Volume: 8, Issue: 2


Korczak, Camp, Nash Dom, Korczak’s Pedagogy...
Никонорова, А.Ш. [about]
KEYWORDS: Janusz Korczak, love, integration camp, parents in camp, Korczak’s ingredients.

ABSTRACT: The author presents an informal description of Korczak’s summer camps and her own experience in running such camps. The paper describes key features of integration camps including an unusual way of putting children together in families instead of groups, the whole camp and family gatherings as well as an amazingly warm and friendly atmosphere.


The non-scientific paper about Nash Dom (Our Home) camp illustrates how Korczak’s pedagogy works in practice and integrates itself in various countries. The paper talks about love, and this comes from Korczak as he considered love to the child as his key principle; this love offers wings for people to create themselves and the world around them. There are many names here that the reader won’t be able to find in textbooks, and each name is critical for the Camp’s foundation -- so it is impossible to provide a generalized description. The Camp has its own face or, rather, many faces -- and each of them is equally important.

Korczak’s pedagogy is well known far beyond Poland. There are currently 22 Janusz Korczak’s societies all over the world, and each of them has its own way in promoting Korczak’s ideas. For example, Kazan Korczak’s Society (in Russia) provides patronage for two orphanages while the Dutch one publishes books and organizes conferences for people who work with children; summer integration camps prepare volunteers for work with children in Ghana, etc.

About the beginnings

In the early 1990s the Moscow Youth Korczak’s Center was in its creative search. They had already worked in orphanages and hospitals. Having worked as camp counselors in a summer camp with blind and deaf children, Julia Chikhatcheva and Anna Smolina, active Center participants, realized the necessity to set up an integration camp where healthy and physically challenged children would be able to live together and learn from one another. In 1993, the Moscow Youth Korczak’s Center headed by its founder and director Professor Irina Demakova organized the first Nash Dom camp. It was planned as a one-summer project. However, when the first campers were saying good-bye to each other at the Moscow train station, they kept asking, “Where can we sign up for the next year?” So it became clear that we should continue... In 2017, the camp will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

The first camp created a personal space for each participant. That was truly a personal space which provided every child or teenager a chance to express oneself. Parents and families substituted familiar group leaders and teams. Thanks to that children themselves became active participants in the formation of Nash Dom. For example, it was their idea to replicate Korczak’s camp flag, and they spent half a night to make the flag from an old T-shirt. A spontaneous tradition to get together every night gave birth to the “assembly” and “candles” where everybody could share good news and worries. We began to celebrate Korczak’s birthday at the moment when Korczak’s name is heard everywhere. We launched many classes and workshops where adults and children could offer something to teach and learn from each other. So many other things came into being. It was the starting point for everything, and it is still the foundation of our camp.

There is a strong belief that Nash Dom changes everybody’s life once and forever. This is absolutely true, and this is exactly what happened to me when I came to the camp for the first time in 2000. It was a great honor for me, a 2nd-year university student, to be invited to the camp as a mom. I had heard so many magic stories about the camp that I could not even have dreamt to be invited! So I began to prepare... I was so eager and so ready to help blind or visually impaired children, to be their eyes, arms, and legs... And what happened was exactly the opposite -- these visually impaired helped me to find myself, open my eyes, and “see” the world... They helped me to see Korczak, when as an adult I ought to be not “for the child” but “with him or her”, when a human being could have the right to be one’s own self, to move with his/her own speed, and to act on one’s own. Children favored me with the right to err, to be mistaken in thinking that they needed me; they showed me that we could be together. It was the most wonderful moment when right by the river, a blind child sighed deeply and said, “How beautiful it is here!” At that moment I saw the world with his eyes.

