On the 27 April we celebrated Freedom Day which commemorates the day of our country’s first free and fair democratic election in 1994. Our children enquired about the significance of this holiday and what it means to be “free” which provided the perfect opportunity for teaching them about South Africa’s history.
Democracy and freedom
Young children love learning new things. Our children will listen with rapt attention if you are giving them new information in an interesting way. I love telling them stories and Joshua would afterwards explain it again to his sister in a way that she would understand. A simple explanation about why we celebrate Freedom day led to them asking questions about why Nelson Mandela went to prison if he was a good guy.
“There are two things we should give our children: One is roots and the other is wings.”
In my experience, it does not serve them well to gloss over important facts so instead I answer their questions directly while being mindful of giving them only enough information as is age appropriate. As they get older they will want to know more detail which will require more in-depth discussion. This is how we deal with all their curiosity even regarding puberty and sex.
Explaining apartheid to children
At eight and five our children have no frame of reference for the concept of apartheid. They do notice that people come in all different shades because their schools are very integrated but their generation is blessed with racial indifference so this is seen as completely normal.
In fact our family joke is that our children say I am “peach” and their dad is “peach-brown”!
In a recent family Bible study we read to the children from the book of Genesis which talks about when God created the world. We discussed how clever and creative our God is to create not one but a variety of different species of plant and animal life and how He showed the same creative flair when He made us. We had so much fun describing all the physically different people we know and what makes them special like how lighter people have lovely straight hair and darker people will get a lovely bronze tan in the sunlight. We reiterated that even though we are all different, we are all the same on the inside.
They concluded that there are many different kinds of people but we are all equal. Using this reference I explained how in the past, some people thought themselves better than others because they had certain physical characteristics and that this was not true but then enforced and some of the consequences of this idea. The children thought this was quite a silly notion and could not believe that others bought into this idea.
Learning about Nelson Mandela
Our children already know a bit about Nelson Mandela because when he passed away it was all anyone spoke about and as they were old enough they asked questions about him and learned that he was a significant part of South Africa’s history. They knew that he was an important president of our country.
I expanded on this by telling them a few facts they did not know:
- Nelson Mandela fought for equal rights for all South Africans;
- He was classified as a terrorist and imprisoned for 27 years;
- His imprisonment made the rest of the world take notice of what was happening in South Africa which led to sanctions against our country that forced the government to break down the system of apartheid;
- He was released from prison and went on to rebuild South Africa as it’s first democratically elected president.
I told them all about how proud I am to be a South African and that they should also have national pride because South Africa is our home and our country of birth.
I shared some fun facts about our country like the Protea being our national flower and the our national animal being the springbok, which also gives its name to the South African rugby team, the Springboks or the “Boks”.
We also drew the South African flag and sang the national anthem which they already learned at school but never understood before now why we sang it in different languages as part of one song.
After such a fun day learning about their country, they cannot wait to go back to school tomorrow to tell their friends why we are called “The Rainbow Nation“.
The Department of Basic Education has a guide for teaching school-going children about our country’s symbols. It includes activities and worksheets for learners from about grade one, such as making a puzzle out of the flag and colouring in the provinces. You can download it here: www.education.gov.za