If you are a mother, imagine a house that is usually full of children screaming, fighting and calling mummy all the time abruptly turning into a quiet zone.
Reason? Their father has taken all of them out for the night and a better part of the following day.
And for fathers, imagine going camping in the forest, tagging your children along. Well, that is not just a fantasy story for Kijiji Homeschoolers — a group of families who homeschool their children.
As part of their curriculum, they take the children for camping every last Sunday of the month.
Kijiji, as they call themselves, consists of about eight families. The dads decided to be having their own sessions with the children in the course of the month.
So how did it begin? One time a particular couple needed to travel but had to leave their children behind to continue with the homeschooling sessions.
So the children were left at another family’s homestead. And to keep them entertained, the hosting dad took them for a trip to the Aberdares.
It is after this trip, as the hosting dad was recounting his adventures with the children to the other dads, that the idea of camping with their children was born.
“Our first trip with the children was at Kilimambogo,” says Steve Kiteto, one of the coordinators in charge of finding suitable campsites.
“The plan was to camp on Sunday night and hike the next day before returning home. It was a disaster! We had not planned well. We had the wrong type of shoes, few beddings. But all in all we made the best of it.
"The dads cooked and pitched tents as the children played. We were so exhausted by bedtime,” he recounts.
After that episode, the group met to debrief and made a few changes that would be effected in the next camping session.
It was decided that the children would be doing all the cooking and cleaning while the dads would be bonding with each other. This is where fun began.
The dads say they made the children do all the work as a way of teaching them life skills and how to survive.
So girls cook while boys fetch firewood for bonfire. The children sleep in groups of two or four while the dads sleep alone.
“The first time the girls cooked was something else. The food burned, things went haywire, and the rice looked something between ugali and porridge. They were so scared that they decided to throw the food across the fence! We found out this later when the food took too long to get served, and we had to settle for bread and strong tea,” recalls Kiteto, laughing.
“The next day we all sat down to debrief and find a solution. During the discussion, we asked the following questions: who cooked, who was in charge, what went wrong, and how can it be sorted so that next time the same issue does not arise? This again formed the beginning of a system that has since improved with time,” he adds.
Kiteto explains that the next day after making breakfast, they prepare for the hike, which is usually nothing less than 10 kilometres.
During the hike, no one is allowed to whine that they are tired, cry or grumble.
No one is allowed to be carried by their dad either. Besides fitness, the purpose of these activities is to challenge them physically and emotionally, and to build their grit.
The minimum age for a child to camp and hike is seven years due to the intensity of the activities.
Also, this is the ideal age for any child to begin a serious connection with his/her father.
The most interesting thing about this adventure is that the children do everything, from planning to budgeting.
During the Kijiji monthly forum, they settle on sites for both camp and hike. This is determined by the dads since the children don’t know much about places.
But the children decide who will be in charge, what food to carry, and who to bring what. The one in charge sends a list in their WhatsApp group on what each family will bring along.
Every family is assigned the food and utensils to carry. Everything is planned down to the matchbox. One person carries a meko for cooking.
According to Kiteto, this has sharpened the children’s leadership skills and taught them how to manage money and time.
“There was this time we took the SGR (train) to the Coast and when we reached at the station, every child was given Sh100 to buy food or whatever they wanted. It served as their lunch money and no food was to be provided afterwards. They were allowed to buy anything and even save if they wanted.
“They were all so excited for being given this responsibility of making their own bargains. They thought that was a lot of money. Some bought chips, others sweets and sodas and soon ran out of money. Some, after realising they didn’t have enough, went back to their dads to ask for more. There was one boy who spent Sh40 and saved Sh60.”
After spending, with a few regrets, complaints and success stories, they had a debrief and talked about their experiences.
This taught them a lesson or two about spending and managing money, and that there are consequences when you don’t spend your money wisely.
Needless to say, some had a long wait before their dinner was served. And where are the mothers in all this, you may ask.
They are left behind either taking care of the much younger children or having a quiet time by themselves.
In fact, when you ask the children, they do not want their mothers to join the group “because they will be too restrictive.”
“One time we decided to invite our wives. So as usual we started catching up as we waited for dinner. The women were all over taking control and supervising the cooking all the while shaking their heads in disbelief at how the cooking was being done.
"We had to intervene and find them something to do before they spoilt our session. Luckily, we had visited The Olkaria Geothermal Spa. So we took them there for a treat to get them away from the kitchen and everyone was happy,” says Kiteto.
“It was decided then that our wives would only be invited once in a year. We love them but once a year works well for everyone,” he quips.
“Besides, our wives are the primary caretakers during homeschooling sessions. That means they spend more time with the children than us, since we are out there hustling for a living. It’s only fair that we spend some 24 hours alone with them,” he says.
Charles Nderitu narrates his experience with his daughter Karimi, who was then aged five. He was a new parent at the camp.
The group made an exception just to gauge whether a five-year-old would hack it. And yes, she did.
“I did not have to carry her. Once we agreed that there would be no crying or whining, we were good to go,” a proud Nderitu says.
He also noticed that the kids were very smart, connected with the environment and they could reason scientifically.
“I admired their resolve and perseverance. I was mostly impressed by how they worked as a team. When the girls were making dinner, the boys were pitching tents and doing the dishes. In the morning, it was the boys’ turn to make breakfast.
"The girls pitched down and did the morning dishes. I was happy to see my daughter helping out in some of these activities and she was very excited as well,” says Nderitu.
Little Karimi has never camped before. She was particularly excited about sleeping outside.
“I loved sleeping in the tent. It was fun! I also helped in washing dishes with my new friends. I enjoyed the hike too but it was too tiring. Everyone was walking with a stick and it became a lot easier. I would like to do this again!” she says proudly.
The camping is not restricted to homeschooling children. Others from the regular system are welcome to join during April, August and December holidays.
The camping takes place from Sunday evening to Monday, then the hike. For Kiteto, the camp is a huge success.
“Through these experiences, the children get to interact with God through nature, and build connection with each other and their dads. After all these experiences, we sit down and draw life lessons to bring out character.
They get to build competence and a good work ethic by practising and serving each other. They build confidence by expressing themselves during debriefing and in writing, after which they present their pieces during the kijiji meetings. They also get to exercise compassion by helping other. This is what we call the 5C’s”
Even the mothers are amazed at what the group has achieved. The children have become responsible around the house and help a lot in kitchen,” says Lizzy Njeri, one of the mothers.
“The children have learnt to work as a team and sharpened their leadership and life skills. I don’t need to push them a lot to help around the house. I am glad that my two daughters accompany their father to the camp.
"I can’t wait for the one who is underage to turn seven so I can finally have the house all to myself when they go camping,” she says.
The dads, who started off as strangers, have now become close and even adapted a habit of visiting each other’s upcountry homes with the children.
The children are always eager for the next camp. Although it is still a learning avenue, it breaks the monotony of the regular system.