Remembering Our Footprints Journey Around South Africa

Wendy Young recently asked me on Facebook to share our year-and-a-half Footprints journey around South Africa.

Our journey began in 2007 when our lives had changed drastically.   We had just sold our farm in Bronkhorstspruit and we were free to travel.    I had bought the Footprints On Our Land curriculum to use for all three children and when it arrived I was initially slightly disappointed.  The package seemed so small compared to Sonlight’s!  It all fitted in a Xerox box!  But its size was a blessing, because we had to put all our furniture and belongings into long-term storage while we searched for our next farm, and all our homeschool supplies could fit neatly into a small, onboard-sized suitcase!  Yay for a compact curriculum!  Also, its size is deceptive!  It is a huge curriculum in its range and presentation.

We first moved to the Western Cape and stayed in Carlitzdorp, in the Karoo, in an authentic Cape house, faithfully restored with historical furniture & decor.  Although it had running water, it was off the grid, which lent an even more authentic experience.  Its thick walls, thatch roof and clay finish kept it cool in the hot, Klein Karoo summer.  When we visited Swellendam‘s Drostdy Museum we instantly recognised the smell of our house!  We then stayed with my parents-in-law in Witsand on the Breede River estuary and then travelled to Cape Town for a few weeks.  We visited the Castle and fed squirrels in the Company Gardens, where I had a miraculous encounter, suddenly meeting with my brother who I had last seen 8 years previously before he was transferred to Nigeria.

We relaxed in the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.  My youngest child swam with the penguins at Boulders and Simon’s Town.  My hubby had done service in the Navy and took us to some military towns and places in and around Cape Town.  We had planned to visit District Six Museum, take the cable car up Table Mountain and take a boat trip to visit Robben Island, but I had had surgery and I was forced to take things easy for a while.

We then travelled up the Garden Route and fell in love with Wilderness where we rented a house for 5 months, right on the beach, at the Touw River estuary.   We bodyboarded daily and we spent a lot of time outdoors.  We hiked and paddled canoes in Wilderness Nature Reserve.  We joined another homeschool family and built rafts with driftwood logs which washed up on the shore after the 2007 floods, and the kids sailed their rafts up the Touw River.

We visited the Dias Museum in Mossel Bay, which made a huge impression on my young children, who had enjoyed the book “Caravel to the Cape”.  They fed elephants in the Knysna Elephant Park and boarded a naval vessel docked at Knysna.  We walked in the Knysna forests, bringing our book “Circles in the Forest” to life!  We enjoyed walking along some of the Outeniqua Choo-Choo railway line right along the coast.  We spent a marvelous weekend at Storms River Reserve and enjoyed walks in the forest and walking across the suspension bridge.

Next we took a trip up to Kwa Zulu Natal.   We visited friends in the Natal Midlands and family in Durban.  We visited historic places mentioned in the Great Trek, went to British & Zulu war fields and visited the tiny, but lovely Weenen museum.  My kids all loved Phe Zulu on a day outing to see Zululand.  It was typically touristy, but nonetheless provided a rich experience of the Zulu culture, music and way of life.  Our family loved Durban’s U’Shaka and the Aquarium, and they especially enjoyed the dolphin and seal show.

Our next trip was to Gauteng.  On our way our car broke down and we were towed back to George, but we finally hit the road again.  We stopped at Kimberley‘s Big Hole museum along the way, which was an excellent experience.  Funnily enough, my kids loved searching through the gravel for garnets more than going down into the mine museum.

In Pretoria, my hubby’s father, a retired Airforce man, came with us to the Airforce Museum and Airforce Memorial at the Waterkloof Airbase, as well as the actual military base and accommodation.  We found Uncle Myles Moodie’s name on the memorial plaque.  Having Oupa with us who actually lived and worked for the Airforce, and knowing someone who died in service, made the museum tour very personal.  The Voortrekker Monument was a good outing, and my young and energetic kids raced up all the stairs to the very top!  What a view from there!We had planned to  travel to the Lowveld (Mpumalanga) on our next trip.  We had hoped to visit the Kruger National Park to look at the wildlife, pan for gold at Pilgrim’s Rest, visit waterfalls in Sabie, follow the story of “Jock  of the Bushveld” in and around Baberton and view the stunning Blyde River Canyon views from God’s Window, but our real life decision to buy a farm in the Klein Karoo became our reality, and we moved to our current farm near Uniondale instead.

Here are some questions people have asked me ~

What if we don’t have time for long trips?  Not every Footprints family has the liberty of extended time to travel as we did, but I would recommend taking time off for some seasonal trips or to plan your family vacation and try visit different regions of South Africa during your studies.  Simply start in the areas near you.  Travelling is always a wonderful experience when shared.  Try to plan your trip with another homeschooling family or good friends.  Learning and experiencing the journey with others forms bonds and memories that children never forget.

How do I approach the journey and outings?  May I humbly suggest you approach your travels with a relaxed, informal approach?  I was too “teachy” during our trips because I wanted my kids to get the most out of their experiences, and I dampened their natural love to learn by forcing constantly encouraging them to “learn this”, “look at this” and”listen to that”.   They have since literally hated any talk of going to a museum! Sigh. …. Relax moms …  Let your children learn naturally, make their own connections, form their own experiences.

What was your homeschool routine like during the 18 months?  There were times when we were not on the road and we settled down to days or weeks of “normal” homeschooling.  Surprisingly, I found that despite serious disruptions like road trips and car break downs, we didn’t actually “fall behind”.  We simply pressed a pause button on our schedule and experienced real life on the road instead.  I highly recommend you give yourselves more time by extending the 1-year course over 18 months to give yourselves a wide margin of time to enjoy all the scenic tours and unplanned, but wonderful stops along the way.

How do I plan my trips?  Parents may wonder if they should plan their trips around their Footprints schedule.  It sometimes helps to have read the book before visiting a museum or place so that the outing is connected to the story and becomes real.   Likewise, if your children experience an outing before the book is read aloud, they have a wonderful base to attach new knowledge discovered through the reading.  It doesn’t actually matter, so don’t worry if your journey is not chronological to your curriculum.

What do I need for these outings?  When you travel all you need is a journal, a basic supply of colouring pens and pencils, glue and scissors.   Because space was limited, we shared one set of pencils and felt-tipped pens between us.  Give each child their own zip envelope for collections of ticket stubs, pamphlets and odd finds.  When they have a moment to sit and think later, encourage each child to journal their wonderful memories of their outings in their journals.  Encourage younger children to dictate their thoughts to mom or dad.  My teens are tickled when they read their childhood journals years later!

How did you use the Footprints Map?  Our Footprints map became our lasting visual memory of our travels and experiences.  I pasted all the story book discs, as well as photos of friends and places we visited, in their geographical positions as we travelled.  We charted our travels in different coloured pens around South Africa and the map gradually become full.  I wrote each child’s review and evaluations of their Footprints experience at the top of the map.   I then had the whole map laminated at a printer shop to preserve our memories. Footprints On Our Land was a perfect fit for our family because we could homeschool all three children on the same curriculum at that particular stage of our homeschooling.

Footprints’ living books are marvelous, and the literature-based lessons are so beautifully interwoven in a rich, wide, yet flexible program.  Footprints is full of South African history, culture, nature and geography, and offers a hundred platforms for outings, excursions, museum trips, exploration and real hands-on experiences.

I wish any Footprints family every blessing as they make their own footprints on our land!