Perspectives from the Himalaya

How Our Children Learn

It will be 3 years soon since we left home.

Back in 2019, we had the itch to start something of our own. Although life in KL was comfortable and good to us, there seemed to be a calling that there was more to experience in our short existence. So we took the plunge and moved to rural Nepal bringing with us our two young boys in the hope of carving a new adventure together as a family. We had soaring spirits and perhaps a more than average dose of courage to tread on the unknown but little did we realise that nothing could have prepared us for what an adventure it would be.

As individuals, we strive to be lifelong learners. As parents, we are conscious that our children mirror traits of ourselves: the good, the bad, and all that we are not aware of until we see ourselves in them, often times a ghastly wake-up call. We are also conscious that we lead by example; therefore we aspire to be a better version of ourselves by stretching and questioning our boundaries; we show up at work daily with perseverance to complete the project and take it into the next phase; we take responsibility for our actions and emotional misfits knowing how our experiences can affect others; our pitfalls and failures are many but we accept them as lessons learned to be wiser; and we endeavour to be open-minded in all that we encounter. The list reeks of abominable righteousness and often rubs against the grain but it does seem like a probable framework that could shape decent human beings and keep us away from the darker places.

That being said, life still comes along powered by surprises. And when it does, sometimes it makes sense to reach out for help, advice and support when disorientation or something of a dire nature takes hold. A common question frequently asked of us is how our children are being educated.

Our boys’ learning journey, which began at Acton Academy Kuala Lumpur in 2015, had set up a foundation for them for self-paced independent learning. We had 3 years of learning, unlearning and relearning ourselves whilst following the growth of the school from conception. It was a joyride which came with its share of humps and bumps, but it was no less, a joyride for the family. When we made the decision to leave for Nepal, the boys were sad to depart, knowing how much they would miss school and their friends. The reasons were well-founded and I was happy to share my parental review on their Google page:

‘When I first met the founders of ActonKL, I bluntly exclaimed how grateful I was as a parent that I finally had a choice in shying away from the traditional schools of learning. This is to say – to have the opportunity to embrace a methodology that addresses meaningful learning; and that a child as an individual can absorb and contribute accordingly to his understanding and maturity of a subject matter from within a collective and supportive setting. With non-invasive but observant facilitation, guides ensure that there is a sufficient structure that keeps everyone on their toes and at the same time, flexibility and openness to curiosity that would propel their drive to strive. This is a place where a kid truly wants to go to school because they love it and they compete to get there earlier. This is also a place where my daily challenge lies in getting them out of school. This is a sharing from having my 2 boys at ActonKL from its founding days till we left for we had new adventures to tend to across the Bay of Bengal. My boys still talk about their fond memories there and the beautiful friendships that they had carved out from their intimate play and work with each other across all ages. Their friendships were special because the hard work placed upon them required trust, teamwork and mentorship from one another and peer learning shines through these instances. Parental involvement also brought a sense of familiarity and belonging to the growth of a healthy democratic community. Over the years, my husband and I witnessed how Acton has grown from a little learning community to a robust and thriving school. Progress and success come because the founders and guides who hold this space, have a vision and exceptional dedication that takes root from a place of love and stronghold where they truly want to make a difference for the children – a difference in how learning is perceived as a lifelong yearning.’

Although written well over a year or two ago, it still rings true.

In essence and in practical terms, it meant that as long as technology was available and that we were open to new opportunities of learning in whatever shape and colour it took, self-directed learning could take off regardless of place and time. We did just that.

Except that after almost 3 years, the boys are now in a place where self-directed and independent learning can sometimes dip into cycles of less challenging and less motivating situations, stagnation in ideas, missing out on peer-to-peer learning, and rhythm of work begins to take to calmer waters without the storms. Big A, who is known for his gentle sloth-like nature, is contented with his rhythm but we know he needs to be challenged and be equipped with appropriate skills to cope with a disruptive century. Little A in contrast has a propensity and readiness to learn and craves more stimulation to propel forwards. There is a need to touch base and to seek guidance. We did so, as responsible parents should, and in the spirit of Acton, we are grateful to have been given the opportunity and support to re-align and re-orientate their paths on our brief sojourn home in September.

The heart of ploughing through challenges seems to lie in keeping the motivating force alighted and being together as a supportive unit. Seasons come and seasons go but what stand the test of time are the roots that ground the tree. We learn to live simply and to make the best use of what we have. We hold ourselves answerable for the actions we take so that we can learn, laugh and live it out. The pitfalls are plenty but life is such! Often times, we find ourselves churned inside out, tumbled around through and through, spat out, squeezed and wrung. And although exhaustion plagues many areas of our lives, we know deep down that we have grown more than we could ever imagine.

But all is not rough and tumble. There is beauty everywhere if we allow it. And we hope the children see it too!