The same happened to Zosha. In the summer of 2000, the Dutch girl Zosha was 18 when her parents suggested that she should go to Nash Dom camp in Russia. She could not have imagined what her response “Why not?” would lead to... For the teenager, it turned out to be the most unforgettable, warm, touching, hearty and home-like camp, where, regardless of differences in cultures, languages and ages of participants, there were no barriers -- just the opposite, there was the feeling that you were always welcome, you were home, and you could be yourself as there was so much creative energy and happiness all around you... When asked, “What did the camp mean to you?” she recalled one moment that defined her attitude to the camp: when returning from a hiking trip, the children were greeted by the camp director Tatyana Meytina with the words, “Welcome home!” So Zosha decided to return the next year as a team leader. And she did! For her it was more difficult because of the language and culture differences. However, it was in the camp where she met her future husband Ian, and they decided to arrange Nash Dom in the Netherlands. Zosha and Ian are happily married, and their first daughter’s name is Irena, after Irina Demakova. That is how we have got Nash Dom camp in the Netherlands.

Our current camp and its organizational characteristics

In August of 2016, Zosha and I stood together surrounded by children at the end of the 8th session of Nash Dom integration camp in the Netherlands. “Na sboooooor!” (To assembly!) -- our Dutch boys shouted without understanding what the words meant but being fully aware of the fact that it was the first time that year for us to stand together in a circle, look each other in the eyes, sing our camp anthem, begin to thank each other and say goodbye till the next year. It is not really important how many times we have already organized the camp. What is more important for us is to see whether Nash Dom in the Netherlands is a Dutch replica of the Russian Nash Dom.

In fact, Nash Dom in the Netherlands exists because of Zosha, Lodewijk, and also Alina who had just moved to the Netherlands from Russia having held more than one Nash Dom camps over there. The key component that we wanted to bring to the Dutch camp is the atmosphere of friendliness and magic, and the feeling that we would be able to achieve whatever we wanted. We were lucky to compose a great team of people who had attended Nash Dom either as participants or parents. Those people did not need introduction but could proceed to the camp business immediately.

What makes Nash Dom so special and so much in the spirit of Korczak? What have we managed to implement in the Netherlands during the last eight years?

1. First of all, these are the key moments when all campers and team leaders get together:

  • Assembly: when after a very long and busy day all campers and team leaders get together, stand in a circle, sing, share our impressions of the day and information for the day to come. This is an important moment when we can say, “Thank you” to somebody for this day: for help, support, or for tasty meals, interesting workshop, etc. The children are very responsible and feel thrilled with the opportunity to thank somebody. They also learn how to accept gratitude.
  • Joint camp candle. At night, when we all gather in one candlelit room, in an atmosphere of mutual trust, children and adults recite verses, sing songs, play various instruments and read their own stories. Here everybody feels that they may share their most secret thoughts and be heard.

    2. Moments when a family gets together:

    • Family candles. It is the time when you get together with the other members of your family to discuss the day, to take time to get to know one another better, to share joys and sorrows in a close circle or just to do something good and pleasant together.
    • Family presentations. Holding multiple presentations, drama performances, celebrations, and fairs.

      These two boys were working on their assignment for a whole year

    3. Special camp days:

    • Korczak’s Day. This is truly a special day for each child and adult. It is the day when we get to know Korczak’s pedagogy, the history of our camp and, what is most significant, Korczak’s life. We are lucky to have Theo Cappon, member of Korczak’s Dutch Association Board of Directors, who served as Head of the Association for many years, and who works in our camp every year. Theo is a born public speaker, and he can reach out for everybody with his stories about Korczak. Both fidgety five-year-olds and inscrutable teenagers are all attention when listening to him. There was a long discussion about Korczak and his children’s death. Should we tell children about it? And if yes, then how? We decided that it is important, and death should not remain a forbidden topic. That particular year, on Korczak’s day, children were making lamps shaped like small ships to pay tribute to the children who were killed in various wars and war conflicts. Working on their lamps, the campers spoke about the right of children to have childhood; they also talked about the injustices of wars as unfortunately, this subject still remains highly relevant. In the evening, when Theo’s story was over, children became very quiet and went to the lake, lit their lamps and set them afloat in the memory of Korczak and the children who died together with him. Besides, on Korczak’s Day our campers wrote letters to the Russian Nash Dom. We did not expect that to be so important and interesting for children that their camp had its own history, that there was one more Nash Dom in some other country, and that the children were eager to establish contacts with it. These letters are sure to find the addressee.
    • The celebration of our camp’s birthday. It is the day when we have a birthday celebration. It means that we give and receive gifts and organize festivities.

