A camp to be lived to the full, both physically and mentally: this is how I would like to describe the first camp for children I have ever been involved in. From the 25th to 29th of June, my quiet and empty accommodation (in Gamtos Mokykla or Nature School) turned into a lively and boisterous place. Nineteen children of different age ‘moved in’ to take part to a camp aiming at spreading the values of the park’s nature without neglecting active and funny activities. Five days that passed ‘almost’ in a jiffy XD.
Before and during the camp, I was responsible for several activities such as organizing yoga class for every single day and searching for ecological games. My opinion or ideas were always asked during the camp and, although I could not speak Lithuanian, I managed to contribute to the camp actively and efficiently.
On the first day, after some ‘formalities’ such as registering children, reassuring parents and giving instructions to be followed, the camp was officially ‘open for business’. Children showed their energy and creativity soon by making their own rules of conduct to attach to a drawn ‘tree’ in order to be seen by everybody (one of these rules said that they could not use their phones during this experience, impressive :o). They also created a flag as symbol of the camp and posters for each room with names of its occupants. Later on, another activity turned out to be successful although it was not on the program, that is going along the Girinio path (3 km and a half) so they could channel their energy into some healthy physical activity. The key factor was the picking of blueberries, wild strawberries and raspberries (mėlynės, žemuogės and avietės in Lithuanian). This was funny and tasty at the same time. The disco night then made them exhausted yet happy.
The second day began with a not too difficult waking up, a subsequent yoga practice and meditation (these ‘rites’ would take place every morning). An interesting task was set before them, that is a quest for specific types of orchids. I led this brisk group of little ‘naturalists’ through the Zackagiris path to the Grūda river and all along the walk they collected lots of orchids to put in their book of nature so that they could get some information about their characteristics and use by a real biologist later on. Their artistic skills came in different ways, from drawing orchids to decorating glass bottles with glitter gel pens, candles and strings. The next day, these very glasses hung from different branches of a tree close to our accommodation whose effect was astonishing. These children also proved very heartful and kind by making a surprise for my birthday: I got flowers, hugs and very cute drawings as presents and they had known me for less than one day!!! XD During another short hiking, there was also a close encounter with a grass snake (žaltys in Lithuanian) that made children scream a lot (to the detriment of my poor ears XD). After so much physical activity, a movie night complemented the day as it allowed children to rest while enjoying a movie that they liked.
The third day was characterized by another interesting excursion to Čepkeliai swamp (about 5 km far from our accommodation). Children had the opportunity to enjoy this beautiful landscape and to be acquainted with the importance and the different evolutionary phases of this area. Due to the good weather, it was also possible to do some ecological games during which I was again impressed by their artistic skills. Precisely, one of these games implied the creation of two nests (one for boys and one for girls) by collecting and using what was available around them, from branches to pine cones and so on. Boys managed to make the most realistic nest with few elements whereas girls demonstrated an imaginative attitude in the fulfilment of this task. Both these nests served for a role-play game where children pretended to be birds going through different phases, from the ‘life in the eggs’ to their departure from their nests. Every good camp has its own moment around the fire. Although there was no darkness, potatoes to cook on the fire and endless tag games contributed to make this activity enjoyable and funny. However, children still needed to ‘unplug’ (I still admire their endless energy :0). To this purpose, we went through a night hiking guided by moonlight.
The fourth day can be considered as a relaxing day because children went to Kastinio lake two different times so that they could swim, have fun while playing in the sand and making birds from previously collected flowers and hay. Later on, these little naturalists formed three groups to take part to a sort of competition about guessing different types of orchids, birds and animals.
The last day started as usual, with yoga and meditation although they seemed not so collaborative (there was some tiredness in the air). The last excursion of the camp was the one to Meškos swamp, where children could take their shoes off and enjoying a spongy walking bare feet while collecting some berries. However, it was also time for making some evaluation about the whole camp by giving children voice this time too. As I understood from their parents coming later to take them back home (there was also some honesty in admitting that this camp was a sort of holiday for some parents XD), children enjoyed the camp a lot.
In conclusion, I have to make my own consideration. The camp was a valuable and interesting experience for different reasons. First of all, I could contribute actively and positively despite my terrible level of Lithuanian (but no language barriers can stop children from involving you in their enthusiastic and creative world). Secondly, picking berries turns out to be a successful activity that can be proposed in further events even when there are some gaps to fill. Thirdly, it is always important to let children express their feelings and emotions before starting whichever activity is already scheduled. Fourthly, damp days and rain are not obstacles but valuable opportunities to reconsider the program and to adapt it according to the situation. Finally, there are always pros and cons in activities addressed to children (as a matter of fact some of them were ‘challenging’ as they did not want to follow the rules) and now that they are gone I am so sure that I will miss them all.