From the headmistress’ desk: 12 April 2019

Dear parents

This week brings the first term and its host of activities to a close or, at the very least, a temporary halt. I am always stunned by how much we (and by that I mean the staff, the girls and the parents) manage to cram into a few weeks; the simultaneous busyness of different parts of the school is nothing short of astounding. I am sorry that my own tight schedule over the last fortnight prevented me from watching our girls play in the Kingsmead Ensemble Festival and various sports matches, but I count myself lucky to have gone on a tour of Johannesburg with the Grade 7 girls and their teachers, and to have attended most of the Hooked on Books shows (where I was reduced to helpless laughter at the predicament of a headmistress devoured by a snake) and the Little Saints book character parade. Incidentally, my daughter, like many of her peers, has been putting in long hours at aftercare over the last few weeks and this seems like an opportune moment to commend Bev Joel and her team on the excellent service they provide for Junior School parents in the afternoon.

As part of the book month, at storytelling evening, the school hosted a talk for parents by South African clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, Coralie Trotter. The venue was packed and, judging by the queue of parents who waited afterwards to speak to Coralie, and the demand for copies of her talk, what she said resonated with her audience and was judged worth revisiting.

For me, much of the value of Coralie’s talk lay in its resistance to easy classification: far from providing a detailed description of ideal reading protocols, or a stand-alone list of must-read books, Coralie drew us closer to the unconscious desires and transformative experiences that lie at the heart of reading for and with children. Her focus on the use of metaphor
in picture books, including books without words, shifted the discussion away from the well-travelled topic of what children should be reading into the wilder terrain of why they read and how books can provide them with the opportunity to roam within psychologically secure and infinitely re-negotiable boundaries.

My reason for returning to the talk here is to harness some of its creative energy for practical purposes and for immediate application: holiday reading. If you are in the habit of setting a strict itinerary for your child’s reading, try to step back over the next few weeks. While I am not suggesting that you allow your child to read whatever she likes with no concern for its content, I am asking that you adopt a more permissive attitude to the educational value, defined in narrowly didactic terms, of what your child wishes to read.

Picture books are not for preschool children only, and returning to certain books over many years, or even over the course of a lifetime, is not developmentally suspect; reading poetry, as opposed to studying it, should not be confined to the classroom; also, if your daughter is drawn to a book that you might judge too advanced for her, give her the freedom to reach beyond her own vocabulary or understanding, to have her thoughts enriched or expanded without measuring the gains instantly: allow her to enjoy the experience on her own terms. Take pleasure in the fact that, when reading, your daughter is not always in perfect control. To quote from The Sword in the Stone by TH White, a book I discovered only as an adult, delight in her “jumping at meanings, guessing, clutching at known words, and chuckling at complicated jokes as they suddenly dawn. [She will have] the glee of the porpoise then, pouring and leaping through
strange seas.”

Before closing, I commend the St Mary’s Grade 7 girls, Adaora Mbanefo and Kate Williams on their inclusion in the interview process for this year’s Wantage Scholarship, and we extend our congratulations to Analia Ntombela from Auckland Park Preparatory School for being awarded the scholarship for 2020.

Enjoy the holiday, travel safely, read.

Dr Sarah Warner

Headmistress: Junior School

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