Many parents with children in the 8-4-4 system of education are facing the reality of having to cater for three meals a day and entertain their children who will be spending the next two moths at home. We sought parents who chose to see this time as a chance to teach.
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The long holiday began early this year. Parents all over the country welcomed it with mixed feelings: some fretting and some taking it in stride.
You don’t have to be a social scientist to understand why a parent would be miffed – cold and almost paralysed with fear – at the thought their child having nothing constructive to do but to zig-zag around the house and watch TV for weeks on end.
“There is just so much that can go wrong,” says Pauline Mureithi, a mother of four.
When things go wrong, one parent observes, it could mean that a teenage boy gets sucked into hard-core drugs. It would mean that a young adolescent girl becomes sexualized before she actually gets the hang of it. It may also mean that a teenage boy, still green, is inducted into a gang.
Having been a parent for the last 13 years, it is not lost on Salome Mburu; the perils of a modern world cracked open by the World Wide Web and firmly anchored on the spirit of globalization.
“When schools close, many parents find themselves with no option but to allow more TV time for their children. They will continue loitering at home and mingling purposelessly with other equally bored peers. In that situation, they become predisposed to vices,” Salome says.
It is a norm that she has found herself in before. For her, the indifference was partly due to ‘unavailable’ options. She admits, from her viewpoint, there were few constructive activities towards which to prod her children.
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“I realized that the usual – staying at home and watching TV – was not helping them much. That is when I decided to use my love for music and dance to influence how they use their time when schools close,” she says.
Salome is a vocals and dance tutor at the Bellevue School in Nairobi. She is also the brain behind November Music Camp – where she conducts music and dance lessons to elementary level pupils as well as adolescents.
“There are a lot of constructive activities that children on long holidays can learn and do. Music and dance are some of them,” Salome says.
The objective, she says, is to tap into the childhood vigour, in a relatable parlance.
Free time with nothing constructive to do is a recipe for disaster, says Roselyne Kigen, a parenting expert and one of the authors of the book, ‘Becoming the voice of purpose’, a guide for parents with teenagers.
And hence, she believes, an idle mind does actually make fertile ground for devilish ideas.
“Children learn as they go through life. At every stage, they learn from what they do; the activities they participate in; the path set for them by parents and guardians. When they lack something to learn, ‘air bombs’ creep up with the potential to disrupt the child’s normal growth,” Roselyn says.
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Air bombs they are. It is on these pages that we carried the story of Mark Mbiu. In 2013 Mark was reforming from drug addiction. His mother, Grace, lamented how, almost in an instant, Mark went from the son she knew to a stranger: “a tragedy waiting to happen.”
According to Mark, he must have been 13 or 14, when he started to hang out with older people. Where did he get the time to hang around older people when he was attending school?
Neither Mark nor his mother could offer an answer. The drugs cliff-hanger, Mark said, was nothing more than a spontaneous event.
“All I know is it [use of drugs] was adventurous. I wanted to feel good and it gave me just that,” he narrated.
The long and short of it: Mark got addicted, his family booked him for rehabilitation 27 times; and each time he took off.
“It was difficult; it was a struggle. We tried calling the police on him and booking psychiatric sessions for him but nothing worked,” Grace lamented. “No mother wants to see their child lost in an abyss like Mark was,” Grace somberly told The Standard.
Epic tales like Mark’s is what Roselyn imagines when she refers to air bombs; innocent pastime habits that morph into perilous addictions.
“Free time!” the phrase feels surreal every time Pauline conjures it up with her children in the picture. But she offers a solution: a panacea to what she identifies as a gray zone for the young.
“Parents should take this chance to spend time with their children; to mould their character; to be there – in their lives,” she says.
The idea of parents spending time with children is one that Alenga Amadi of Career Advisory Centre ascribes to himself.
“The long school holidays are meant to give parents an opportunity to connect with their children and teach them what they have always missed in their early childhood; excellent character development education,” Alenga says. “Character is made up of family virtues and values which children should learn as they grow.”
Alenga warns that children without these virtues grow up with holes and gaps in their lives. Therefore, he admonishes parents to take opportunity presented by the long school holidays to build their child’s character.
Not long ago the public was perplexed at the making of Project X, an orgy party that invited teenagers to attend. Alenga blames vices like Project X – and even the infamous burning of schools that razed many dormitories in a domino effect – on children with ‘holes and gaps’ in their lives.
Harriet Ndege is a mother of one. She understands the stakes as her daughter inches higher each day. Like most parents she wants her daughter to grow into a teenager [and eventually an adult] with affable character.
Harriet too understands the threats posed by idleness when schools close. She signs her daughter for girl-guide boot camps, “where she learns responsibility; how to care and watch over herself; and the importance of doing the right things.”
Pauline too says that such boot camps – including seminars and conferences – for teenagers have a lot to offer young people.
After all, comments Salome, what they learn during the holidays – dancing, singing, games, cooking, and acting – may be creating a foundation for their careers.
“Parents need to take such activities seriously. It is not always that a career is made out of academics; hobbies like singing and acting have given us Lupita Nyong’os and Amileenas of today,” Salome says.
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