Misty Meadows School – a Dargle gem
Laughter gurgles from the rondavels beside the dusty road and 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 fields nearby. Nineteen lucky local kids come to school here. 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 were revamped and 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 grandparents, 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 in, our children have no idea how lucky they are.”
The school follows the Reggio Emilia environmentally-based approach to education. The basic concept is 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, a retired 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.”
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.” says Cassie. 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.
“It’s amazing spending time with small children, each one is totally unique” Cassie says as I leave. I can’t help but agree.