Barefoot with a Knife

This morning I sent my 5 year old daughter to school with a knife…yes, you read that right, a knife. And not a butter knife for a PB and J sandwich, a sharp knife that could totally be considered a weapon. To school.


Her face says everything I’m feeling…this is terrifying! We even prayed on the way to school “That Avery wouldn’t cut her finger off.” Didn’t think I’d ever be praying that over my child on the way to kindergarten.

Every other week the kids get to bake and this week her class is making beef and veggie soup. I’ve been told it’s delicious and Avery is so very excited, but it’s taking everything in me to not think about blood and ER visits while I count down the hours to pick up time.

I’ve also been looking at all our friends back to school pictures as it’s the start of a new year in the States (which are wonderful, by the way! We miss all of you!). How different life would be if we hadn’t moved–Avery would just now be starting kindergarten this week instead of being in the middle of her 3rd term (quarter). And I highly doubt that she would ever be asked to bring a knife into Rolling Hills Elementary.

This is certainly not the first (or the last) time that we have noticed differences between school in SA and the US. We aren’t experts as our kids didn’t go to school before we moved, and we’ve only experienced one school here, but here are some things we’ve observed:

  • School here is more about learning through play and exploration, rather than knowledge on paper. Avery knows her letters, numbers, etc, but has trouble going all the way across the monkey bars or walking on a balance beam–at her parent teacher conference in June these were the things that were highlighted. Her gross motor skills were emphasized over her readiness to read.
  • Schools seem to be more free here. Kids are encouraged to go to school barefoot, climb higher, ride faster. Teachers aren’t as worried about lawsuits if a child gets hurt because they believe that kids rarely do more than they are comfortable doing. They are also very resilient. No shoes would never happen in the States…imagine if a child cut her foot on a thorn when she jumped down from the monkey bars!? The parents might sue!
  • School is less sterile here. Much to my dismay, there is not hand sanitizer outside every classroom. The kids share cups sometimes. They wash their hands in standing water with bars of soap after using the toilet. They get to bake with raw eggs and meat, and they actually get to touch it instead of watching the teacher demonstrate. And you know what? The kids have been just as sick as they would have been at home in their first year of school. We haven’t gotten salmonella or any other weird African illness.

Most of this is very unnatural for our family. Kenny and I are relatively cautious people, and he is especially protective. Avery’s teacher has had to tell us (him, really) to loosen up a bit and let the kids do more than we think they can. And as we’ve done that we’ve noticed huge improvement in the confidence of our children! It’s been so fun to watch!

I told a friend here the other day that Kommetjie Pre Primary School has challenged our kiddos in ways that they aren’t as gifted in and I think it’s a great foundation for what’s to come. I think in addition to challenging our children, school here has challenged us as parents and all of this is preparing us for what’s to come next.

Soon it will be Zeke’s turn to bring a knife to school or Cassidy’s turn to cross the high monkey bars. When the time comes, we’ll be ready. But for now I’m off to go pick up our big girl and make sure she still has 10 fingers.




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