Below is a collection of FAQs that we have accumulated over years of talking with parents who were new to the Sudbury model of education. We encourage you to read through all of these and then pursue other sources, like books, articles, and youtube to learn more. The staff are always available to answer questions or offer suggestions.
Discipline & Safety
Children and Staff
Children are natural learners. They are naturally inherently curious and they will learn anything that they are interested in, and anything that helps them to make sense of the world, without coercion. Children will naturally explore their environment and want to interact with and become as competent as the people around them. In the process, they learn to sit, crawl, stand, walk, run, and maybe most importantly, they learn how to speak and master language in their first few years of existence, without being taught.
If we wish to understand how children learn under the Sudbury environment, we first need to view “learning” with a completely different mindset. Children naturally learn things that are meaningful and useful to them. Instead of learning something that other people think is important and learning in order to prepare for the future, children in Sudbury learn anything that is important to them in the now. While learning what they love, they will naturally be exposed to or pick up other skills or knowledges that they need now and in the future.
Learning does not necessarily happen exclusively in class. In Sudbury schools, learning takes place in various forms, such as in play, in conversations with different people, in working out a problem with other students, etc. They will learn according to their interests, their own learning style and at their own pace.
When a child is ready and willing, the basics like reading, writing and math are quite easily learned. Traditional schooling forces children to learn these at the same age and at the same rate, often before a child is ready or interested. Thus, the process seems to be difficult and time-consuming. The fact is that we have seen children teach themselves to read, some at the age of 4 and some as late as 12, with absolutely no instruction. By age 13, you can’t tell the difference between the child who learned to read at 4 from the child who learned to read at 12. As for math, it has been proven over and over again that all of the math content from kindergarten through grade 8 can be learned in just 6 weeks when the child is ready for it. Imagine all of that time saved for valuable play!
For a different prospective, watch the TED video Why Math Instruction Is Unnecessary.
First we need to distinguish if the child does nothing because s/he is in a process of understanding about themself and discovering what s/he is passionate about, or because s/he feels so suffocated from the overly packed schedule that s/he only wants a break and as a result does nothing.
Sometimes children may do nothing because they are bored. Boredom is a process before they discover something they are really passionate about, or before they become creative. In fact, in this informational era when children are easily overstimulated by excessive information, they may need more time of doing nothing in order to have time to relax, to understand themselves and to really find out what they want to do.
For children who have been forced to learn something that they are not interested in, or children who have too much pressure in learning, when they suddenly have the freedom to pursue their interests, they usually need a transition period. In this transition time, it’s normal that they will do nothing all day, in order to compensate for the overly stressful period before. They may also need a period of time to explore their real interests, which has been buried in the overly packed scheduled before. Sometimes it is easy to judge too quickly that children doing nothing is wrong. However, while a person is not doing any activities and just sitting there, s/he may be actively contemplating, creating, analyzing, or integrating all the information in her/his mind. Instead of judging them, we will understand more about the child. No matter which situation, we respect the child’s choice of doing nothing and trust that this is part of their self-directed learning process.
That’s great! Children are learning tremendously while playing. When they play, they are learning many skills such as analytical skills, persuasion skills, social skills and problem solving. More information on the importance of play can be found in an article written by Professor Peter Gray.
There really is no typical day in Sudbury. Some days, a student might be laser-focused on a project. Other days, that same student might engage in various activities. It all depends on what the student is interested in. Students and staff can be found everywhere talking, laughing, playing and working. Throughout the day, there are children at the computers, some eating lunch, some in a class, some in the art room and some playing a board game or working on a puzzle. Often groups of students organize a game of tag or an impromptu talent show, while one student is making a video, one is playing music on the keyboard, one is working on their math and another is catching bugs in the grass. Each day is rich with opportunity that is only limited by the students’ imagination and interests.
We do not evaluate children. In Sudbury, we empower children to pursue their passion and live out their potential. Therefore we believe that the child’s own pace of learning is most important. Instead of comparing children with others and giving tests and exams to make sure they achieve certain skills and knowledge at a certain stage, we focus on the improvement that each child makes, and celebrate their effort to learn.
