An Unschooled Girl Who Knows Herself


Ching, who is an eight year old girl, has been unschooling in Hong Kong since her early childhood. Instead of going to school, she follows her interests and learns from daily life. When she was six and a half, she found her passion in gymnastics. After practising on a regular basis for two years, Ching has mastered many gymnastics skills. Recently, she won three gold medals in individual events and was the All Round Champion in a gymnastics competition.

After the competition, Ching’s mom asked her, “Were you nervous? Were you scared?” Ching innocently replied, “No. Why would I?” Gymnastics is something that she is passionate about. She didn’t feel like she was competing, nor did she feel pressure to win.

When the competition was approaching, Ching didn’t do extra practice. Her mother reminded her a few times, “Don’t you need to practice more before the competition?” But on each occasion, Ching replied, “No, I don’t need to. I’m well prepared.” Mom decided to let her bear the consequence of not practicing, assuming Ching wouldn’t do so well without extra practicing. The competition took place in a gymnasium which was a totally new setting for Ching. Without testing the springboard and rehearsing, she got the highest marks in the Vault event.

Ching’s mom was absolutely amazed by the result! She wondered why her daughter could perform so well even without extra practice and rehearsing in the new setting. After thinking for a while, she said that Ching spent most of her time in playgrounds before the age of six, since she didn’t go to school. She simply played freely until she had had enough. Ching’s mother said the free play in the playgrounds might have helped her to build up her arm strength and her physical flexibility, which became an advantage in gymnastics.

Ching’s mom also recalled that when Ching was around 2 or 3 years old, there was a period of time when Ching was very focused on playing with some empty boxes. She could play with them for more than an hour every day. One time, her mother needed a box to carry an object, but she couldn’t find one in the right size. Ching then took a look at the object, and found an empty box with exactly the right size for her mom! At that moment, the mother was surprised that Ching has such a good spatial sense. She believes that this strong spatial sense also contributes to her daughter’s mastery of gymnastics.

Ching’s mother was asked many times, “What does your daughter learn if she doesn’t go to school?” When she tells people about the above examples, they often react like this, “Playing in the playgrounds is playing, not learning”, or “What good is it to have a strong spatial sense?” In fact, who can judge whether a child’s play will be useful or not in the future? Many of us grew up learning things that adults thought were useful. But we either didn’t learn them well, or we learned, but found out in the end that they were totally useless.

In fact, Ching’s mom has never intended to bring up Ching as a gymnastic athlete. She simply let her daughter follow her interests. When Ching engaged in those “useless” activities, her mother would not intervene. She simply trusted her daughter and supported her, even though she had no answer whether those activities were “useful” or not. After this incident, Ching’s mom realized that she has underestimated how well her daughter knows about herself, and how she should have trusted Ching about how much practice she needed.

Ching’s gymnastics coach stated that Ching mastered the skills better than those who started gymnastics two years earlier than her. As a result, Ching’s mom believes that a child’s ability has nothing to do with how young she starts learning. What is more important is to let the child follow her passion. Ching’s mom feels very grateful that her daughter knows herself so well, and she didn’t treat the tournament as an aggressive competition. Instead, she enjoyed the whole process and was very relaxed. Through gymnastics, Ching feels her inner strength, which is not determined by winning trophies. Her self-confidence comes from within which can’t be taken away by anyone.

P.S. Fake names are used in this story in order to protect the child’s privacy.

Why Sudbury Philosophy Fascinates Me: Trust

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(by Michell Huang)

A few months ago I went shopping with my 3-year-old son. In front of the shop door, there were six staircases, leading to the ground. While I was paying the bill, he ran toward the shop door. The staff, some customers and I were all worried that he was going to run away or fall down the stairs. But just before we could stop him, I saw him sitting down on the top of the stairs and he said, “Mommy, I wait for you here.” We were surprised and we all burst out laughing!

When my child was 2.7 years old, he naturally learned to use the potty. I heard that children need a transition period to totally quit the night nappy, so I tried to put on a nappy for him whenever he went to bed. But he refused and said to me firmly, “I don’t have pee. If I want to pee, I’ll wake up and use the potty.” At that time, I didn’t trust that he would be able to do that. I kept persuading him to wear a nappy, but I never succeeded. It turned out that he did wake up in the middle of the night to use the potty, once in a while. It has been almost a year now, and he only wet his bed two or three times. This is how he became dry at night.

