My early childhood memories (1970’s) are filled with what felt like hours upon hours of play activities, with my younger siblings and my Canning Garden, Ipoh neighbourhood friends. We played all kinds of popular games then, that did not involve any hand-held electronic devices – because they did not exist then! So we had lots of physical activities that involved skipping on one leg to catch the other 2-legged runners; and we did rope-skipping – constantly challenging one another on who could skip the most without getting tangled in the rope; and I played football with the boys at the field just a stone’s throw away; and ping pong – we didn’t have a ping pong table, so we used the wall! And marbles and spiders and catching fishes in the longkang (drain)……There was no adult supervision – we just went out to play – and when it was dinner time (at about 5.30pm everyday) my grandmother would holler from our house for us to come home. Life was so simple then.
This is the imagery of how I wanted my children to grow up in – with lots of unscheduled time to dream (oh I was a dreamer child!), to fantasise, to let the imagination run wild……in other words, just to have a childhood and enjoy the period of time where there are no worries, no stress, no deadlines to meet, and no financial responsibilities to fulfil. They just needed to be kids!
But when I tried to reconstruct this childhood experience for my kids, I was in for a shock! Neighbourhood kids were not to be found – they would come back from school and hurriedly get into their homes to finish their homework and to study for their tests or exams, or be driven to tuition centres for more classes. And the padangs (playing fields)? They were devoid of children because everyone was either busy working indoors or on their digital devices. This is the sad reality of our modern-day living.
And with schooling going toward the direction of paper madness to the extent of robbing children of their fleeting time to be children, it seemed like a rather cruel place to be in! This was in spite of (or perhaps, because of) the fact that my dad was a school teacher all his life, and me and my siblings all went through the schooling system, that I told myself that if I ever had kids one day, I would not send them to school. One word to describe my DAD’S decades of teaching service – STRESS! He was “rewarded” with hypertension in his 40’s and subsequently, the list of ailments piled up: diabetes, high cholesterol, which led to his eventual heart failure. But that’s another story.
The thing is, despite the fact that my childhood generation had much more time for outdoor play activities then, and we spent much less time doing book studying for school, our brains were very absorbent and we managed to do well in school tests and exams. Also one other factor I think was important – we had time to read story books. That was my “escapism”!
So these are the main reasons I had wanted something completely different for my children – to learn and to grow without schooling. It had seemed like an impossible dream but almost 20 years on, it has proven to be absolutely possible!