Let children be children | The Guardian Nigeria News

I have for a long time been following the Facebook handle of Funke Aboyade with more than passing interest. Funke Aboyade is a lawyer, a practitioner at that. But she loves writing. Apart from newspaper law reporting, following in the indelibly imprinted footsteps of Dr. Olu Onagoruwa and Kola Awodein, she is wont to regale you with her travelogue. Her salivating account of her travels is not about clinging of wine glasses or yanking steaks off barbecue, but about her encounter with nature, rummaging through the woods and climbing hill rocks and mountains. She was at the famous Olumo Rock, Abeokuta, the other time, in the company of her brother, a split image of their father, Professor Ojetunji Aboyade, the renowned economist that his bosom friend, Prof. Wole Soyinka, would fondly and simply call Oje and who nearly every known friend of his had to plead with to accept appointment as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. He was interested in teaching and research at the University of Ibadan and together with Professor Bill Dudley in the publication of Nigerian Opinion edited by Allah-De. To go to Ife, he gave conditions to appointing authorities. Do not be surprised if you find his signature on National Development Plan document as a leading scholar connected with its preparation.

Funke Aboyade was editor of ThisDay law page which she made compelling. In tone, robustness and style the page was a must. Even if the page had not been made compelling, for every reporter, for every editor, for every journalist the pristine rule is: You must read everything in print. And so, I got hooked onto reading Funke Aboyade’s writings. One would have thought that her travelogues give enough revelation about her personality. No, there is more. In the last one week she has been celebrating Nature. Here is her poem, for example, which apparently she may have turned into music:
“I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed days, the dark sacred
Nights
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.”

In her outings during week she led her readers down memory lane, to rekindle childhood memories in which all children swing and find fulfillment except those whose natural inclinations are misdirected by the parents. On Tuesday, Funke wrote, “More childhood memories came flooding back on my morning walk today.”

“As children, we delighted in looking around for palm fruits which had fallen from the palm tree and then squishing them in our mouths as we sucked at palm the palm oil, spitting out the fibres and kernel when we were done.

“The palm trees were ubiquitous on the campus of the University of Ibadan, as were the palm wine tappers whose dexterity as they easily shimmied up the trees fascinated us children no end. I literally got dizzy watching them climb to great heights, to the very end of the trees, with a rope (I forget the Yoruba name of the rope, does anyone know please?) round their waist, and then carefully make their incisions and place a gourd to collect the sap. They would then return later in the day to retrieve the gourd. They were mostly men, but sometimes there was the odd woman and I watched, gobsmacked, as my childish little mind tried to fathom and how on earth they never came tumbling down.

“There was also the dry kernel, ‘ekuro’ which was quite hard. We would expertly crack them with our tiny teeth to reach the sweet prize inside. Sometimes it was all for nought as nothing would be found.”

In an earlier recollection, she spoke about millipede which out of the sight of its mother every child would want to touch and play with.

Going down memory lane with Aboyade can’t but agitate the mind to ask what the primary purpose of childhood is. It is for children to experience the beauty and joy of nature. Children can only achieve this if they are allowed to be children. We learn in higher knowledge that children naturally yearn to be children and they must be allowed to be so for their healthy development. The world is so upside down that it is mostly only children close to nature that understand the language of Nature and speak to the Lord’s servants who preoccupy themselves with shaping and maintaining the mantle under which the whole of mankind shelters. As I did state exactly this time four years ago, extracts of which I like to refresh memories with, the children of the modern man are embattled; it is even more so of the Nigerian children—unfortunately.

It is now holiday time. Children are back from school and colleges, and the homes are bubbling and bustling with their sheer presence, noise-making and pranks. How wonderful then could it be if children are allowed to be children! This is not a comment on the troubling educational standard or on unflattering, but famous federal character in admission. It simply concerns the child—a human being beginning experiences on earth and not yet of full value—one who even nature has, as yet given responsibility. His main joy lies in playing. In fact, all other activities are burdensome to the child. It is hunger and sleep that forcibly interrupt playing. Even when a child takes up some seemingly serious activity a game is made out of it. This natural state of the child should inform the attitude of parents and educators as to the way it is to be brought up. Its body and the intellect should be trained to prepare it for an all round successful life. This, however, should not be done to the extent that it becomes the main objective of a child‘s life.

This unfortunately is now the case. Look at the timetable of a Nigerian child during school time:
Rising time—5.30 a.m.
Leaves for school—6.30 a.m.
School period—8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Arrives home—3 p.m.
Lunch—3.30 p.m.
Lesson—4 to 6 p.m.
TV—6.30 to 7.30 p.m.
Dinner—7.30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Bed time—8 p.m. (in disciplined homes and where the mother is back home from work, otherwise the child is before the television until she is back at 9 p.m.)

