Written by Boschendal
Martha Khumalo has sixty-three children. We’re kidding, of course! But watch this vivacious principal interact with her tiny charges and you’d think each was her own.
Martha, who hails from Zimbabwe, came to join the Excelsior school team in 2020 and she clearly delights in her work, seeing it as more of a calling than a job. Even though she started her career teaching for high school, pre-primary is her first love. “Being able to invest in a child’s formative phase is a privilege,” she says. Working to the Montessori philosophy means Excelsior thrives as a holistic learning environment where the development of the senses is as important as sums and ABC.
“Their Emotional Intelligence is as important as their IQ,” she explains. “It’s all about balance and in these early years we can impart so much that stays with the child for life, like respect for self and for others, and the environment – these are the types of values I want to instill.”
Excelsior is a pre-school & créche that was established for the children of many of Boschendal’s employees who live nearby. The cosy little building is tucked away some distance from the commercial side of the estate and it’s a bright, airy space. From classroom to playground, everything has been provided for, right down to the kiddie-centric menus prepared by the in-house cook Annelien Klassen. All the fresh produce food is sourced at Boschendal and the children, who range in age from nine months to five years, receive two snacks and two meals in their day that starts at 07h00 and wraps up at 17h00. “We also teach them about table manners, how to use a fork and knife, and we always accommodate picky eaters by offering healthy alternatives.”
When it comes to outdoor time and recreation, Excelsior is winning with its beautiful location in the heart of farm country. Think climbing frames under huge trees, lush surroundings, wild birds and the freshest air – it’s the playground of dreams. Martha expands on how important Nature is in her teaching processes, an approach that fits right in with the Boschendal ethos. “We have a little veggie garden so children can get their hands into the soil, planting seeds and watching things grow. It’s such a good lesson in patience and fulfilment.” One of the educators, Suzie, is particularly passionate about gardening and loves nothing more than imparting her know-how to little greenfingers-in-training.
During harvest time, the pre-schoolers get to crush grapes and undertake regular outings to the mobile chicken coops where hens roam free and are bred for eggs. “Learning about the animals and their connection with the food chain is important too.” On what Martha terms the ‘purposeful walks’, children are taught to take stock of their surroundings, to be observant and identify different flowers and insects. “Every week we work to a different theme and give what we call ‘enrichment lessons’ in cooking, playing simple musical instruments and doing movement classes and dancing. They love it!”
The Excelsior children, who are picked up and dropped off in the school bus each day, have the best Boschendal resources right at their fingertips. “If we want to learn about baking, farming or waitering it’s easily done because many of the children’s parents work in those sectors of Boschendal. We’re given every opportunity to explore and discover, thanks to the wonderful teams across all the farm departments.”
Excelsior is run on joy and dedication to the children and their wellbeing. Three boisterous little girls called Acqeelah, Raylene and Judith sum it up perfectly after an energetic rendition of “heads, shoulders, knees and toes – ”We love our Principal!” And that says it all.