Interview: Connecting Students with Nature at Leipzig International School

Meet Jacobus, the dedicated educator behind Leipzig International School’s Insects and Bugs Project – Vielfalter Garten, and the Wilderness Club. In this interview, he shares his profound connection to nature and the experiences children get to have exploring the forest and garden surrounding out school. Join us in exploring Jacobus’s commitment to fostering environmental appreciation and hands-on learning at Leipzig International School.

Q: Hey Jacobus, you lead one of the afternoon activities at Leipzig International School. Can you tell us about it?

Jacobus: The activity you’re referring to is the Insects and Bugs Project – Vielfalter Garten. It’s designed to introduce people, especially children, to the captivating world of insects and bugs, with a special focus on butterflies in urban cultivated spaces like gardens. We maintain a weekly observation list of butterflies, communicating our findings with BUND (Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland/German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation). Another of the clubs I run is the Wilderness Club at school and kindergarten, centered around Wilderness Pedagogy. The activities are mostly in the forest and are extremely diverse adjusted to season and group dynamics. Activities may include wilderness awareness, tracking, woodcarving, rope making, shelter building, fire making.. and much more.

Q: Can you share a bit about your background and connection to nature?

Jacobus: I grew up on the outskirts of a very small town in the province of Limpopo, in the extreme North East of South Africa, next to the Kruger National Park, bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with no tarred roads, in a place called Duiwelskloof. We were surrounded by the village of the Rain queen of Modjadji, the forest hideout of the King Makgoba, and the sacred lakes of the Venda. I had two white friends, and the rest were black, and spoke Bholobhedo before Afrikaans or English, hence I spent my time mostly in the bush as opposed to indoors at home or school. I eventually had to go to secondary school in another, bigger town, had to wear shoes and got to grips with the unfortunate reality of politics in the country. I diverted my time to the study of Butterflies, wild honey harvesting, extreme sports and hunting problem animals. After school I studied Earth Science, Entomology, Ecology, Microbiology, Facilitation & Assessment, Permaculture and Ecovillage Design, African Traditional Healing, Professional Hunting and Adventure/Culture/Nature Guiding. I traveled and worked extensively in Africa and Madagascar.

Q: What do you find most enjoyable when spending afternoons with students in the garden or the woods?

Jacobus: Probably the good fortune and joy of witnessing children discover or experience something new for the first time in their lives.

Q: Any funny episodes to share?

Jacobus: There are many, like the time a student ate an Earthworm after watching a documentary on protein values. “Hmm, crunchy!” was the unexpected reply. Another memorable moment was on a rainy day with no butterflies; we made a fire, grilled vegetarian sausages, and had a delightful time.

Q: In the clubs, you’re observing butterflies as part of the “VielFalterGarten” citizen science project. What’s your experience with that?

Jacobus: I think the VielFalterGarten is a really good project. It has definitely had an impact on student knowledge and their appreciation of butterflies and other bugs. It also has an impact beyond the observed garden. Whenever my students see butterflies in other places, or on vacation, they come back, look at our pictures and find which butterfly they saw, and can identify if it was a male or female, and what the top and the bottom of the wings look like. I have also learnt a lot about species diversity, habitat, flight times, life cycles and food plants. 

Q: Do we still have a good variety of insects in our little oasis?

Jacobus: Oh yes, I definitely think that the LIS garden hosts a great diversity of insects and other arthropods. The high variety of microhabitats and plant species definitely supports micro and macro invertebrates, and the abundance of predators like birds and spiders is a sure indicator of a healthy ecosystem. Congratulations, a real little oasis indeed, and what a pleasure spending time there during the different seasons.

Q: You’re known for your deep connection to nature. What message do you want to teach the students?

Jacobus:…that we are part of nature, not separate. That nature demands diversity. That in nature there are neither rewards nor punishments, there are merely consequences. That learning exists beyond the classroom. Live in the moment and have fun.

Q: What do you want students to remember from their time in the garden with you?

Jacobus: When you go into nature and come back without learning anything new, it’s not nature’s fault. Just get out there!

Thank you Jacobus for all you do and all you bring to our garden and our school.

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