What often happens, like in the situations above, is that I don’t trust my child due to my own fear or some deep-rooted negative beliefs. I didn’t trust that he was able to take safety into account, and I didn’t trust that he was able to use the potty in the middle of the night. But in fact, my child knows himself better than I expected. He always follows his inner voice that allows him to develop in a healthy way.

Fifteen years ago I learned about Sudbury Valley School. The founders of the school suggest that children are born curious and strive to become capable and effective adults. At Sudbury Valley School, students spend their days following their own interests rather than a fixed curriculum. When I first encountered this philosophy, I was absolutely amazed. But it wasn’t until I had my own child that I gained a deeper understanding of the Sudbury philosophy.

Parenting has brought me to reflect on some important topics, such as, what is human nature?

The Sudbury philosophy shows a deep trust toward human beings:

It trusts that humans are born curious and are equipped with an immense learning ability.

It trusts that humans are benevolent in nature.

It trusts that humans strive to become capable people, who function well within their communities.

It trusts that every one is a unique individual, who has her/her own life path.

Though children are not fully developed physically and cognitively, they are definitely much more aligned with their soul than are adults.

To me, it just doesn’t make sense that humans are bad in nature or they are born lazy and do not want to learn anything. If this were true, humans would have become extinct a long time ago. Any so-called negative traits must be acquired, just like the original state of a normal body is intact and workable, rather than bleeding from a wound. So from a medical perspective, the purpose to heal is to bring the body back to its original state. And from an educational perspective, the purpose of education is not to “do” anything to change children, but to recognize the good nature in children, and provide conditions under which they can develop naturally. What we need to do is to stay out of their way, in order not to kill their inborn good traits, and let them develop into unique individuals.

Now here’s the problem: let’s say we agree that we should trust children, but why is it so difficult to put it into practice?

It’s all about our fear.

In Sudbury Valley School, if the adults do not trust the students, they do not set a rule to limit them. They face their fear, reflect how they have projected the negative beliefs to the students, or they observe more closely the students’ behavior so as to understand them better, or they let the students express their views. They discuss the issues in the school meeting. They listen, understand each other, vote, and make decisions together. This process includes intense self-reflection and the breakdown of old belief systems.

In my view this explains why the number of Sudbury schools is increasing only slowly although Sudbury Valley School has been established for 46 years. We still can’t find such schools in many countries.

You just can’t learn how to treat children the way Sudbury people do, like learning times tables. It’s more about the inner work of a person. If you have not faced your fear, or have not gone through the challenges of tearing down some or all of your deep-rooted beliefs, or if you can’t see the world from a child’s angle, there is no way that you can put Sudbury ideas into practice. In Sudbury schools, there are no teaching methods for you to hold on to. You can’t control students by learning specific skills, nor can you find some model answers about child development to make you feel secure. The lives of Sudbury students are full of possibilities. This includes the possibility of living a life, in which they can be who they really are and which could be entirely different from their parents’ expectation. This is scary to the majority of people.

As a parent, I surely have my own fears and sometimes I’m just unable to trust my kid, nor life. Inspired by Sudbury philosophy, I learned to see the world from a child’s perspective, and face my fear and connect with my inner wisdom. I also learned to let go of my limiting beliefs and live out my life first, before I can trust my child to live out his. To me, the Sudbury philosophy is not merely about education. It is a life attitude. It is an approach that encourages human beings to live consciously, and to connect with their inner selves. It is always a choice whether we want to continue to live in the fear, or live out our lives freely.

One time, I wanted my child to do something the way I did it, so I said to him, “Look, this is how I do it”, hoping that he would copy me. However, he looked at me and said, “I’m different from you!” He was right and that reply served as an astonishing reminder to me that he is a unique individual and that I should trust him!

How Sudbury Valley School Stops Bullying in its Tracks


Source: Data from Table 11.2 in Indicators of School Crime and Safety, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, 2009.

(by Hung Luu)

When I started reading the literature on Sudbury Valley School (“SVS”) I was amazed by many aspects of the school. What kind of school gives 4 year olds a vote in hiring and firing decisions, allows students to pursue their own interests, and does not have mandatory classes nor tests and grades? The more I read the more intrigued I became.

