drawing by Markéta Královcová
A Diverse Community
My second stint as a volunteer at Camp Klicek in Malejovice, Czech Republic was as joyful and soul-filling as my time there last year. The camp is special in many ways, but there are several unique facets that really stand out in my mind. First, campers are encouraged to invite family and friends, and most campers have at least one sibling, parent, cousin or grandparent accompanying them. Most participants have been affected by an illness, developmental delay, death of a family member, poverty, racism, or incarceration. The campers range in age from one year to twenty-one (higher if you count the adults!) and come from such diverse backgrounds and situations that they form a very unlikely community of intersectionality. This two-week summer camp brings together these widely varied individuals to partake in an environment steeped in nature, nutrition, community, and simplicity.
The Context of Nature
Children sleep in towering teepees and smaller tents constructed in a field behind the main house, a 100-year-old converted schoolhouse equipped with wheelchair access, hospital beds, and three working kitchens. The field harbors an orchard and several gardens that produce fruit and vegetables for meals and flowers that adorn each table in the mess tent. At breakfast, preserves made from this year’s crop of strawberries smother daily fresh bread from the bakery, accompanying homemade porridge with gingerbread crumble. Every meal is taken outside, and all campers gather several times a day for large group activities.
The lengthy summer days, temperate climate, and loose structure of the day leave ample opportunity for the simple kinds of play that seem to be disappearing in today’s wave of technology. Campers are asked to turn in their cellphones each day, and are encouraged to find what they enjoy and make the most of each day. Whenever I offered to help out in the kitchen, I was instead encouraged to “Go play with the children. That is a better use of your time.” And so I too was free to enjoy the spontaneous kind of play that forms the building blocks of childhood.
Here are some examples:
I taught the kids how to play “Butcher Make the Meat Red”, a hand game where one player attempts to slap his opponent’s hands while the other player evades pain. They taught me how to play a finger counting game. Thumb wrestling and criss cross (patty cake) needed no translation.
Rough & Tumble Play
Kids don’t always get a chance to engage in gross motor rough housing play. Here they had plenty of opportunities for this without adult interference.
Feats of endurance:
Kids spontaneously tested their own strength and cheered one another on. Football (Soccer in America) and a Camp Klicek version of baseball (involving knocking over cans and running bases) are also popular.
Loose Parts Play
The children chose names for their teams (there were three teams for chores and competitions), and then found loose parts in nature to depict their team name. The foundation has an ocean theme running through it, which is hard to explain for a land-locked country. But the teams were encouraged to include this theme of being at sea in their chosen names. Here are the results.
“Rats from Below the Deck”
“Mussel and Green Psychodogs“
“Nails on the Sea”
Forrests and Fields
There were many opportunities to walk and play in the neighboring forrest and fields, gathering campfire wood, building fairy houses, and searching for buried treasure.
Last but not least, the younger children explored toys, dressed up in princess garb, and played with music.
This smörgåsbord of play is a perfect real world representation of the lovely parting gift I received from Jiri and Marketa Kralovec upon my last day at camp: a print of Pieter Bruegel’s 16th century painting of Kinderspiele.
I came home filled to the brim with fresh air, incredible food, and most of all, play and excellent company. Thank you Camp Klicek!