The heart of a beautiful school

By Dianne de Villiers

OK, so our library is not quite the heart of our school yet – physically, that is – because we are, at present, tucked away in a small, overcrowded room on the second floor. We are also under the proverbial hot tin roof!

But, to me, our library is the symbolic heart of the school. We are a reading school with a dynamic and everchanging library programme, and I have been given free reign. And what freedom! Together with children aged 4 to 13, I am able to explore the most wonderful world of books. For there is nothing better than stories! The pre-primary children have one half-hour library lesson a week. They arrive with their book bags, ready to swap their books and listen to stories. But they also learn. Even our littlest Grade 00 pupil can tell you that a fairy tale does not have to have a fairy in it. We read stories which take you into imaginary worlds, stories about animals, stories that can make you feel a little sad, stories that make you laugh… And we talk about what is real and not real from a very early age, so that our little ones can learn to differentiate between reality and fantasy. This is very important to us.

Bringing the world to Somerset College

Our Grades 1 to 7 children have an hour-long library lesson once a week. Apart from reading wonderful books out loud in class, we have studied the rich oral traditions of Africa, the myths and legends of the North American Indians, the Ancient Greeks and the Vikings, as well as the often gruesome stories from the Arabian Nights. We read stories from the Amazon jungle to Siberia, showing the children that stories have been told for generations across the entire planet. The Grade 6s have written their own book of fables, as well as a book of fairy tales. Last year, the two Grade 7 classes each performed a play based on Greek myths, and every child appeared on stage. This took place during our annual cultural week in September.

Reading the core of many celebrations

We celebrate World Book Day with the interhouse literature quiz, where we dress up and have an enormous amount of fun. No matter how hard I try to trick them, the children know their books, and manage to answer almost all the questions. We also hold a book fair and this year the parents showed just how important they think reading is through their fantastic support. And this year we launched our first Easter readathon. We have laughed at the antics of the Hooked on Books performers, and listened to Gilly Southwood, a most skilled storyteller. We have watched puppeteers and had reading treasure hunts. The Grade 7s have read amazing books in literature circles, and everyone has enjoyed participating in Reader’s Theatre.

Research skills stressed

Do we work? Yes, we do. Research skills are taught during library lessons, and our policy is that all projects are done at school. We are very concerned about plagiarism and children are taught from their very first project in Grade 2 that this is wrong. They are taught how to put information into their own words and to acknowledge their sources. The library works closely with our Information Technology department, and children are taught to research using books as well as the internet.

The library has a collection of over 16 000 books. Our shelves are overflowing and we have to inch our way past 75 crates stacked one on top of another. Add 25 children to the mix and one would expect chaos. It is organised chaos, with children reading.
However…

We are getting a new library!

I can’t wait. At last! Somerset College is an Eco-School, and with the full backing of our forward thinking Board of Governors and our Headmasters, everyone has worked hard to achieve our eco status. Our new library has been designed taking environmental issues into consideration. The Preparatory School Headmaster, Jan de Waal, has worked tirelessly to make the dream of a new library a reality, and it is going to truly be the heart of the Preparatory School. It will be situated in the very middle of the Prep campus, overlooking our beautiful dam, the vineyards and the horses, with the mountains in the distance.

Will things change? Physically, yes. We will have lots of space, desks to work at and chairs to sit on. The crates will be gone and when you peep through the doorway, everything will appear neat and tidy. There will be display boards and 12 new computer workstations. The huge rolls of plastic we use to cover our new books will be hidden in a storeroom. There will be a reference section and a ‘chill out’ area for our Grade 7s. The little ones will have a special area with furniture and shelves just their size. The Librarian will have a work space.

But the spirit and enthusiasm for reading of our Preppies show will remain the same. They are true readers who, despite the cramped circumstances of our tiny library on the second floor, have managed to develop a love of books and reading. It is this that makes mine one of the most rewarding jobs there is.

Dianne de Villiers is Librarian at Somerset College Preparatory School.

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Category: Winter 2011

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