Laughter gurgles from the rondavels beside the dusty road and a dozen children tumble out into the field for a game of Hide and Seek.
“Our theme is dinosaurs this week, and we are learning about camouflage.” teacher Kate Fleet tells me as the little ones hide behind clumps of grass. It is obvious that they want to be found as they keep popping up to check if anyone can see them! “They hide in the daftest places” laughs Cassie Janisch, “I think they will be found right away, but it is fascinating that they really don’t seem to be able to see each other.” What a magic world, I think.
Misty Meadows School is situated on a farm beside the mist belt forest, with sheep in the field on the one side, chickens clucking about on the other and friendly dogs wandering about. Nineteen lucky local kids come here to school every day.
There is a sensory garden filled with fragrant herbs (catnip is my favourite says Sisi), trees to climb (Callum tells me earnestly that one tree is a happy tree and another is sad),
sand to play in (Ted points out that they are searching for fossils) and a balancing pole which Savannah is carefully tiptoeing along.
“I didn’t really think about education until I had my own kids” says Cassie who founded the school this year. “I knew I didn’t want them to go to a big school, but home schooling means they are isolated. We were fortunate that a few other parents in the area felt the same way and the idea of our own school was born.”
Four disused rondavels on the farm have been turned into a story room, an activity room, ablutions and teachers prep area. With the addition of a geodesic dome for yoga and dancing, a wooden deck for snack time and a cabin for playing house, it is now a perfect little school.
This is a community affair with grannies and grandfathers, husbands and sisters all contributing, parents paying fees with potatoes, eggs or haircuts and neighbours popping in to visit.
Kate is a qualified teacher, who taught in London for many years. “Those poor kids had a tiny fenced square of concrete to pay on, our children have no idea how lucky they are.”
The school follows the Reggio Emilia environmentally based approach to education. The basic concept is that children have 1000s of different languages and they should be allowed to construct their own meaning in the world about them. It is vital to instil a love of learning in children from an early age by encouraging their natural curiosity about the world and making learning seem natural and fun. The teaching follows the South African theme-based National Curriculum, so assessments are the same as other schools.
Cassie’s mom, Ros who is a retired school teacher, tells me “Education lags behind society by about 30 years. We have to question a system that is not providing our kids with the tools they need for the future – which will be very different from our lives now. Self-starting abilities, conflict resolution and resilience are vital, but unfortunately most schools still focus on outdated content knowledge.”
Cassie would like to redesign the world so it works better. “Everyone is so busy just existing that they don’t have time to make it better.” At Misty Meadows everything is evolving and organic, learning is on-going and questions are constantly asked about what the children need to know for a good future.
When the day’s task is to build an enormous dinosaur, everyone gets a chance to saw up the wooden planks, paint them and then create the fantasy dinosaur. They have to learn to live in an adult world, so might as well get the necessary skills as soon as they can.
On other days they care for chickens, plant vegetable seeds, walk in the forest or explore the edges of the dam. This is learning at its absolute best, never mind the gorgeous views across the valley.
“It’s amazing spending time with small children, each one is totally unique” says Cassie as I leave. I can’t help but agree. Misty Meadows is along the D17 – contact Cassie firstname.lastname@example.org