While bullying is prevalent in traditional schools (see chart at the top) it rarely happens at SVS. Why? Peter Gray, whose son has attended SVS for many years and is a staff member now, has studied the school extensively. In his book Free to Learn he provides several reasons:

“If one child appeared to be picking on another, older children would step in quickly and stop it… Moreover, the democratically created rules and judicial system prevent serious bullying. A student who feels harassed in any way can “bring up” the offender, to appear before the Judicial Committee, which comprises school members of all ages. Because students make the rules and have responsibility for enforcing them, they have far more respect for the rules than do students in a standard school.”

During my visit to SVS at the end of October last year I gained a deeper understanding on what Gray meant and why bullying is a not an issue there.

There is no hierarchy at SVS and each member of the community is respected as an equal. A 4 year old has the same rights as an experienced staff member. We are social beings and when we are treated with respect we are very likely to reciprocate and treat others in a respectful way. This becomes self-reinforcing and transforms the way students interact with each other and how students interact with staff members and vice versa.

When students are not artificially separated by age they tend to mix freely as people do in real life outside of traditional schools. When they don’t compete for grades and approval from teachers they co-operate and learn from each other. When students at SVS engage in sports they don’t try to win at all costs, but rather make sure that the process is fun for all involved parties and that no one gets hurt.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that SVS is completely free of teasing and bullying. Actually, there was one case of racial abuse during my visit. I didn’t see it myself, but I attended the Judicial Committee (“JC”) meeting, in which it was discussed. More importantly, I witnessed how SVS deals with bullying when it occurs.

Student A has a concession from the school to sell food and drinks at the main lounge during lunchtime. One day, Student B purchased something and paid in all change. After Student B had left, Student A said, “Why did B pay in all change. I’m so mad. What is she, Jewish?” Student C heard this comment and filed a written complaint, which was investigated in the JC the next day.

Student A concurred with Student’s C written testimonial and pleaded guilty. It seemed to me that it was an impulsive comment. Student A is gay and a staff member asked him how he would feel if someone else called him gay. He replied that he and his gay friends call each other gay all the time. The staff member reminded him that there is difference between gay friends calling each other gay and an outsider calling him gay. At that point he realised that he had made a mistake and had hurt Student B’s feelings. Therefore, he apologised.

The case was referred to the School Meeting to determine the sentence for the offence. A staff member suggested suspending Student A from school for 1 school day. He made it very clear that there is zero tolerance at SVS for this kind of behaviour. I was surprised that Student B, who was racially abused, tried to put in a good word for Student A. There were further discussions in favour of and against the 1 day suspension, e.g. protecting the culture of respect versus the fact that Student A had apologised and showed remorse. In the end, the meeting voted that Student A should be suspended from school the next day. Although Student A was disappointed with this he accepted the decision and didn’t seem to be angry.

I was very impressed with how the incident was resolved. In particular, three things were noteworthy in my view:

I wonder what would have happened at a traditional school.

「仔,我只要求你過到骨」(文: Michell)








「過到骨」讓我感到很安全, 讓我對父母有所交代,使我能融入朋輩圈子,得到些許讚美。我也彷彿符合了社會的期望,有一份穩定的工作能餬口,讓我看起來像個正常人。

然而,「過到骨」也使我畢業後,才發現自己失去了創造力和好奇心。我的自我價值,完全建基於外在的條件:學歷、薪水、公司的規模、老闆的認同、別人的稱讚… 我不知道自己的獨特性, 我對人生感到茫然。而最大的問題是,外在的認同使我待在comfort zone裡,麻木地日復日地過著,日子過得不算差,但說到活得有意義和活出自己的潛能,就相差太遠了。


如今,我看著年幼的兒子,他精力充沛,好奇,想像力豐富,有創意,每時每刻都在自然地學習,很清晰知道自己要什麼,很堅持,快樂且充滿生命力。對他來說,任何事都是有可能的。我真不希望這股生命力,將會在他「撐一下吧,撐一下就過到骨」 的過程裡慢慢消磨掉。







一次探訪自主學校的體驗 (文: Michell)

二十出頭,剛剛畢業不久,我的台灣籍老闆給我看了一本書,對我影響極大。 那是「瑟谷傳奇」,原著是Daniel Greenberg的 《Free At Last》  。

