I had the privilege of experiencing my first camp as a Waldorf teacher with my Class 6 children this term and what a blast it was! We gathered on a Sunday afternoon to board our bus, and after a small glitch with transport, we headed off to Bonamanzi – a family-owned adventure camp set on the luscious green banks of the Breede River. I was fortunate to be accompanied by our lovely German volunteer, Lena.
We were met on arrival by our two crazy camp facilitators, Micaela and Mariska, who kept our four days fun-filled and light. The venue was a large double-storey stone house overlooking the broad tree-lined river, with rocky outcrops beyond it. It housed a kitchen, dining area, teachers’ sleeping quarters and two large dormitories. After quickly settling into their rooms, the children were divided into their prospective teams and the action-packed games began. This led to a ravenous hoard who wolfed down the most delicious spaghetti bolognaise that followed. We then headed out on a search for luminous scorpions under a night sky of countless stars.
After a hearty breakfast, with ‘the best scrambled eggs ever’ (said the children), the challenges commenced in earnest with the creating of flags and war cries: the Green Guppies, Banana Split , Santa Cruz and L.O.S.E.L.C teams were born. The activities of the day included building a water filtration system from a bucket of loose parts to see who could get their river water the clearest. I take my hat off to the young man who bravely soldiered on through it with his undecided all-girl team! The heat of the day then called for a dip in the pool and there was lots of free time catching up under the trees, with the odd water chase thrown in.
Later that afternoon it was all hands on deck to chop, cut and peel for the potjiekos competition. Lena and I had the delight of playing ‘Master Chef’ judges and were duly impressed with the children’s results. Parents, you need to put your feet up and test out their incredible kitchen skills for yourselves! After dinner it was mini-drama skits on the lawn with a full mozzie audience and then supposedly bedtime – except for the fact that the possibility of a full meteor shower later that night was mentioned so almost everyone insisted on staying up past midnight to see it. With a huge wave of disappointment we eventually crawled off to bed in the early hours having not seen a thing!
I surfaced rather bleary-eyed the following morning only to find a bunch of sprightly Class 6s ready for their next adventure. They started with a Nature Treasure Hunt where they raced to find and tick off a set list of objects, as well as gather plants and things for their Land Art activity later. Everyone was then fitted for lifejackets and after the safety demo we loaded ourselves into rubber rafts and headed up the river. Some boats proceeded to paddle themselves in circles with lots of instructions being shouted from all round. With a bit more practice the teams then gathered in the middle of the river for the next challenge which for many was the most fun.
The instruction was to build a raft pyramid, using all of our boats. The rules were that no-one was allowed to land in the water, all the boats had to stay connected at all times, and the task had to be completed before the currents took us past a certain landmark. Somehow we did it and there was a great feeling of triumph all round after what seemed an impossible task. The true colours of my competitive nutcases came to light when a prize was dangled before them and they were told to dismantle the pyramid and row to the opposite shore as quickly as possible. Let me just say that the top boats made off with as many oars as they could grab and the bottom few ended up having to paddle ashore by hand – teacher included!
Later that afternoon, after a lot more timeout in the pool and sun, the children gathered under the watchful eye of a bat to create Land Art pictures from the nature materials they had gathered that morning. The room was soon a bustle of creativity and soft chatter as they dreamed into their pictures. It really made me proud to be a Waldorf teacher when I saw just what the children were able to create with so little. I could see that the facilitators were quite taken aback too by their creations, having not experienced a Waldorf school there before. The activity provided a lovely gentle space after the ruckus of lawn games involving precariously balanced buckets of water. The day drew to a close with a campfire, the toasting of marshmallows and the obligatory sharing of scary stories that teens so love.
We woke up sad at the prospect of leaving camp but were cheered up by the thought of celebrating Luc-Pierre’s twelfth birthday with the delicious carrot cakes his mom had sent along. After breakfast the children were tasked with packing up their rooms for inspection and the facilitators gathered up all the ‘unseen’ items that didn’t end up in bags. Our birthday boy won the award for having the most lost property. Other awards were also granted for the various team challenges. After that we met on the lawn for a final debriefing where the children shared what they had most enjoyed about the camp. It was a good thing to be reminded just how much this age group values having free time to hang out with friends, to laugh, tease each other and just be silly. What also came out tops was the plentiful supply of delicious food that Bonamanzi served. I had not realized that two to three heaped helpings of food are the order of the day with their growing bodies, so please keep those Class 6 lunchboxes packed!
What I found incredible was the children’s capacity for generating their own entertainment and our camp was filled with magic card tricks, imaginative ball-skill obstacle courses and sleeping-bag sack races. There was also a lot of forging of new friendships as everyone came to know other team members that they don’t usually hang out with at break. I was also reminded of the tenderness and emotional vulnerability that sits alongside the children’s striving for independence at this age when they passed through bouts of homesickness or expressed their intimate fears and concerns about life. Having time away from the classroom with no aim other than social bonding and the freedom to just be is so important for healthy teenage development and I would encourage all children to attend their camps.
Sandra Le Blanc, Class 6 teacher