What we see is, when children are learning what they love, they naturally strive to do their best. They know whether they do a good job, have improvements and how much they have improved. They want to make progress and learn more in order to master the skills or knowledge. They set goals for themselves, work hard and self-evaluate. If we believe intrinsic motivation for learning is important for children, we need to let go of the need to evaluate them. When we evaluate children’s learning, not only are we harming their learning process, but also encouraging them to replace their intrinsic motivation with extrinsic motivation, such as, scores, praises, others’ recognition. This is the least thing we want to see because intrinsic motivation is so important that it makes people enjoy learning for their life time and it leads to high self-esteem.
Sometimes, children will ask for external evaluation. They want genuine feedback and comments or they ask for tests in order to improve themselves. As long as they request an evaluation, we will certainly assist them.
First of all, we believe going to university is only one of the options for Sudbury graduates. We support graduates in pursuing their passions and dreams and we don’t have value judgement on their career choice. Therefore, going to university is not superior than other paths.
Instead of forcing children to learn subjects that we think are important, we strive to maintain an environment where children can find their passion and develop into self-motivated, passionate, creative and responsible individuals. We believe that people who find their passion are more likely to have a clear goal in life. They will try every means to get accepted by universities, if this is what they want.
Below are a few ways for Sudbury graduates to enroll into universities:
Ways to enroll in local universities:
Every HK citizen can enroll in the HKDSE exam as private candidates (自修生), without learning through a formal curriculum at school.
Non-JUPAS: GCE A-level exam/ IB (International Baccalaureate)
The Non-JUPAS route allows universities more flexibility for enrollment, so students’ admission is considered case-by-case rather than just looking at their pubic exam results. Students’ all-round development is important if the non-JUPAS route is to be taken.
Ways to enroll in overseas universities:
USA: SAT/ GCE A-level/ IAL
England: GCE A-level/ HKDSE/ IELTS
Sudbury graduates may take a creative and unique approach in applying for universities such as requesting a personal interview, showing their projects, etc.
There are many studies about graduates of Sudbury Valley School (SVS) in the US. In the book The Pursuit of Happiness by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky and Jason Lempka published a study in 2005 that indicates “ close to 90% of SVS graduates decide to continue to pursue their education in a formal setting.” In fact, all of the graduates who want to go to college are accepted, most to their college of first or second choice. Other graduates follow the passions they developed at school and open their own business or become professionals in fields such as dancing, cooking, writing, theatre production, photography, carpentry, construction, music, etc. Compared to society at large, SVS graduates are over-represented in the following areas: entrepreneurs, arts, computer and mathematical careers and helping professions such as social services, community activities and health care.
One of the core values of Sudbury HK is that, we believe all children are inherently good by nature. They may display inappropriate behavior occasionally but we see these behaviors as their need for connection, instead of a flaw of the student’s character. We are dedicated to refrain from labeling children’s behavior because it is counter-productive in helping either parties.
Every member in our community has equal rights in creating all school rules and in the Sudbury judicial system. A child who feels harassed in any way can bring up the incident and the other person involved, to appear before the Judicial Committee which comprises of members of all ages. Both parties will be heard in order to understand the various perspectives of the situation, and all parties will work together to come up with a resolution. This is very empowering for the harassed student, who learns to take care of him/herself against any offensive behaviour in the future and is less likely to see him/herself as a victim. And it is often a transformative experience for the offender, who gets firm but respectful treatment from his peers. Since the children are involved in making the rules and they are always heard without being judged, they are more likely to respect the rules with dedication and integrity, which prevents serious and ongoing offensive behaviour.
Should serious physical or verbal aggression be displayed, even before the case is brought up to the Judicial Committee, staff members or any other members who witness the incident should have the obligation to notify staff members who should separate the parties to ensure their safety.
In the rare case of a repeated offense, especially when the offender is uncooperative with the sanction, we may issue a temporary suspension for the offending child. This is in order to ensure that an environment of safety, trust and respect is maintained within the Sudbury community. Meanwhile, communication with the child’s parents is usually necessary in order to better understand the root cause of the child’s behavior.
Sudbury education is suitable for children who are five years old or above, who have the self-care ability, who have the ability to learn to take responsibility for his or her actions, and be able to participate in the Judicial Committee in protecting the safety and freedom of all members.
