By Mike Froud
Kildare Pre-Primary School, in the suburbs of Cape Town in the Western Cape, is considered a special place in the hearts and minds of the youngsters who go there and the parents who entrust the staff with the care and teaching of their children before they go to ‘big school’.
It’s about the location and surroundings, staying in touch with Mother Nature. It’s about caring and respect for one another and for the environment. And it’s about personal growth and development: early learning is encouraged through play. Kildare has a tradition spanning nearly 50 years of helping to prepare boys and girls aged between three-and-a-half and six years for the next chapter of their lives – and enabling them to have a fun time while they’re about it.
Fond memories of flora and fauna
Ask somebody who has been to Kildare what they remember most about the school and you’ll get a variety of answers. For many, it’s the great outdoors: a large play area with a variety of equipment and facilities for honing fine- and gross-motor movements, shaded by huge plane trees and sails (the climbing apparatus would otherwise be too hot to play on in the height of summer), plus a lush nature reserve and mountain stream at the bottom of the property. It’s a magical space to explore flora and fauna including large palms, walkways, indigenous gardens plus the sort of birdlife and other characteristics of a healthy waterway that flows strongly most of the year. Ball games, go-carting, play-houses, a sandpit, slides, swings and ladders, looking for tadpoles, sailing paper boats, treasure hunts along the pathway that zig-zags up and down the hillside… the stuff of dreams.
Hello, Mr Chips!
For others, it’s the delightful animals roaming the garden that stick in their memories. Feeding time for the ducks, chickens and rabbits is a highlight of every day – and not forgetting old Mr Chips! The school logo includes a tortoise, as there has always been a family of these mountain reptiles on the grounds, and while the baby tortoises are rather cute, the lumbering Mr Chips (who might well have been born before the school was established back in 1968) and the love of his life Mrs Vinegar (nearly as old) are more part of the furniture, so to speak.
The tortoise offspring include Popcorn and Niknaks, whose 14th birthday was celebrated this year, although it’s usually the ‘old man’ who commands most attention. Quite a character, Mr Chips enjoys sharing the children’s lunch during picnics on the grass and, it must be said, he gives the staff and parents a scare from time to time – such as when he had pneumonia and a veterinarian had to drill holes into the shell to drain his lungs! The school’s relationship with the local Blue Cross animal hospital1 has become a strong one over the years – to the extent that the children visit as a class in spring every year to say thanks by way of a song or two.
Giving and getting
Other events on the calendar involve community-minded and charitable activities such as entertaining or baking for the nearby Cresswell House for the elderly and the Maitland Cottage Home (for children with orthopaedic medical needs)2 over the road. And unforgettable from the Kildare children’s perspective are the many special days and field trips, visits by puppeteers and musicians, raptor handlers, dog trainers, firemen and the traffic police. Sports Day is as much fun for the parents as it is for the young athletes, while certificates are handed out to the children during River Day to confirm their membership of the Kildare Nature Reserve.
The Kildare community always gets a kick out of the school fair, which generates a generous amount for the school and its bursary fund. The nativity plays are also significant, particularly given that Kildare is next door to St Andrew’s Anglican Church, from whom the school buildings are leased. Which is not to say that non-Christians are precluded from sending their sons and/or daughters to Kildare – there’s an open-door policy, albeit respectful of Christian beliefs, signified by a cross above the front door.
Creating and caring
Kildare Pre-Primary’s approach to education is an holistic one – holistic in a diverse environment. Besides being encouraged to learn through creative play, the children learn to work in groups – which includes being accepting and accommodating of children with special needs. Integral to the educational programme is teaching children to care for their community and the environment, as well as to build on their life skills and safety awareness. Recycling, water conservation, and the proposed communal garden and worm farm are all part of the ethos.
The children learn to make things with used materials, to handle animals gently and to be mindful of basic rules when it comes to road safety. Other experiences offered encompass exploration, discovering and experimenting with water play, sand and mud play, woodwork, river walks, animal care and various guided activities. Building pyramids and erupting volcanos in the sandpit are a big hit with the children.
Play while you can!
Kildare fosters a happy atmosphere, with appropriate discipline in place. It’s a place you want to go to, one you don’t want to leave. The school keeps up with the times, but the ages and life stages of the children are top priority. The time to quit playing will come soon enough!
1. See: http://www.bluecross.co.za/.
2. See: http://www.mch.org.za/.