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Breaking new ground

| March 9, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Caroline Esterhuizen

“Might I have a bit of earth… to plant seeds in… to make things grow… to see them come alive?” asks Frances Hodgson Burnett’s heroine, Mary Lennox, in the novel The Secret Garden.

Pupils at ISASA member Forres Preparatory School – founded in 1948 in Rondebosch, Cape Town – are now sharing that delight which comes with tending a ‘bit of earth’. The proudly independent school prides itself on teaching to the hearts and minds of children, instilling in them the belief that they can make a difference in this challenging world.

Jane Goodall in Rondebosch

A project that reflects this vision is Roots & Shoots South Africa – a programme conceived by the Jane Goodall Institute1 to establish an ethic of care for the land, and the people and animals that live and depend on it. Leaping into the programme with our gardening boots on, we became the first officially registered Roots & Shoots club in the Western Cape. The programme asks that each club participates in an Earth project, a People project and an Animal project.

The People project

For the past few years Forres has been supporting and interacting with Kiddies’ Educare preschool in Philippi, an informal shack settlement in Cape Town. The school provides an invaluable service to the surrounding community, by offering a safe haven for very young children during the day and beginning the very important process of early education.

Kiddies’ Educare started out as a small shack without ablution facilities, but the children will soon enjoy the safety of a solid double-storey structure, funded by various projects undertaken by the staff and students at Forres. Forres is also raising money to equip and furnish Kiddies’ Educare with toys, educational resources and soft furnishings.

The relationship built up between Forres Preparatory School and Kiddies’ Educare over the past few years has yielded tangible results for everyone involved. In some instances, children from both communities have watched each other grow up over four years.

Forres has hosted the teachers of Kiddies’ Educare, as well as a few of the children from each grade, for shared classes, in-house training and work experience. In 2012, we will send our occupational therapist and gross motor therapist to Philippi to share information.

The Animal project

As stewards of this planet, we are careful to notice all the flora and fauna on our school grounds.

But since our school badge emblem is a beautiful eagle owl, and our school is situated across the road from the glorious Rondebosch Common to which owls are frequent visitors, our special project involved researching and setting up an owl box. The children initially had to find out which owls would likely choose the Forres box and watched as the groundsmen braved the heights and carefully positioned the box. Many factors had to be discussed and settled on – which box to purchase; wind direction; possibility of bees, rats and squirrels moving in; how high up the entrance should be; and degrees of shade and sun exposure. Once the box was in place, the children discovered that the breeding season was over and that it would be nine months before they could expect hooting visitors. So while the box is empty the pupils have learned a little about patience and more about other local wildlife and their habitats. It is hoped that Forres children will be able to connect with other schools in Cape Town that have successfully set up owl boxes and possibly begin a ‘Friend of the Owl’ interschool club.

‘Digging’ our earth pizzas

When it came to an Earth project, Forres set up a sustainable vegetable garden and very quickly discovered that the children find enormous pleasure in the simple acts of digging soil, planting things and then watching them grow. We had also underestimated how rare it is for many children to be exposed to gardening. The project started off with a small, disused sandpit and eight tyre gardens, after we had a look on the Internet to find out about tyre gardens. We read up about growing potatoes from ‘spudding tatoes’ (as they came to be called). To our joy, after three months, suddenly, of their own accord, children were arriving before school to check on their patches of earth. They spent their break times watering and waging organic war on small domestic pests such as slugs and snails, while monitoring the watering of the abundant sproutings of small veggie plants. Some were energised by inventing drip watering systems and others by growing a hanging garden made from milk cartons.

It became clear that one sandpit was not going to be enough and so our Head, Kim van der Hoven, gave us an adjacent plot of ground where the children set up a ‘pizza garden’. A large circle was laid out in pizza ‘slices’. Each slice of the garden grows toppings for pizzas: tomatoes, basil, sweet peppers, chillies, chives and fennel. There was much excitement when the boys and girls harvested their first radishes, beans and baby marrows, and an equal interest in our wormery.

Gardening a simple, powerful teaching and learning tool Tending gardens is metaphorically a powerful teaching tool. With not much more than an old tyre and a packet of seeds, a child learns that it’s all about what you put in, how much you care, how diligent you are in nurturing your plants. You need to pick off the bugs and dislodge the weeds. In the same way, we can have conversations about tending to our personal inner gardens of mind and spirit. What a privilege is has been to watch children – our ‘little people seedlings’ – become enchanted by their relationships, the animals around them, and their gardens, and learning …

To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour. (William Blake)2


1. Dame Jane Morris Goodall, DBE, is a British primatologist, ethnologist,
anthropologist and United Nations Messenger of Peace. Considered to be
the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, Goodall is best known for her
45-year study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in
Gombe Stream, National Park, Tanzania. She is the founder of the Jane
Goodall Institute and has worked extensively on conservation and animal
welfare issues. (Source:

2. Blake, W. (1803) ‘Auguries of Innocence’, available at: blake/to_see_world.html.

Category: Autumn 2012

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