We do not look at the labels of the children. As long as they meet the above requirements, they are welcome to join the Sudbury community. However, our learning community is not equipped with special facilities or extra expertise to assist in the daily functioning of the child. We will discuss with the prospective member’s family what options are best for the child.
The staff members are supposed to be good role models for the students. They should be able to uphold the core values of Sudbury such as, respect for children’s choice, trusting children, non-judgmental, not bribing children to do things, etc.
At the same time, the staff members are responsible for the day to day functioning of the school. This includes, but is not limited to admissions, enrolment, fiscal management, institutional management, public relations and upkeep of the building.
Another role of staff members is to assist the children when asked. When a student wants to learn about a particular subject and requests help from a staff member, the latter has to be ready to support them.
Sometimes, staff members will initiate some activities, e.g. “I am going to bake mooncakes on Tuesday at 11am. Anyone interested, please sign up here.” But this is done in the spirit of sharing an activity which the staff member enjoys doing, rather than trying to implicitly teach mathematics and chemistry through baking.
Sudbury and Montessori are similar in that children are given much freedom to make decisions about what interests them and how to pace themselves. Both models also hold the basic assumption that people are naturally curious and don’t need to be forced to learn.
Montessori children may choose between the specific options presented by the teacher, while the Sudbury children may choose to do anything as long as they do not infringe on others in the community. Montessori educators believe that all children learn according to specific patterns and sequences. They base classroom activities on the model’s assumptions about what is “developmentally appropriate” for each age group, and restrict access to certain activities if earlier activities in the preplanned sequence have not been completed. The Sudbury model makes no assumptions about how individual children will learn at any age. There is no expectation that one must learn phonics in order to read. Interest is the only criterion for engaging in any activity, and satisfaction is the only evaluation of success.
Similar to Waldorf schools, Sudbury schools are not only interested in children’s academic success, but in the happiness and full human potential of each individual. Additionally, both models do not push early academic activity and we value play as crucial to child development.
Waldorf education follows a specific curriculum and pedagogy. They recognize 3 stages of child development, and the curriculum and pedagogy are designed based on these different stages.
The Sudbury approach does not follow any compulsory curriculum because we believe no subjects, skills or knowledge are superior than any others. Children themselves are the only ones who can decide what subjects or skills are meaningful to them. Sudbury also believes each child is unique with her/his interest, her/his own ways of learning, pace and needs. As long as we give them time and space, they will follow their pace and choose their ways of learning. Children in Sudbury may be exposed to different pedagogy, but we do not limit them to one specific pedagogy. Many times, motivated by their passion, children learn by themselves without any teaching.
The Sudbury model and RTC Gaia School hold the basic assumption that people are naturally curious. Both models adopt a judicial committee and school meeting.
RTC Gaia School is a registered school which follows the local curriculum and standardized testing. Timetables are mainly designed by teachers for students to follow. Compulsory subjects include Chinese, English, Maths, Art, Physical Education etc. The main principle of RTC Gaia School is “Nature-affective” which is the overriding motto of the school. It promotes nature education, green living and simple living.
The Sudbury model believes that people are naturally curious and motivated by their own passion to learn thus no compulsory curriculum is necessary. Children explore freely everyday as long as they respect the freedom of others. In Sudbury, while we respect nature, we do not make green living a rule. Sudbury respects each child’s unique experience of how s/he come up with her/his world view and value system. We embrace people with different lifestyles. Children are free to question any Sudbury practice and they can bring up anything for discussion in the school meeting. Moreover, there is no assessment system in Sudbury unless the learners request it.
Like the unschooling approach, Sudbury believes that children are born curious about the world and eager to learn in life and that kids learn best through experience and experimentation rather than by being told how and what to think. Both unschoolers and Sudbury students are not expected to follow a fixed curriculum unless the learners request it. We both trust that children learn best when they learn something that they are interested in.
Sudbury is a community that is democratically governed. Children leave their parents to Sudbury schools and interact with a group of people of different ages. They are part of the community and participate in governing it such as suggesting school rules, voting on school matters, becoming Judicial Committee members, planning and executing in a music corporation and so on. With the democratic systems in Sudbury, children get to deal with diverse opinions, speak out against inappropriate behavior, carry out group projects, be in charge of running a corporation, lead a meeting and work with a regular group of community members. These elements are not necessarily available in the unschooling approach.