What have we learnt?

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, governments have been implementing various policies in order to try and best deal with the threat relative to their own country. For South Africa that has included shutting schools, meaning we have finished our eco-schools and environmental education sessions for this term and perhaps longer.

Ruby’s expert knowledge and teaching experience has ensured it has been a great term for our learners, with exciting projects on the horizon in term two, building on our sessions from the year so far. Here’s a look back at what we have done!

Teacher Ruby teaching healthy living
Teacher Ruby teaching healthy living

Our focus has been on converting attitudes of the learners towards various animals. At the beginning of the year we drew up a ‘bad list’ and ‘good list’ of animals at our schools. The majority of animals on each list were fairly predictable: snakes, scorpions, mosquitoes, baboons, lions, hyenas and even elephants amongst others made the bad list, while the good list included: dogs, cats, cows, butterflies and impala. Interestingly humans were put on both lists – a topic I am excited to explore further with the children in the future!

The 'Bad' and 'Good' lists from Alldays Primary
The ‘Bad’ and ‘Good’ lists from Alldays Primary

Our first myth buster was scorpions! We brought some scorpions into both schools, with Frank demonstrating using a Giant Rock scorpion (Hadogenes troglodytes). We were able to educate the children on different safety elements about the scorpions in the area, for example, that colour plays no part in how dangerous they are, but to look at pincer size against sting size – small pincers and big sting is dangerous! The children were able to see up close the scorpion; why they are good for us to have around, how they move, breathe and excrete, and even held the scorpion on their hands. Frank also had some more deadly scorpions to show the children (that stayed in their containers!) to help explain and demonstrate the tail/pincer rule and this was revised over the course of the term. All this culminated in a safe removal of a scorpion at the school last week, where ordinarily it would have been beaten to death! 

Following this we built up knowledge on habitats and ecosystems, learning about different types of habitat around the world, what habitats are and involve (food, water, air, shelter and a place to raise young), and how food webs control habitats, and impacts to humans such as disease. Games helped us show human impact on habitats too and how this can lead to conflict. To learn more about conflict and continue our mission to convert haters into lovers we used the Hyena Time book by Katy Williams to get the learners reading and to better understand about brown hyena. The book and the activities included in it are superb, and we highly recommend using it to anyone working with children and environmental education. This laid the foundations of our larger plan to have learners write their own stories in groups to help others in their community help to understand why some animals that are perceived as bad are actually good! We are looking forward to seeing how these stories develop!

Now that we had some better knowledge on habitats, ecosystems, human-wildlife conflict and were beginning to turn the tide from bad to good, we decided to focus on the big ones! Snakes and baboons have quite notorious reputations in the area. As the term has been suspended we have still to fully address baboons as bad animals, but that will come! Snakes meanwhile have been looked at up close and personal!

Briershof enjoyed a field trip to Campfornis where our research centre is based and were able to enjoy a game drive, nature walk and some sports and activities including an environmental scavenger hunt focused on recycling. As part of the nature walk they met a snake, able to touch and have photos with it. At Alldays Primary we took the snake into school and amassed a huge crowd like none we had ever seen before at eco-schools, with probably a hundred children and some staff joining which was epic – what a platform!

Crowd control when we learnt about snakes at Alldays Primary!
Crowd control when we learnt about snakes at Alldays Primary!

Again, Frank came into full limelight! Handling a beautiful rhombic egg eater (Dasypeltis scabra), he provided a wide range of snake facts for South Africa, dispelling myths, educating all on physiology and safety when dealing with snakes while again teaching the children the benefits of snakes. While the children remain scared of snakes they were happy to move the snake on to the good list, along with brown hyena and scorpions! Fantastic!!

These hands-on lessons have been a huge benefit to engaging the children and seeing their fear turn to excitement and by the end of the sessions everyone wanting to be closer to the scorpion or snake is really exciting and very encouraging for us!

Although it sometimes seems a bleak picture – there is hope for the future yet!

For any more information on these sessions or past sessions we have conducted please be in touch. We are by no means a perfect example, but really feel we are making a positive impact in Alldays and would be happy to help others do the same elsewhere if we can.

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