It’s a fun, bright, colourful and exciting environment for children aged 1-6 years, where every aspect of the design, décor, facilities, and layout has been carefully crafted to ensure that every child is given a strong sense of self, independence, confidence in their abilities, and a set of values that together will equip them to embrace life’s challenges.
This is the brand new world-class Reddam House Ballito Early Learning School (ELS) located on KwaZulu-Natal’s north coast, which opened its doors to its first students in January this year, and is celebrating with an official opening on Tuesday, 1 March 2022.
The R40-million school has capacity for 265 children, with 18 children per class in the younger stages, increasing to 25 in Stage 5 (pre-Grade 1) with a staff of 10 teachers, 13 assistants, cleaning staff under the nurturing guidance of Paula Algar, Head of the ELS. It features 16 Reggio Emilia-inspired classrooms, a multi-purpose centre, and playgrounds built to encourage curiosity and a love of learning, as well as administrative and dining facilities.
The Reggio Emilia approach to education - which is widely used as a teaching approach in about 30 countries - is a student-centred curriculum that uses self-directed and experiential learning in relationship-driven environments, through a programme based on principles of respect, responsibility, and community, with exploration, discovery and play.
Paula Algar, new Head of the Reddam House Ballito ELS, says at the heart of her approach to guiding the children to achieve their best potential, is an edited quote by Vivian Greene, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, but by putting your gumboots on and learning to dance in the rain!” She explains that she added the phrase about putting on gumboots to the original quote to highlight the problem-solving skills that, when properly developed, make such an impact on children’s lives.
Algar describes the new school’s facilities in glowing terms, emphasising the importance of an environment which inspires curiosity and creativity. “Every classroom overlooking the exciting playgrounds has big picture windows bathing the room in natural light. They are painted in an array of pastel colours, and feature artwork that adds interest and beauty to the rooms. There are carpeted areas with cushions on the floor, books on shelves, building blocks and lots of equipment to encourage building, creativity, discovery – all within a safe and happy space.”
She adds that a key element of the Reddam House philosophy is using the environment to learn. The Ballito ELS playgrounds are enhanced with driftwood and stones to reflect the nearby beaches, as well as toys and equipment to encourage problem-solving. “We encourage the children to be aware of their environment, to understand and appreciate what’s around them – and to learn from it. We also guide them to be responsible. For instance, the school grounds will be dotted with pot plants that the children will look after and enjoy the results of their care.”
Algar says the Reddam House Ballito ELS is rooted in the belief that every child has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and unlimited potential, with a unique individual set of talents and interests that can be supported and developed. “It’s our job to tap into that potential and to teach our children how to think, not what to think!”
To highlight this inclusive and holistic approach to teaching, Algar gives an example. “The children were asked to bring in their favourite toy from home, the one they sleep with at night. We discussed the toys in depth, the children then drew pictures of their toys with pen, then painted them. They were excited by their new understanding of the detail, by their own powers of observation, and the importance of learning to record the details.”
Through time spent with the children, the teaching staff also learn to understand the children’s different ‘love languages’ based on the concept of five love languages introduced by author Gary Chapman. “For children to reach their full potential, they must feel loved, valued and secure in their environment. Every child has a primary love language through which they understand love best. When we respond to a child in their own love language – whether it is words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, touch, or gifts – they are free to achieve, free to make mistakes and start again.”
Algar encourages parents looking for a school for their children to recognise that the school needs to be an extension of home. “The feeling one gets when walking around a school for the first time, is a perfect guide to whether that school is the right one for your child. Consider what the school believes is the most important aspect to a child’s growth – if it is ensuring your child reaches their full potential in a nurturing and loving environment that’s designed to inspire and encourage them to explore and be brave, bold and true to themselves, then that is the school for your child and your family.”
The new Reddam House Ballito ELS environment allows for experimentation, discussion, failure and support. “It is okay not to get it the first time, the most important thing is to have the strength to get up and try again.” It’s an ideal environment to instil the school’s strong values of joy, compassion, respect, family, and innovation.
For more information, visit the Inspired Schools website and click on Africa & Middle East link.