had an accent after realizing I learned English from British cartoons :)

After fifth grade, I fully stopped following the school curriculum. I attended a summer camp in which I learned about Scratch (the block-based programming language used for making games), stories and lots of other things that really interested me and started my programming journey. After learning Scratch, I learned basic Python (an Advanced programming language).

Photo of author sitting with a keyboard on his lap, headphones in looking at a laptop next to a computer screen
My dad and I also completed an online Entrepreneurship course. This was something brand new to me and I didn’t understand most concepts at that time but I understood what entrepreneurship meant.

In 2020, I entered my teens. This is when COVID-19 started, At that time, a few of my friends and I had a lot of time so we started a video call every 12 o’clock in the afternoon for an hour. At first, we just used to chat and have discussions, after a few days we had an idea. I knew a little bit about programming and they really wanted to learn programming. So I started teaching them Scratch. Then I taught them beginner Python and we learned Advanced Python together. While we were learning, my friend’s school started again. We had to figure out a new time to meet but we couldn’t find any time slot which matched for all of us. Finally, we decided on 6 in the morning. I was not used to waking up that early but I still tried and we did it for three years every Monday to Friday. In this period, we learned more programming languages. We created a 3D recreation of Tom and Jerry (a cartoon cat and mouse) in which we learnt a 3D modeling software, a video editing software and learnt how to do voiceovers for our characters for fun. We also created an Android app which played a random song every time we opened it and many other cool projects. We learned all of this on our own by searching courses and tutorials. We had many hurdles, and we also went and met professionals to whom we asked our questions and sought help from when we had a problem. Our club was called “Bhidu” which has many definitions but for us it meant “Partner in Play.” We also presented this journey to ASDE via an online meeting.

In the lockdown period, my parents and I also lived in different parts of my state. We lived in Kolhapur, a nearby city where I learned about that city’s culture, tried different types of food, and explored different places and historical sites. After a few months, we went to stay at my friend’s house. It was in a rural part of my state. It was disconnected from the world. People in that village were not affected by what was happening in the outside world. The house was in a forest. I got to see snakes, deer, owls and many other animals I don’t get to see on a daily basis.

Around this period (June 2021) my first internship started. It was in the Voice Technology field. The name of the company was VoiceTech Labs, I first learned the necessary skills from the founders. We then worked on developing Alexa Skills while also finding new tools and ideas in the voice technology field.

Selfie of the author next to a calf
After this experience, we gathered the courage to rent a house in a different rural part of my state. We stayed there for two months. We went to the river to wash clothes, I cycled a lot, got chased by dogs multiple times. There was a cowshed near the village we stayed at. I went to that cowshed and asked the person working there if I could come and help. I had always liked working with cows and especially calves. The person who worked and owned the place said I could, so I went there every day for four hours. The first few days, I learned and observed what the other people working in the cowshed did. After that, I started helping the calves, measuring the milk and documenting it, feeding the cows and giving them water.

(Fun facts: There was a male calf who would sleep while drinking his mother’s milk so we had to wake him up whenever he slept. Cows are scared of water coming out of a water pipe; they only drink it after it is in the water container.)

In June 2022 when we returned back to Pune, I was now a Team Member at VoiceTech Labs.
I was considering where I wanted to pursue my career. I knew I liked computers but I didn’t know what I really wanted to learn. I did a few courses in every field and topic I could find from AI, Internet History, Game Development, Cloud Computing, IOT to Augmented Reality(AR)/Virtual Reality(VR). VR really interested me, so I took a few more courses in VR development and Foundation.

Upon completing multiple courses in extended reality and Unity Game Engine, I started to search for an internship where I could apply knowledge practically. I talked to people who worked in the 3D industry who my parents were in contact with. With this help, I started my first in-person internship at Digital Art India. I experienced VR for the first time. I created multiple apps for VR and AR.

Photo of author in a room with a virtual reality headset on
Meanwhile I was also preparing for my 10th grade exam (which is considered important in India). I wanted to experience what it is like giving and studying for the exams. I completed my 10th grade exam in November 2023. This really helped me understand what it was like studying with a deadline. This time after giving my final paper I felt relieved because the stress was over. Maybe that is why I enjoyed giving exams when I was younger.

I am still continuing my internship in VR and my work in Voice Technology while continuing to learn about cool stuff like calculus and electrical engineering.

After looking back, my self-directed learning journey had its ups and downs, and I learned and experienced many new things. None of this would have been possible without the support of my parents! So I want to thank them for making this journey possible!

I will continue my journey exploring this amazing world and improve myself!

This represents my self-directed learning journey so far and where it’s headed.

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