When does the child enjoy his childhood? When does he go out to explore the woods? When does he look into a bird’s nest, go to the river bank to scoop clay to mould birds or aeroplane? He bursts into tears that his bird or airplane made of clay cannot fly! When does he generally know his environment? When does he fetch palm fronds and attempt to construct a basket out of them after curiously and with shining eyes watching John’s father in the neighbourhood dexterously weave many? For some children the scenario is even worse as they live in one of the flats of a high rise building of say 12 or 15 floors now a common feature of Ikoyi in its defacement to satisfy commercial instincts. The child is caged inside the house and given toy guns of all kinds, cars or bicycle. He is far from the ground and soil to rub his face. He is excited about owning guns and children’s cars. He does not see lizards, millipedes, snake, lizards or even snakes to which he calls out to the mother. ‘Mummy, come and see snake, I want to carry it.’ The alarmed mother, calling on the Daddy, rushed out to take the surprised and crying child away from the spot, from harm’s way. The child is shocked crying because he is not allowed to play with his “friend.” Any wonder, later in life as a youth he is in love and obsessed with guns and fast cars. Funke Aboyade described experience with columns of ants and excitement, yet fear of soldier ants. It cannot be without basis, nor could it be for nothing that children go to swim in the village river, come out with reddened eyes and say to their mother: ‘Mummy, why are we going back to Lagos? Let us live here). It cannot be without basis when children run after grandma’s goats! They are in the animistic!!

It is the same worse scenario when for some children their school officially organises lessons which start from immediately after school hours such that the children only get home, dropped by the school bus or fetched by the househelp at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. just in time for dinner, and bed barely an hour later…only to resume the ding dong the following day. Even now that schools are on holidays, mothers are seen proudly dropping their children off at school. The reason they give is that it is right to allow children learn more. They say matter of factly that children have to keep learning unaware there is what may be called “over teaching” which gives rise to “over learning.”

The main reason for these holiday schools is convenience! Not the convenience of the children who would rather wish to stay home to play, to do hide and seek; run after lizards on the compound, children who would rather want to see and get excited at the sight of squirrel in grandma’s garden or visit interesting things in the environment. It is the convenience of schools and parents. The schools can make more money and the parents can completely avoid responsibility of giving extra care to their children during the free period at home—responsibility they gladly accepted from Nature when they supplicated to have children, permanent guests, in their home with whom they are now so blessed.

Why do parents and educators do this to children? There are many reasons. One is that they are doing the best for their children. They are preparing them for a world of competition. This is, however, not so. What is mostly achieved is crowding the child’s brain with stuff he may not need or if needed, given prematurely. It may lead to over cultivating the frontal brain and irretrievably altering the balance between the frontal brain, cerebrum and the hind brain, the cerebellum, which negates the purpose of childhood which is to experience the beauty and joy of nature and in the end, in adulthood, the wonders and magnificence of Nature and the Hand that is at work. Very little time is allowed for this if at all. We want to make the children prematurely intelligent so that we can be proud of them; we can then show them off, brandishing their report cards. Of course, one cannot overlook the fact that, understandably, the educational system of these times rattles parents and educators and they believe they have to give extra push to the children.

It is, however, so little realised that the child that attends the greatest number of lessons is not necessarily always the best in class. More importantly, being first in class may turn out not to be such a big deal later in life. Some adults who were always first in class have been observed not to have managed their adult lives so well as some of those who were never first. While one is not advocating that children should not be helped with their class work or encouraged to shine and win laurels, one is saying that a child is a child and should be allowed to be a child in the age to which sanguine temperament consigns them. When children get to the next stage that the melancholic temperament puts them, the unceasing Law of Movement will fire and propel them. It is the age of dreams and daringness; it is when the youths see the world upside down and want to straighten it, right wrongs and seek to upturn settled notions. Letting a child be a child should always be borne in mind, as well as also the nature of the particular child.

It is crucially imperative that educators should bear this fact in mind and satisfy the needs of these situations as much as possible. Parents and educators can start by, at least, giving thought to the meaning of childhood, to the nature of a particular child. The way to give the necessary guidance will then emerge. The 6-3-3-4 educational system may eventually solve the problem of individual need of the child if it is revitalised and purposefully pursued. Even then this will only be as far as education system is concerned. The parents themselves must give home education, bearing the nature of the child in mind. Thought may also have to be given to the way children are relentlessly driven to acquire erudition prematurely especially since, as a matter of fact, the information obtained at such great pains hardly comes handy in the understanding and handling of life, its challenges, struggles and victorious ending as there are other correlations that govern life! Knowledge is light, it is said. It is thus an absolute necessity to seek knowledge, higher knowledge that is unassailable and which beams its light undimmed on all questions of life and existence. I am fascinated by the experience of Funke Aboyade and her friends’ encounter, all of them children, with soldier ants in the bush, carried away by the amazing manifestation and swinging of nature, its incomparable beauty and its joy; and its radiations that heal souls. It is going memory lane by all of us, raised away from the jungle of concrete.

(Striking balance between learning and knowledge is reserved for some other day).

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