“The capacity to learn is a gift, the ability to learn is a skill, and the willingness to learn is a choice.” And it’s certainly a choice many people make in The Hills District, with an ever-growing list of courses and classes available for the young, and young-at-heart.

From a enjoying a sense of community, to socialising, taking home a new skill, and giving back to others, there are so many reasons people get involved in the adult and kids learning opportunities available right here in our neighbourhood. So why not see what’s on offer near you?

Who’s learning what?

In short, everyone is learning everything! Mici Beer, the Acting Chief Executive Officer for Learning in the Hills (or LITH, a project of Hills Community Aid), says they have students aged from 16 to 90 enrolled in their courses at any one time.

“We have everyone from young people who are home-schooled and come to us for particular programs to supplement their studies to those who’ve retired and have a bit of time on their hands.

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“For some it’s about learning a new skill that they have been interested in for a long time; others just want to meet new people and keep busy.”

At the moment the most popular program at LITH is dressmaking, with five fully booked classes each week. There’s even a waiting list, and Mici doesn’t see the interest waning any time soon – which may have something to do with encouraging all skill levels to participate.

“We have people who come on their first day with their new machine in a box, unsure how to even thread the needle. And we have others who have been coming to the class for 15 years. There really is an inclusion of all levels and grades here, in every class.”

One of the more recent arrivals to The Hills District is the Kinder Cafe – the brainchild of two busy mums who were looking for a place that could provide a multiple opportunities for the whole family.

“The most popular courses in The Hills are dressmaking, and computer skills for seniors.”

“Parents are able to be engaged in their children’s activities, their own activities such as fitness and yoga classes, or combined classes,” says Kristen Marshall, co-owner of the centre.

“Every day we watch families turn up here and they find camaraderie in their family status while engaging with each other. The Kinder Cafe has also become a hub for meet-ups and meeting new people. We have people new to the area gravitate to our classes because it’s a comfortable place to make new friends and The Hills residents are always so welcoming.”

What’s on and where in The Hills?

It might be easier to just say ‘what do you want to learn’ because there is every chance it will be available somewhere in The Hills District. But one of the most popular courses is the Computer Pals class for seniors, which most recently received an Australia Day Award for Best Community Service. Connie Wallis, the publicity officer for the organisation, says more than 60 volunteers help to run the program at the Castle Hill Showground, with a variety of courses available – from basic computer lessons, to advanced internet, Cloud computing, Cloud storage, Facebook, password management, using tablets and smartphones, and how to create photo books. In fact, almost anything related to technology and computers is taught, with minimal fees to cover tutor time and venue costs.

“If you’re over 55 and not working full time, Computer Pals for Seniors is a great place to have fun while learning. As a foundation and life member, and a trainer of basics, I’ve made many friends over the years here.”

If the prospect of a class environment is too daunting, there’s also the option of a one-on-one course for beginners – it is structured and aimed at helping members to overcome any apprehensions about technology.

For busy mums and dads, there’s plenty on offer at the Kinder Cafe, including regular weekly classes like dancing, fitness and arts and crafts, as well as more specialised learning opportunities.

“Learn everything from first aid and résumé writing to swimming, painting or cake decorating.”

“We play host to many other businesses in The Hills, all run by amazing smart local business people, who run seminars to upskill and empower others – for example health, business and web content, fashion, résumé writing, first aid, healthcare for babies, alternative health and wellness; the list goes on,” says Kristen.

At LITH there is a variety of classes ‒ from health and lifestyle to needlecrafts, painting, cake decorating and home furnishing, as well as more socially focused programs like talking points, mahjong, and history, which involves getting out and about around Sydney. And if more than one takes your fancy, there’s no one stopping you from enrolling in as many as you like.

“We have some people who do five classes in a week,” says Mici. “It’s their whole social calendar, and often we have people who complain about the term breaks (in a friendly manner) because they don’t want to stop coming! They enjoy it that much.”

Of course there are also the typical learning opportunities available in The Hills District too. Swimming is always a popular one for all ages, and there are plenty of public and private swimming schools available – including a mobile service that comes to you, so you can learn in the comfort and privacy of your own pool.

How to decide what to learn next in The Hills?

With so much on offer, it can be a bit daunting to decide just what it is to get involved in. But Mici has a few tips on how to overcome ‘analysis paralysis’.

“For some it’s easy – there’s a skill that they’ve always wanted to learn. But for others it’s about what days they’re actually free, so if you know that Wednesdays are good for you, check out what’s on and select from there.

“If you really don’t know, sit down with a program and work out which one might have like-minded people you can get to know while learning. Our courses are all different lengths as well; for example, the life stories class will probably only take a couple of terms to complete. You can also always get in touch with us directly to have a chat about which one might be the best for you to join.”

Why not give learning a go?

Well, why not? That’s the answer. What do you have to lose? Not much at all. What do you have to gain? So much! Connie from Computer Pals says one of her greatest rewards is observing shy, nervous, anxious members – in their sixties, seventies and many in their eighties – all eventually mastering their fears, and having so much fun while also learning.

And Mici agrees.

“You often see someone walk in on their first day, and they really doubt themselves. They say ‘I haven’t got an eye for detail, I don’t know anyone’, etc. Then the next week they’re a little less sheepish. A term later, you remind them of their first day and just see the smile on their face, so proud of what they’ve accomplished.

“Everybody has their first day. And it is so hard to step into something new. But it’s always rewarding. You may meet new people, or learn a skill, or you could achieve both.

The benefits are endless…

Kristen understands the value that comes from learning opportunities, and has seen both adults and children at Kinder Cafe benefit from new experiences.

“Learning new skills and stimulating the mind and body should be routinely seen as taking care of yourself. And making sure that everyone in the family is the best version of themselves and leading by example is the best method.

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“Exposing children to new experiences creates physically and mentally well-rounded children; these are life lessons that are taken into adulthood where exercise and trying new things is not daunting but a way of life. Age is irrelevant, learning is a lifelong process.”

Reflecting on her own gains, Connie notes that Computer Pals has helped her accomplish some rather lofty goals.

“With the help of Computer Pals, I’ve written and self-published two autobiographies, and have also mastered the art of creating photo books, PowerPoint presentations and much more.”

And Mici has seen the similar outcomes from many LITH students as well. Those who’ve learnt dressmaking/sewing, and have gone on to become successful dressmakers in their own right ‒ earning an income from their acquired skills. The same has also occurred for some upholstery pupils, and painters too – several of whom have won awards at the Royal Easter Show, and the Blacktown and Castle Hill Shows.

It’s certainly difficult to argue with all the benefits that come with learning in The Hills; it’s just a matter of taking that first step to get involved. If you’re still not sure, we’ll let Connie have the last word.

“My belief is, with a bit of good luck, and reasonable good health, life is definitely what you make it.”

Yes. Yes it is.

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Jane Booty, Tony Didd and team

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