Loving Your Children To Greatness-Meet the Kenyan ex-banker that homeschools her child.
I grab my phone from my desk to make that call at half past one, half an hour after the agreed time. I worry she may not be able to answer my call as she probably is busy drilling lifelong lessons into her child, being her sole tutor. Luckily, she picks up after the fourth ring. My initial plan is to run a short story on social media but after spending 70 minutes on phone with her, I am intrigued by this incredible tale of selflessness and audacity and it immediately earns a place on the blog. When I get off the phone, I am left asking myself very tough questions. Am I worthy of being my kids’ mother? Do I do enough for them?
A week ago, I blasted on one of my WhatsApp groups that I needed to interview parents who are raising phenomenal kids. Or doing a phenomenal job in parenting.
“Any leads?” I ask.
“How would you describe phenomenal?” Shiku, my very resourceful and witty pal responds almost immediately.
“Anyone whose parenting tactics inspire you. Those parents that you look at and wish they could raise your kids up for you, because there’s something you really admire in them.” I respond.
“Do they have to be celebrities?” She interrogates me further.
I am irked, so I send her three “rolling eyes” emojis because I don’t see what my little project has to do with celebrities.
“I know a lady who homeschool’s her child. She quit banking to be a stay at home mum. Does that count as phenomenal?” Types Shiku.
“Home what?? In Kenya?” I respond, in total disbelief. Imagine all the issues you have to deal with in a third world country then on top of it all, having the responsibility of educating your kids lying squarely on your shoulders. As it is, the homework my 4-year-old daughter brings home on Fridays frustrates me to my core. It tests my patience in ways I never imagined, especially when she keeps writing number 5 with the round bit facing the left side. But the good thing is that she immediately realizes her error, rubs it off then says “down, big tummy and a hat” and boom! Without that soliloquy, she will not get it right! Also, thanks to homework, I am that person who always leaves social settings just when things are getting lit (or doesn’t show up entirely) because “WE” have homework.
I am interested to know how this lady pulls it off, so Shiku quickly links me up with her. She’s called Neema, and she asks me to call her at 1.00pm. (I told you Shiku is resourceful!)
“I will make you a celebrity, Shiku. Thanks!”
She sends me five rolling eyes emojis and another one that involves the hand, which I only discovered existed on that day.
Neema Kamau is a mother of three kids aged 9, 7 and 4 years, the last born whom she homeschools. Former banker (11 years). Wife. She is passionate about family, education and learning and enjoys working with young children. For that reason, she’s a volunteer teacher at St Georges’ Primary School where she’s also an alumnus. I ask Neema what drove her to take on the monstrous mission of homeschooling her child, yet I am sure out of the numerous systems of education and schools in town, there must be one that strikes a chord. And isn’t homeschooling a white people’s problem anyway? She chuckles and tells me that I just need to spend a week of uninterrupted time with my child to realize how fast they develop and how rewarding it is when you are an ingrained part of their development.
Picture this. You get home from work at 7.00pm. Your 10-month old child duck-walks towards you screaming “mama!”. Last you checked, she could only stand while holding onto the seat. Or worse still, you spot your toddler crouching on the play mat at the right corner of the living room, one you’ve designated for play. She’s busy building something akin to the castle she saw on Frozen. First, you are in awe of what she’s constructed and second, it’s freezing and she is sweater less, but she is so engrossed in her iconic structure and oblivious to the cold. So, you grab a sweater from her closet and ask her to stand up so you can help her put it on but then she snatches it from your hands saying “I know how to put it on myself!” And put in on she does, never mind that its inside out.