    4. Significant Korczak ingredients:

    • Workshops that provide space and opportunities to show your own talents, and to teach something new to others, to understand that there are no limits in learning from one another -- either age, social or cultural differences. Each camp participant may hold a workshop. It doesn’t matter how old you are (our campers are children and teenagers with ages from 5 to 13), and whether you are an adult or child. For example, this year the workshop was held by two six-year-old girls, and it was attended by both counselors and campers. And the pizza cooked for the whole camp by the 11-year-old Weegee was unforgettable and amazed even the kitchen staff...

    • Parliament/youth council. Each day the youth council headed by Theo Cappon was attended by two representatives from each family. The council discussed the camp life, things that children liked or disliked, ideas to improve their life, and even how to write a complaint against an adult or a child. In the evening, one of the council members would read out the minutes during the assembly. The next day, campers would check how well the previous decisions were carried out and disputes settled before new items were added to the agenda.
    • Mail, which works daily, and everyone may write a letter to each other.

    Each and every one is valuable in the camp. We believe that we do not have “strangers” among kids. It does not matter whose “dad” or “mom” you are or where you work (even if you are a cook), you will not pass by a sad child but will respond to the child’s need, you will find time for a serious conversation or for burying a mouse, and will certainly assist in looking for the deepest mud pool.

    Our kitchen people deserve special thanks. They are not necessarily professional cooks -- they are often former parents or camp administrators. Apart from providing meals for all camp participants, they somehow manage to be active in camp life, make it possible for the children to help in the kitchen and to create space for a free discussion of anything, and for sharing their innermost secrets.

    Summing up...

    Initially, we intended to make the Dutch camp most similar to the Russian Nash Dom. Of course, it was impossible and pointless to copy it. We reduced the length of the program (6 days instead of 3 weeks), the number of campers and their age (we enrolled kids aged up to 12, not 18). Such a chamber-oriented approach immediately created a family-like atmosphere with the ritual of bidding farewell to parents and the formal opening of the program. On the first “assembly”, parents who have just brought their children to the camp do not leave at once but take part in the circle and join everybody in singing. Then campers and their new “parents” make a smaller circle inside the bigger one, turn towards the parents and say goodbye. During the past eight years we have realized how important this ritual is not only for children who are immediately immerged into the camp atmosphere and take it easier while parting their parents, but also for their parents who give their children to the camp adults.

    We decided to retain the camp name in Russian -- Nash Dom -- as well as some other Russian words, which are either impossible to translate, e.g., “sbor” (close in meaning to “assembly”) or hard to pronounce like “planyorka” (planning meeting) and “svechka” (candle). The first camp had a lot of music and songs in Russian, originally from our Russian Nash Dom, so it was difficult for Dutch campers to sing them. With time, the Dutch Nash Dom got its own anthem, which was written collectively by the whole camp. Also, adults who come to Nash Dom each year composed a number of songs specifically for the camp.

    Nash Dom in the Netherlands focuses on integration of children from various social layers and provides the opportunity to spend some time together for everybody -- children of refugees and children from low-income families who cannot afford the luxury of any other vacation type, and children from wealthy families. We often have students at-risk and children with disabilities. Every year, before each new enrollment, we analyze and take into account the situation in the country.

    The Russian Nash Dom had had a long-developed tradition of succession when our campers grow into “parents” and camp administrators. During the last eight years our camps witnessed many different “parents”. And this year we are welcoming the first “children” who have come to the camp to work in a new status. It is such a great joy to see what they have brought along and what they are offering to our current campers!

    Having borrowed a lot from the Russian Nash Dom, the camp in the Netherlands has undoubtedly found its own identity and is going to continue its work. By the way, Zosha and Ian’s daughter Irena has never missed a single camp term, and in the future she wants to become its head.

    1 I would like to express my thanks to Zosha Skubis and Julia Tchikhatcheva.

    2 Nikonorova, Alsu Shamilevna, child psychologist and educator, ortho-pedagogue, expert in integrating children with disabilities into the educational environment, Combiwel, OKIDO project (http://www.okidohelpt.nl/), Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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