Thursday, May 27, 2010


In a month’s time school will be out for the summer and parents need to start planning now what their children will be doing to occupy their time during the summer months. Some parents have already registered their children for various summer activities. During my childhood our elders subscribed to the philosophy that “Satan finds mischief for idle hands” and they ensured that we were never “idle.” When my younger relatives who are now mostly in their late teens and early twenties were children and spent time at my home during the summer I also subscribed to that philosophy. They were registered in summer African Heritage class and day camps which included opera camp and media arts camp. From Monday to Friday we would follow the same routine that they followed during the school year in waking early to prepare for spending the day in activities that ensured their brains did not turn to mush during the two months away from formal education.

The summer African Heritage classes were an opportunity for the children to learn about the history and culture of Africans from the continent and the Diaspora. This was to compensate for a serious lack in the school curriculum. During the summer class the children experimented with playing the steel pans and learning to play drums from various African cultures. Dance and drama from an African perspective were also part of they learned during classes. Learning about African dress including how to wear an agbada (male wide sleeved robe) tie a head wrap and lappa (skirt) made for great excitement among the students who were mostly children of African Caribbean parents.

At opera camp the children enjoyed daily sessions of music and drama. They attended movement workshops and also expressed their creativity by designing costumes and masks. They met and worked with artist-educators who encouraged and supported them to rewrite, reconstruct and present their spin on a classic opera to their parents and community at the conclusion of the classes.

The media arts camp engaged the children in expressing their creativity as budding artists, journalists and videographers. They also wrote, directed and acted in presentations that recognized their lived reality. Some of my younger relatives who lived in Durham County had the opportunity to experience life in an urban centre since my home is in St Jamestown (which has been described as one of North America’s most densely populated neighbourhoods) and the media arts classes were located in Regent Park which is within walking distance of St Jamestown. The docudramas that were made during this period of their childhood are a testament to the value of documenting various periods of our lives for posterity and even family entertainment. I still have artwork from all those summer camps decorating my home and some packed away waiting for the time and space when I can put together an exhibition. I can picture it: “Come see the great works of art from the descendants of Joseph and Clarissa Hughes.”

To ensure that there were no “idle” moments, after day camp it was time to read and discuss books. The plan was that each person could read any book they fancied, even comic books were allowed but at least one book had to read by everyone so we could have a discussion. One summer we read “Things Fall Apart” which was written by the Igbo author from Nigeria, Chinua Achebe and published in 1958. As young as they were the children were able to understand to some degree Achebe’s writing about the corrupting influence of the European culture and religion on the Africans. We also read Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry published in 1976. In her book Taylor tells the story (based on her family’s history) of a family of African Americans who because they owned their farmland, as opposed to the majority of African Americans who rented land from white farmers, were subjected to dreadful racism from their white neighbours. The story is told from the point of view of nine year old Cassie Logan who lives with her extended family on the family’s farm in Mississippi during the 1930s. There were several other books that we read during those summer time bonding and ensuring that there was no “idle” time for the young people. Many of the books we read were written by Mildred Taylor including Song of the trees; Mississippi Bridge; Let the circle be unbroken; The road to Memphis and The well.

Reading is one of the best lifetime habits we can acquire and also encourage in our children. There are some tried and true methods that have worked in encouraging children to love reading. Read to your children, read with your children and let your children see that you enjoy reading. Buy books for your children and encourage relatives and friends who express an interest in buying gifts for your children to make some of those gifts books. Take your children to the library to borrow books and introduce them to some of your favourite authors.

The summer is one of the best times of the year to encourage reading because children are out of school with time on their hands. Children who love reading are hardly likely to use the dreaded words “I’m bored.” It is important to start when children are young enough and I have started on the next generation. My three grandchildren (4 year old and 2 year old twins) have a roomful of books and love when someone reads to them and I recently bought the most amazing book (Boy! I Am Loving Me! written by Angelot Ndongmo) from A Different Booklist (746 Bathurst Street) for my niece’s 4 year old son who celebrated his birthday on May 17.

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