As a working mother, missing out on a significant chunk of her kids’ developmental process troubled Neema. By the time she got home in the evening, she only had about an hour or two to help her kids with their homework, bath them and put them to sleep. Something every working mom is familiar with. Not being fully present in the most critical phase of her kids’ growth tore her heart out. Moreover, as an operations manager, some of the interviewees that Neema met at the bank left her down in the mouth. Straight A students who were book smart but timid and could not tackle any curveballs. She viewed this as an atrocious injustice and vowed to not subject her kids to it. The year was 2013 when she quit her enviable job to take on the role of teaching her kids life skills. She became a stay at home mum. A year later, she was invited to an annual conference on homeschooling in January 2014. The conference, she says, was such an eye opener and she wished she had encountered it earlier.
“There is so much in terms of curriculum out there and it’s sad that in most cases, kids are tied down to one way of learning.” She lamented.
“In upper primary school, through to fourth year of high school, I was a straight A student but I struggled with Math and Physics. I dropped Physics in 2nd year and resigned myself to the fate that I would at best score a C in Math in the final exams (KCSE). However, in my last term of 4th year, just before KCSE, I was introduced to a Math tutor who took time to explain the concepts that gave me grief and I ended up scoring an A in Math in KCSE.” I think to myself that Matiangí was not there then, so we can’t be too sure about its legitimacy hehe
She felt that her kids may struggle through school like she did by not fitting in the generic style used. Her older kids at the time were in class one (7 years) and in kindergarten (5 years) , while the youngest was 2 years old. Her husband was against her pulling the two out of school so she decided to run an experiment on Mondays where she would homeschool the kids in the morning and drop them to school in the afternoon. Their school was lenient enough to allow this arrangement. When her youngest child Michelle was old enough to join kindergarten, she threw a tantrum on day one and was not excited at the prospects of going to school every day after that. It did not take much conviction for Neema to make the call to homeschool her.
But surely, doesn’t a child become withdrawn and reticent when at four years they do not socialize much with other kids? Surely there needs to be some level of social interaction, right? I can’t help but wonder how Michelle must be a loner given that she doesn’t interact with other kids on the regular.
“We have a home school group that meets up every Monday where the kids get to interreact. But even then, Michelle loves her space. She is also very perceptive-figures out what works for her and sticks to it. She does a lot of roll playing with her dolls and she is in her element then.”
As we carry on with the conversation, I notice there’s this point she keeps on going back to. About the need for parents to prioritize parenting no matter how busy they are. That only when one draws boundaries around their family will they be able to make time for them. I imagine it has something to do with how she was brought up, so I ask her to let me in on profound memories in her childhood that have shaped her adult life and her parenting.
“My parents were always present and engaged us a lot. My mum was an avid reader. She was always reading and she took time to read for us and with us. We would even go to buy books together. My dad on the other hand was the more adventurous party. He was sporty and taught us to play tennis.”
“My dad was an MD with a hectic schedule and yet he made time to drop us and pick us up from school every day unless he was out of the country. He had a driver, but he chose to prioritize this.”
I wonder whether there’s a set curriculum she adheres to and to what extent can she homeschool her child. Would she be able to join university if she is homeschooled all through to high school level?
“Once you get to high school level, you can register your child as a private candidate for SATs, KCSE of GCE. So yes, one can be homeschooled all the way to high school level, something I plan on doing with my child.”
Neema believes that home schooled kids are extremely resourceful and self-driven. They pick up major concepts at such a young age which would otherwise be delayed if the go through the normal “scope and sequence” kind of learning. The fact that she has the power to define what is education for her children gives her immense joy. She clearly does not take things at face value!
She would recommend it to any parent who may be considering it, but warns that it takes a lot of sacrifice on their part.
As I thank her for being gracious enough to share her story, she tells me that I must remember one thing.
“Parenting is a sacrifice which will cost you time and energy. You must choose to make your kids a priority at the expense of other facets of your life. After all, they will only be your responsibility for such a short while. Do not delegate parenting, because you can never turn back the clock!”
We may not all have the grace, resources, or even mental capacity to pull homeschooling off but one thing is for sure. Early childhood interventions can have a lasting effect on intellectual capacity, personality and social behavior, so make the choice to be influential and present in your kids’ lives when it really matters.