瑟谷學校(Sudbury Valley School)於1968年成立於美國麻省。那學校沒有課程,學生由四歲至十八歲,他們每天都在做自己喜歡的事。學校的校規,是由校內每一位師生投票訂出來的,四歲小孩的一票,跟老師那一票是同等的。那裡的學生,每天都自然地學習,到了畢業時,不但都清晰知道自己的人生方向,而且自信,學習意願強烈,有責任心,有謀生技能。

這種自主學校顛覆了傳統教育的模式。自主學校裡的故事,衝擊我去反思何謂教育。怎樣的教育才是對孩子好?我為了追尋答案,去了美國修讀幼兒教育及心理。課餘時,我就埋首研究自主學校,並實地探訪了一間以瑟谷模式運作的Albany Free School。








午飯時候,我跟校長Chris邊吃邊聊,因為談得太開心了,我們吃了好久都沒吃完,其他學生和老師開始收拾餐具和椅子了,我們還在慢慢吃。突然,一個約十歲的女孩走過來,嚴肅的對Chris說:「請你發誓你吃完後要自己收拾餐具和椅子! 」Chris馬上舉起三隻手指,裝出一副乖孩子模樣,並作狀發誓:「我發誓我吃完後要自己收拾餐具和椅子!」那女孩滿意的點點頭,微笑著離開。我在旁邊,邊大笑邊驚嘆學生的自律!




How Students at Sudbury Valley School Spend Their Days: Freedom, Flow and Happiness

(by Hung Luu)

In the last week of October I was fortunate to visit Sudbury Valley School (“SVS”) in Framingham, Massachusetts. The flight was 20 hours each way, the time difference with Hong Kong is 12 hours, and the jetlag was terrible. Having said that it was definitely worth the effort. Although I had read extensively about SVS previously and was already convinced about the Sudbury model, it was an eye-opening experience! I have written an article about the visit, which you can find here.

Observations from a Judicial Committee Meeting at Sudbury Valley School

This week I am visiting Sudbury Valley School (“SVS”) for a few days. On Tuesday, I had a chance to attend the Judicial Committee (“JC”) meeting, which takes place every school day at 11am. The JC consists of two students elected to be Judicial Clerks, one staff member and several other students, which have been assigned to JC duty. Below are some of my observations:

  • Students and staff members take the JC meeting seriously and it was conducted in a professional manner.
  • At the same time the mood of the meeting was relaxed.
  • Both parties the person that is accused of breaking a rule and the person that filed the complaint are allowed to tell their side of the story. E.g., in one case student A accused student B of being mean to her. Student A and student C were climbing a tree. The latter was stuck and she wanted to climb down the tree while student A was in her path. Student B who had observed the scene asked student A to climb down first to make some space. Student A claimed that student B did this in a mean way (“Get down!”) whereas student B maintained that she asked in a polite way (“Can you climb down please?”). Some members of the JC asked questions to clarify the situation, and in the end the JC voted that there was no substance to the complaint because student’s A comments were inconsistent.
  • Most of the other complaints dealt with littering and roughhousing and in each of these cases the sentence was a warning.
  • SVS operates an open campus for students aged 13 and over. Those students are supposed to sign out when they leave the campus. One student who broke this rule for the first time was sentenced to staying on campus for the next 3 school days (of course s/he is allowed to leave at the end of the school day). Another student who was a repeat offender was sentenced to staying on campus for the next 10 school days.
I came away with the impression that the JC is very effective at dealing with infractions at SVS and that it is one of the elements which contributes to maintaining a culture of respect among the members of the community. I think that the JC works so well because the students and staff members buy into the whole process due to its transparency and fairness and because everyone has an opportunity to be involved in making and amending school rules in the first place.


Initiative to Start a Sudbury School in Hong Kong

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom. Without this it goes to wrack and ruin without fail.”

Albert Einstein

We are a group of parents who are in the process of starting a Sudbury school in Hong Kong, which is modelled along the lines of Sudbury Valley School (“SVS”). Our goal is to create a community where children are respected as equals, where they are treated the way we expect to be treated ourselves and where they are free to pursue their own interests as long as they don’t interfere with the freedom of others to do the same. The experience at SVS has shown that children who are part of such a community will grow into independent, responsible citizens who are content, successful and passionate about life.