Watching the children in action, it becomes clear how much they use imitation as a learning tool. Whereas the vital skills they acquire from painstakingly imitating our laying hens may not be immediately evident, they certainly dedicate much time and effort doing so.
This morning, as the children trickle in and our group gradually forms, our circle finds us by the beekeeper’s house. We recite a poem, greeting each-other, the animals and the trees and with each phrase comes an action, echoing the words. We then set off on our rounds. Our walk is long, taking us over varying terrain and with several stops along the way. The children, and adults, are encouraged to hold onto a rope in order to consolidate the team and deter drifters. The rope takes on a different form each time: a tractor, a bus, a horse, a train, an aeroplane, a fire engine, a boat; usually something one of the children suggests and often something they have recently seen or talked about. Sometimes Bobo, our pony, is roaming about and he leads the way down to the hens as we all trot along behind him.
Once we reach our destination the rope is discarded and the children disperse. By now they have each developed certain interests and slip into them naturally.
A couple of boys pick up the gardening tools and start digging away as they’ve seen the men in the vineyard do. We have a new addition to our team, an agriculturalist, who quickly approaches the boys, encouraging them and advising them on their work.
Others run straight to their plants to inspect them and tend to them. Needing no instruction, they pick up the watering cans, mend the stick fence, pull up some weeds and quickly become immersed in their work.
One girl snatches a handful of hay and marches over to Bobo. Others quickly follow and the adults are close by to remind them to flatten out their hands and feed the pony safely. The boys with the tools seize the opportunity to muck out the paddock.
Several children gather in the chicken run to scatter feed around and watch the birds flock. They scamper round the yard flapping their arms like wings and kicking up dust. A few climb the ladder, squeeze through the hatch and peer into the nesting boxes. A duck is sitting on her eggs. She hisses at a boy and he hisses back, the exchange continues as the boy tries out the sound, perfecting it. Sadly it ends in tears as the boy eventually oversteps the boundary set by the duck and gets his finger pecked… The children’s attention turns to the roosting bars and they begin to climb on them, pausing now and then to delicately perch on one. They eventually fall through the bars, landing in a heap on the floor and rolling about with delight.