All the right

2011-03-28 00:00

A GROUP of children arrive at the Resource Centre on the banks of the Bushman’s River at Dalton Bridge, a village in the foothills of the Drakensberg. Aged between two and five years, they are arriving for their weekly psychomotor class. Some came on foot, while others were brought by taxis from villages further away.

At first they sit in a circle and greet each other and their teachers. Then a tambourine is passed around. Each child gives it a bang before passing it on to the next. Then follows a series of games and activities involving both individual tasks and interaction with others. Later, when the children take to tunnels, climbing frames and wall ladders, the room becomes a hive of noise and enthusiasm.

Psychomotor, as the word suggests, combines a variety of mind and body exercises designed to boost the psychological and physical development of pre-school children as well as boost communication skills and instil the values of non-violence. Taught from the age of 18 months, it can help to promote the transition to abstract thinking and it lays the foundation for later academic work.

These children are from the three rural communities of Dalton Bridge, Mhubheni and Ezindikini that border the Dalton Private Reserve about 25 kilometres from Mooi River and they are the beneficiaries of the the Dalton Education Trust (DET), a non-profit organisation founded by the Dalton Trust which manages the Dalton Private Reserve.

The trust introduced an innovative Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme to the communities surrounding the reserve, which was further enhanced with the addition of psychomotor classes.

“‘Don’t hurt yourself and don’t hurt others’ is the basic rule when it comes to psychomotor,” says Joe Dawson, the manager at Dalton Private Reserve. “The ethos of psychomotor involves respect for the child and building that child’s self-respect and respect for others.”

Dawson became interested in early childhood development when he had young children of his own. “I got to know about psychomotor and when I found out about the mediation and non-violent aspects of the approach I was sold on it and decided we should utilise this method with the Dalton Education Trust.”

The trust was set up in 2009 with donations of about R800 000 from family and friends gathered together to celebrate the 60th birthday of the reserve’s owner, Australian businessperson Ian Gowrie-Smith.

The purpose of the trust is to remedy the lack of pre-school facilities in the area. “There was nothing here for children up to four years of age,” says Dawson. “Grade R, for school readiness, had been introduced but that only targets children aged five years and over.”

Dawson says research has shown that Early Childhood Development (ECD) benefits both children, their families and the communities in which they live. The most rapid period of brain development occurs in the first few years and the experiences of early childhood have an enduring effect on an individual’s future learning capacity. “Simply put, children who are well nurtured during this formative period do better in school and stand a better chance of developing the skills that contribute productively to social and economic development,” says Dawson.

In April, 2009, the trust formed a partnership with Little Elephant Training Centre for Early Education (LETCEE) based in Greytown (the name is derived from the Zulu name for Greytown — eNdlovana — the place of the little elephant), which specialises in ECD in rural areas. LETCEE trained a number of family facilitators, as well as a toy librarian and the facilitators in the purpose and functions of a toy library.

The trust then employed the family facilitators and through them introduced a programme of psychomotor education introduced in conjunction with the Psychomotor Institute of South Africa (Peisa). Psychomotor is compulsory in many European schools and was introduced into South African pre-primary schools in 1996 by Michele Kocheleff and Rossella Meusel who trained the family facilitators at Dalton.

“Non-violent resolution starts in early childhood,” says Kocheleff. “Psychomotor develops a child affectively, emotionally, socially, and physically in respect of self and others in a non-violent environment. It teaches a child respect for self and others, to be autonomous, respectful and it opens the mind. The child is ready to be curious about what he or she will learn.”

Dalton Education Trust project manager Phelelani Mabaso says the introduction of psychomotor has made a tangible difference. “In our culture, children keep quiet or they just cry; they never speak about how they feel about life. But psychomotor has made a difference.”

“The children are less aggressive,” he says. “People today are very aggressive, but here they learn you must be kind and help others. The children are supportive of others and able to talk to them, they are also open to their parents and more assertive. They greet others and say hello.”

“It is very helpful to learn at this age. You grow up with it and take it to other schools; it is in the veins, you grow with that. The children learn there are rules that they can follow.

“Things you learn as a child become part of your life as an adult.

“Families see what a difference it has made and they support it. It has created a good spirit and become a part of our community.”

Family facilitator and the psychomotor project co-ordinator, Nokuthula Mchunu, agrees. Asked if she has seen a change in the children, she responded: “Eh! Too much! At the beginning the children did not communicate with other children, now they can communicate with other children.”

Mchunu is also impressed by the way the non-violent behaviour inculcated by psychomotor actually works. “We have rules — we teach no punching, no fighting, no biting, no scratching, no kicking. We teach them how to implement this — instead of just hitting back if someone hits you. This behaviour stays with them. And that’s why we teach this to the small children in our community. They know this when they grow up.”

At present, all three communities share the facilities at Dalton Bridge but it is over an hour’s walk away from Ezindikini, where Prisca Ndlovu, a family facilitator and a teacher at the Dalton Resource Centre, runs an informal crèche. Recently, funding was raised to create a proper crèche for the area that will bring major benefits to the children. “Once we get the crèche off the ground then the whole project can reach 200 children, as opposed to the 85 it reaches now.”

•Dalton Education Trust is always in need of ongoing support. If you would like to assist, contact Joe Dawson at 036 352 0100.

Dalton Reserve is having an eco day

THE Dalton Private Reserve is holding an Eco Day on April 3 from 11 am to 4 pm and proceeds will go to supporting Early Childhood Development in the surroundingcommunities.

The Dalton Private Reserve is a 3 000-hectare estate set in the foothills of the Drakensberg about 25 kilometres from Mooi River and Estcourt. Its life began in 2003 when Australian millionaire Ian Gowrie-Smith bought and amalgamated five farms to create a fishing retreat.

It has since become a landmark conservation project and luxury eco­tourist destination. It has been officially proclaimed a natural reserve, with its resources co-managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

Managed by Joe Dawson, the reserve is now home to 1 000 head of game, including white rhino, disease-free buffalo, hartebeest, eland and oribi, all of which were once endemic to the area and are now breeding successfully.

The reserve’s main lodge and the surrounding buildings called the Dalton Compound were designed by Durban architect and furniture designer Richard Stretton (of Koop) which won the Afrisam SAIA award for sustainable architecture. Like its outbuildings, the house was built on the ruins of former farm buildings, so as to reduce the project’s environmental footprint.

Over the years, Dawson has overseen the clearing of the estate of alien vegetation, such as wattle, poplar and red gum, the wood from the latter two species being used in the actual construction of the lodge.

That wood is now also being used to produce a range of hand-crafted furniture called the Dalton range, also designed by Koop. In keeping with the emphasis on sustainability, the curing of the wood takes place in the nearby solar kiln and all the woodworking staff are drawn from the local community and provided with training.

Other accommodation at the reserve is available in the form of the intimate lake cottage which sleeps two and the Zulu Waters lodge which can take groups of up to 12.

On the Eco Day, admission is adults R50, R10 for children over five and free for those under.Admission entitles you to a free game drive. Otherattractions include pony rides, guided walks, tour of organic garden, food stalls, children’s activities, Zulu dancing and face painting. For details, phone 036 352 0100.

• For more information about the Dalton Private Reserve and the Dalton Education Trust, phone 036 352 0100 or visit www.daltonprivatereserve.com

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