By Phares Mutembei
With schools closed, students are relishing the long break from books, even as parents are at their wits’ end looking for ways to keep them out of trouble.
Not long ago, school holidays were not a big issue. When schools closed, it meant a trip to the rural areas to visit grandparents.
But now vacations are a source of anxiety for parents who feel they have limited ways to fill their children’s free time without spending a fortune.
" I work long hours and will not be getting a break this December. I worry that my children will spend the whole day doing bad things like watching pornographic or violent movies and programmes," says Virginia Maina, a mother of three.
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Vacations are not her favourite time of the year.
But you do not have to spend a tidy sum of money signing up your child in all manner of activities to keep them busy. "Parents should engage their children in fun activities that provide a break from books and instil confidence while exploiting young people’s talents, says Ms Lynn Ngugi, one of the founders of Sisa Club which organises holiday camps and caravan trips across Kenya for young people.
She says parents do not realise that it can take less to sign up a child in such activities than what they spend on DVDs and video games.
For instance, for an annual membership fee of Sh1,140 (Sh95 per month) Sisa members get to participate in holiday camps and trips that involve sightseeing and survival challenges including mountain climbing, hiking, camping, racing and boat riding.
Members also debate issues such as drug abuse, sex and peer pressure with the facilitation of counsellors. "The setting is informal and young people do not even notice they are undergoing counselling," she says.
A camp involves primary and secondary school children in groups of 20-30 members. The caravan trips allow the young people to explore the country. Through pre-arranged bookings they sleep at hotels or learning institutions.
Camps for pre-teens last a week and involve a 1,000km caravan trip. The teenagers camp is open to those between ages 13 and 19. A session lasts four days. The teenagers also engage in poetry, drama and nyama choma sessions.
Other parents work with schools and churches to come up with creative ways to keep their children busy. At Makini School the end of each term is marked with a theme- based spiritual camp where students participate in games, arts and crafts , cookery lessons and Bible lessons.
This year the camp attracted a good number of children. "This holiday it is all about sharing and learning the Bible," says the school’s Patrick Imbuga Kihungu.
"I always enjoy the camps because they are more fun than watching television the whole day. I always make new friends, says Kaya Okelo, a pupil.
Imbuga says camps should be structured to add value to the children’s academic, spiritual and social lives. The next Sisa camp will take place from December 11 to 14 and December 16 to 23 near Mt Kenya.
But for parents who prefer keeping their children closer home counsellors suggest spending time with them engaging in activities that instil values that will enable them become upright adults.
"If your child lacks intrinsic values that foster responsibility and discipline, they will always turn to bad ways," says Jane Mbugua, a counsellor.
"All children want is some attention and when they do not get it they do provocative things," says John Ouma, a parent. He keeps his children busy doing household chores and frowns on the "new fad" of discussing issues with children.
"Children need structure and schedules and parents are there to provide them," he says.