As schools reopened a fortnight ago for the first term of the year, thousands of parents who escorted their children to nursery school reeled under emotional turmoil as the toddlers cried uncontrollably protesting the strange environment.
At Kalii Primary School in Makueni County, the new generation of learners had acclimatised by the second day thanks to the ingenuity of Ms Susan Muia, who has taught pre-schoolers for the last 46 years.
“Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” This famous quote written on the outside wall of one of the two nursery classrooms and attributed to Haim Ginott, a child psychologist and school teacher who pioneered techniques of effectively conversing with children, has been Ms Muia’s guideline.
Ms Muia’s work begins with facilitating the children to settle down by creating a homely environment.
This entails allowing the toddlers to sip their favourite juices and eat their packed meals in advance, carrying them on her back and singing to them.
She gradually teaches them how to relate amongst themselves and how to use school facilities such as toilets, as a way of instilling discipline.
This way, she creates the right environment for the toddlers to build the foundation required for learning.
“Most pre-schoolers fight the idea of being isolated from their parents and the home environment. Cases of learners soiling themselves as they struggle to come to terms with the strange environment are common.
The toddlers need to be treated with utmost care, at least during the first three days lest they develop a negative attitude towards schooling,” Ms Muia tells the Nation between lessons, revealing that her trick has been “to be motherly”.
This entails not only singing and playing with the children but also being genuinely concerned with their welfare.
Prof Ginott argued that through usage of appropriate language, teachers can achieve more.
This is what Ms Muia has been doing. After completing Standard Seven at Nduluni Primary School, she got married almost immediately.
Her husband, Mr Julius Muia, who was then a Kenya Bus Services conductor, agreed to her request to volunteer as a nursery school teacher at the neighbouring Masaani Primary School in Mukaa.
She would spend most of her day singing and playing with children. This volunteerism helped her to discover that she was passionate about nurturing children.
This sparked in her a burning desire to train and work as a nursery school teacher. She delivered her first child around this time.
The young mother worked at the school without pay for four years until her family relocated after buying a piece of land on the Makindu-Wote road.
In 1978, Ms Muia was employed by the Kalii community after she completed a short course in teaching nursery school in Machakos town.
“A class had 30 learners on average. The parents used to pay Sh10 per child per term. This is the money I would take home. Often, some of the parents could not afford the fees,” she said.
The pay increased gradually over the years to the current Sh6,000. To be more valuable, she went back to class in 2013 to hone her skills in early childhood education.