If you're considering an alternative school for your child, you're part of an enlightened minority :) As parents who began our journey just like you, we thought it would be helpful to explain the why, what, and how of alternative schools, and Comini in particular. Here are some of the questions this will help answer:

A bit of history first. We (Priyanka and Sai) are both products of conventional schools. We both navigated the entrance test races to get our college degrees. Priyanka got an MBA from a top-tier college. Sai aced the entrance test game. He ranked in the top 150 in IIT-JEE, got a near-perfect score in the GRE, and went on to earn a PhD in neuroscience. Eventually, we dove into our professional and personal lives. 

Somewhere along the way, we realized that our schooling didn't provide us with meaningful preparation for either. Sure, it helped us obtain the certificates needed to open doors. But did we really need to spend most of our waking hours from childhood to adolescence sitting in classrooms, waiting for teachers to pour knowledge and wisdom into our brains, just to get those certificates? We turned out relatively fine, but many, many children don't.

Covid happened, and we, as adults, witnessed firsthand what passed as education when it shifted online. Sai had just finished co-authoring a neuroscience book about the mind and learning. Both practice and theory were telling us the same thing: children can learn, thrive, and compete without hopping onto the conventional treadmill.

So, we decided to explore alternatives. We discovered many options (even in India) but none that met our primary requirements: high-quality, close to us in Mumbai, and reasonably priced to avoid becoming an exclusive socio-economic bubble. We started our journey with a different kind of bubble, a learning pod, towards the end of the pandemic. We were incredibly fortunate to find a group of like-minded, passionate parents also seeking alternatives. Comini was born.

We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions -- if they have any -- and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.John Holt,  Learning All the Time

From the very beginning of his education, the child should experience the joy of discovery. The discovery which he has to make, is that general ideas give an understanding of that stream of events which pours through his life, which is his life.Alfred North WhiteheadThe Aims of Education

Comini is now over a year old. We have lived experience of what a different education can look like. On a daily basis we see how kids can flourish and learn when allowed to actively explore and engage with the world, and with each other. Worksheets and textbooks are poor substitutes for rich, multi-sensory experiences where learning happens pretty much by default. We can say this: Comini is exceptional. That’s not us patting ourselves on our backs. Our community of kids and parents, each with their own unique perspective and bundle of curiosities, make it so. There’s real magic in seeing how paying attention to bird calls can lead to a deep interest in nature and interconnected ecosystems, how a fascination for board games can become a springboard to understanding trade-offs and cooperation, or how storytelling can become a portal to different cultures and periods in history. 

So yes, Comini is exceptional, but it is not alone. You are not alone in choosing the path of alternative education. Many parents and children worldwide – and in India – have embraced alternative education and these children have grown into happy, successful adults with fulfilling, even exceptional, careers.  Many educators and educational philosophers (John Dewey, John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Paulo Freire, and Peter Gray, to name a few) have advocated for alternatives for over a century. Some well-known options like Montessori, Steiner Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, and Sudbury Valley School were established decades ago; we have a list of alternative schools and approaches in the Resources section at the end of this article.  We are fortunate we have the wisdom and experience of so many to lean on. What will make Comini different is our new reality. For the first time in history, the world kids enter as preschoolers will be dramatically different from the one they'll step into as adults. The version of alternative education that suits our children will need to keep pace with this, and evolve with our growing understanding of how, when, and why we learn.

Why Comini?

That is, why not implement one of these existing alternative approaches? As you look over the list of alternatives (in the Resources section below), you’ll see recurring phrases: child-led, personalized, democratic, mixed-age, holistic, play-based, project-based, and experiential learning. Our goal with Comini is to breathe life and meaning into all of these concepts. 

Approaches like Montessori and Waldorf were ahead of their time when the first schools were established, and they continue to be viable alternatives. However, we now have a century’s worth of science, educational psychology, pedagogy research to draw upon as well. Our fundamental learning on this journey has been that having a well-intentioned philosophy, principles, and curriculum is not enough; what truly matters is the active engagement of our educators, parents, and children in the learning process, as we all learn together. Our rulebook and curriculum emerge from this collective experience.

It is important that you are clear about why you are considering alternative schooling, and what alternatives will and will not do. We have put together a list of commonly asked questions. Please do read this, and let us know if you have any other questions you would like us to answer.

If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.John Dewey

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How will we know as parents that they are learning if there are no grades?

A: The myth that kids must master a topic by a certain age can be counterproductive. An emphasis on assessment turns into teaching to test, which can actively discourage learning. We will do broad-based assessment through observations and share them with parents periodically. Here is an example of a numeracy assessment we keep updating through the year:

Q: Do we have qualified teachers to enable this approach to learning?

A: Alternative education is an act of rebellion. We are rejecting traditional methods of teaching and testing. Rebels don’t seek qualification and approval from the system they are trying to bring down :) We ask this question to get at something deeper: what expertise does one need to enable learning, and show what the world has to offer in the best possible light? We look for adults with maturity, wisdom, and a willingness to learn. It is not possible for one individual to be an expert in multiple topics, but it is possible to be curious and learn. We will seek out experts where required to dive deeper into topics.

Q: Does an alternative approach mean they will not learn science and maths?

A: No, they will learn these subjects when they are ready, and with a deeper understanding of why we learn these concepts and use these mental tools. We will expose them to these ideas thematically, helping them understand their usefulness.

Q: Will they not learn how to socialize as well?

A: The microschool approach emphasizes emotional wellbeing and connectedness. Mixed-age groups and autonomy actually help kids understand and communicate with each other.

Q: Will they have difficulty transitioning to a conventional school?

A: It is a challenging question, but we will work with parents to help this transition happen as smoothly as it can. Alternative schools are very different from conventional schools, and for good reasons. We cannot sugarcoat this and say going back to the conventional mode will be easy. The good news is kids are resilient and flexible.

Q: Will they have trouble taking standardized exams when it is time to do so?

A: Deep learning – the kind of learning that allows children to know why, where, and how things matter – will make exam-taking easier. By that time, they will also understand the need for assessment exams, and we'll prepare them accordingly. And, of course, we have personal experience with navigating and acing those exams, so we’ll have it covered.

Q: What does it mean to learn the game of life well?

A: We love the metaphor of a game and how it applies to learning. A game is not one single skill. It is the many small things, together with a love for the game that makes a great sportsperson. Learning the game of life is about cultivating various skills and a passion for learning, and learning how to play with others.


Alternative schools and approaches

Videos & Articles


There are many more books that explore playful learning, personalized learning, democratic learning, and alternative education. Please ping us if you are interested!

We hope this is useful. We hope you’ll consider the alternative schooling path. We wish you courage, conviction, and the willingness to embrace a bit of messiness and chaos to experience the magic that is possible when life and learning blossom unhindered.

You can learn about Comini here, and see how our days and weeks unfold on our Instagram page. Interested? Please reach out to us!