1. What are the main benefits of your Charlotte Mason educational philosophy and curriculum?
Charlotte Mason framed her educational philosophy within the context of relationships, calling education the "science of relations”. She recognized that fullness of living, expression and service in the lives of our children require that they first cultivate relations with “all that there is in the present, all that there has been in the past and all that there will be in the future - with all above us and all about us”. As we think about the benefits of a Charlotte Mason education, this celebration of relational growth lies at the heart of our emphasis. Some practical outworkings can can be understood as follows:
Regular and real relationships with the world of books: At Grace Primary, we choose our books with care and use them in all aspects of the curriculum, not merely in literature and read-alouds. Children are exposed to many living ideas through the stories read to them in the classroom which both respects their intellect and nourishes their spirit.
Hands-on relationships with the world through practical observation and exploration. From regular nature walks out of doors to the observation of beautiful art and music in the classroom to excursions in a variety of historical and scientific places of interest in our city, children are put in the way of things worthy of their attention and curiosity.
In-depth relationships with knowledge rather than just memorization of facts. Education at Grace Primary is not just about learning facts to pass a test, but about reflecting more deeply on what is learnt and being able to clearly communicate that understanding. Our children regularly practice narration or “telling back” in response to classroom learning which facilitates this process of reflection and response.
Healthy relationships in all spheres through regular training in physical, mental and moral habits. This focus on character growth is an integral part of education at Grace and is encouraged through a monthly habit focus; a living and vital Christian ethos and the inclusion of inspirational role-models in our curriculum and literature. The growth of habits in all these areas produces self-motivated learners who will continue to learn and grow outside of the classroom environment.
Growing relationships through a focus on persons rather than products. We celebrate all aspects of growth in all our children, rather than just the academically gifted and elite. Children are respected as persons and encouraged to take ownership of their own growth and progress rather than incentivised through merit systems which tend to reinforce a “winners vs losers” environment.
2. How is your curriculum benchmarked with the government schools’ CAPS curriculum?
Grace Primary is CAPS aligned rather than CAPS compliant. While we offer a literature-rich curriculum based on the Charlotte Mason philosophy that differs from the textbook-driven approach of CAPS, we also contextualize our curriculum within our local framework and ensure that our children have attained the core objectives identified in English, Afrikaans and Maths by the CAPS system. We aim for our curriculum to be broad and rich and to extend children further in a wider variety of subject areas than is covered in the government curriculum. We believe that children schooled in this way will be encouraged to be life-long learners and will adapt successfully into other learning environments. In Grade 6 and 7, there is further integration with some key CAPS learning areas so that our children are well-prepared to move into local CAPS High Schools (see Question 9 for more on this).
3. What facilities do you have at the school?
During the first three years of the school’s life, we didn’t own our own facilities, but rented from the Congregational Church in Pinelands. Over the years, our facilities have grown substantially with our purchase of land in Protea Close and the construction of the first phase of our school buildings.
In addition to having classroom and administrative space on our own plot of land in Pinelands, we also have access to the church hall adjacent to this plot for assemblies, events, PE, music and art lessons and so on. We also have a music room onsite for private piano, recorder, guitar and violin lessons.
We are planning to build the final phase of our premises over the following year to accommodate the following additional spaces onsite: science/art room, minor hall/aftercare facility, and library.
We have a spacious garden for snack-time, occasional events and PE classes, but we also make use of the adjacent municipal park for play at break times. In addition, we use the Vista Nova High School sports field, less than a kilometre away for organized sports activities.
4. How do you utilize technology in the classroom?
We recognize that children today spend too much time on screens and therefore our emphasis in the classroom, especially in the younger grades, is on the education that children do not necessarily receive elsewhere, such as reading good books, practicing writing, calculating neatly, being creative and spending time outdoors. During senior primary, our children are allocated time to practice their typing skills on the school’s Chromebooks and are also orientated to Google Classroom which is used for researching and submitting certain assignments. All our school children are also enrolled on an online Maths program called Mathletics which is used as a homework practice tool and supplements classroom learning.
5. How much homework is expected?
While our curriculum is ambitious and we aim for academic excellence, we do so in a way that seeks to avoid undue pressure and that promotes balance. Unstructured time for play or time for musical or community activities all have their place in a healthy childhood. This matters because we are as interested in a child’s attitude to learning as we are in his or her academic achievement. Too much intensity too soon can have the opposite of the desired effect. In the early years we keep homework to a minimum, focusing almost exclusively upon reading skills. As children mature, a modest amount of homework helps build independent study skills and involves parents in the learning process.
6. What is your sports programme?
Our Physical Education and Sports program is run by Simon Hobbs, the franchise owner of Sportshub in Pinelands. Our Phys Ed program focuses on developing the children to the basics of being an athlete, while placing an emphasis on having fun. The following five focus areas are taught and implemented through various games activities:
Co-ordination – Encouraging the children to use different parts of their body at the same time and doing more than one movement at a time.
Speed – Learning how to change speed, what speed to use when and how to use your speed effectively;
Agility – Learning how to move in different directions, in the right way. Focus on learning about how the body moves/works;
Endurance – Building up endurance and the ability to keep going even when tired (to achieve the best results);
Outside of this Physical Education programme, the children also do an hour of Sport during the week. In summer the boys do cricket and the girls softball and in winter the boys do soccer and the girls netball. The children do a warm-up jog with their teachers to Vista Nova High School who allow us to use their sports fields during the mornings.
In pre-COVID years, we also held a fun annual day of Athletics races (sprints, long distance, relay, etc). Parents join for this day and can even participate in some of the races! We hope to resume these activities in the future when it is safe to do so.
Balance – Learning to keep good balance and understanding how balance plays a role in movement.
7. What extra-mural activities do you offer?
We offer several extra-mural options after school onsite. Some of these clubs are offered at no extra cost by our teachers at school and some are run by outside experts at an additional cost.
Some of the extra-murals run by our teachers at no additional cost have typically included:
- Maths Games
- Junior and Senior Drama
- Hobbies and Crafts
Some of the extra-murals run by outside experts have included:
- Sports Hub
- Afrikaans Conversation Club
- Individual Music Lessons: Piano, Recorder, Violin, Guitar and Ukulele lessons available.
8. Do we have an aftercare facility?
As soon as Phase 2 of our building is completed, we will have a spacious aftercare facility.
9. How well do your students transition into mainstream High Schools?
Our Grace Primary ‘graduates’ report they have all transitioned easily in the next stage of their education journey. We have alumni at Pinelands High, Rustenberg Girls, Cannon’s Creek (3 scholarship winners), Westerford, St Joseph’s, Curro Schools and some who have chosen to homeschool using the Cambridge Curriculum. While there has certainly been some adjustment to bigger environments and increased homework and competitiveness, our alumni are performing well in their studies (in many cases, exceptionally well) and have been complimented by some of their new teachers for their fresh insights, in-depth observations, excellent recall, diligence and respectful behaviour. We are very proud of the young women and men they have become!