At Nania_Why Nania

For this issue we share an article written for a magazine published by the support organization Friends of Steiner Education in Germany.

Cultivating a sense of individuality and belonging
- at home amongst the unfamiliar

Nania, named from the “Narnia” stories by C.S Lewis, started as a home based kindergarten in 1997. Like ‘Narnia’, Junko wanted it to be a place where children would like to visit and return again and again. Strengthen by a returning overseas trained staff, we moved to our current address in 2002 and expanded to 2 classes, one for Japanese and another for English speaking children. Our endeavour to develop a quality preschool programme was realised with a new staff team end of 2004. As pioneer initiative in the country, we suffer the absence of preceding models. On the other hand, there was freedom to innovate without ‘traditional’ cumbrances.

Individuals today are challenged to discern their own values without prejudice to others in an environment where traditional norms juxtapose with new age experimentation and beliefs. Where it may seem there is no ‘correct’ behaviour or moral code that does not offend some persuasion/organised religion or seen as encroaching the right of free expression. This may well be the natural breeding ground for ethical individualism. What role can education play?

On reflection, the multi ethnic, racial, nationality and cultural setting under which Nania operates challenges as well as showed us what could be possible at the preschool level. The enrolment of local and international children at Nania, mirrors the human movement and cosmopolitan society of the global market economy we belong in.

What is universal for a class of Chinese, Indians, Eurasians, Germans and Japanese? What is fitting and relevant for local as well as foreign nationals? Many of the expatriate children do not stay long. How and What can be offered to those that come and go to feel at home in the short time they are here amongst the new and unfamiliar? These questions lead us to the multi cultural curriculum we have at Nania. It is a mix of something personal, something common, something familiar and something new. Besides academic development, our experience at Nania affirms education needs to also offer a social cultural environment that allows the development of the ability to interact and establish relationships over national boundaries, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

At Nania, our class session, starting from 9.00am to 2.30pm, is longer than usual from most kindergartens, which ends at 12 noon. The classes eat morning snack and lunch together. The children also have outside play together. It is always fascinating to watch how different languages pose little impediment to making friends between children.
The children take to the kindergarten as their second home. That is also how we want it to be. They participate in many housekeeping tasks throughout the day, clearing up their classrooms, setting tables for snack and lunch, clearing up and washing their own cups and plates, hanging out the laundry and more. Parents often remark their children show more interest in house chores since coming to Nania. Some say their children become more lively and ‘harder’ to manage. Not surprisingly, the highly interactive experience at Nania cultivates confidence as well as unfolds the inquisitive side of the child’s personality, making her/him more spirited and possibly rebellious towards a more restrictive management at home. Many Malaysian children today, well attended to by housemaids, are prevented and cautioned from doing many things in case they may cause a mess or hurt themselves.

Many children who have left keep in contact and visit. They recall fond memories of making and decorating their birthday cake and the festivals at Nania. Festivals are a big part of the education cultural life at Nania. We celebrate 15 events over the year. 6 are celebrated as festivals with parents and siblings. The humid tropical weather in Malaysia, alternating almost daily between hot wet and hot dry, can beat like an unchanging monotony. Festivals are critical to cultivating different moods and establishing a seasonal rhythm for the year.
We include festivals from the many different cultures and nationalities living in Malaysia. We do not, however, celebrate the festivals fully in their respective traditional manner, focussing mainly on values akin to the festivals agreeable to all. The children sing festival songs in Chinese, English, Japanese and Malay. We present our puppet shows in English and Japanese.

The most outward festival at Nania is our Sports/Family day. The programme is carried together with a committee of mothers. It is held on a Sunday morning so that busy fathers can also participate. There are singing, dancing and fun games for everyone, young children, older children and adults. Parents’ feedback on the opportunity for all family members to play together, also to meet other families, have been very positive.
Christmas is our end of the year and most inward festival. Most children at Nania are not Christians. We maintain the festival theme, to light the light within our hearts without touching on any Christian religious aspects. We present a puppet show about a little girl, who when offered a wish for herself wished it for someone else in need. It compliments the central festival ceremony of lighting a candle and making a wish for some one else instead of only for one’s self. At the last festival one boy expressed, ‘I wish St. Nicholas to bring presents to the children in Iraq before bringing it to me.’ One girl expressed, ‘I want St. Nicholas to take our garden vegetables to the hungry children in Africa.’

Malaysia sandwiched between predominantly Buddhist Thailand (North); Muslim Indonesia (South); Catholic Philippines (East); Hindu India (West); whose political administration is British by colonial tradition; whose major trading partner is Capitalist USA and faces an emerging powerful Communist China in the region, has assimilated a myriad of influences through history yet managed to retain a unique identity of its own amidst the international influences that continues to-date. Over the generations of living, working, fighting as well as intermarriage, ethnic traditions remain separate and distinct. Unlike the modern migrant melting pot society of the USA, majority of Malaysians opt to retain their respective ethnicity but have also learnt to adapt and adopt modern day norms to their day to day life as well as cultural practices. Malaysia as such is home to a diversity of cultural traditions including space for interaction across traditions and innovation of new cultural norms. This spirit body has offered invaluable guidance to the curriculum we have at Nania to date.

The children harvest bananas, cikus and rambutans from the garden under the hot tropical sun. Their laughter at the wooden hut, the sand pit, the flower garden and rabbit hutch fills the whole garden with joy. It is their joy that attracts more and more interest in Nania and Waldorf Education in Malaysia. It is that joy in their hearts that provides the foundation to discern their own values without prejudice to others thus the ability to build relations over the ethnic, racial, cultural and national boundaries of this world.

Kung Wai & Junko

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