One morning last summer Sofia set out for the pine-scented slopes of Mount Parnassos in the family car. The camp organizers had told the kids’ parents to be there at noon, but Sofia arrived early, partly because she had been unsure how long it would take her to get there and partly because she wanted nothing more than to give her 9-year-old son a big hug and to learn all about his time at camp. “Why did I do that?” she asked. “As soon as I got there, he saw me, eyes widening, and said: ‘This is my space! Go away!’ He then went and hid behind his team leader. I was shocked but I understood why he got upset.
When he saw me, he knew that his time at camp was coming to an end and that he would have to return to normal life. I told him not to worry because I would leave and then come back when it was time.” Soon after, the same drama would play out between other parents and their kids when they showed up for the end-of-camp presentation the kids had prepared for them before going home and back to their regular routines. “The kids were crying and so were we. It's hard for a parent. You wonder what you’re doing, whether you’re pressuring your child too much,” she adds.
None of these issues had been contemplated two weeks earlier, when they were taking their children up the mountain for the Elatos Summer Mountain Adventures program, which is organized by the Elatos Resort for kids aged 7 to 14. It's a new kind of summer camp for kids which emphasizes simplicity, getting back to nature and out of touch with technology and the connected world. They learn about bushcraft, the art of survival in the wilderness. They also learn about botany, astronomy, music from the mountain's natural sounds and visual arts based on the myths of Parnassos.
The main aims of the program are to teach kids self-reliance, to “detox” from school and family life – and of course from apps. As is the case at many other summer camps, such as those organized for kids by Trekking Hellas, Elatos forbids smartphones, tablets, mobiles phones or any other electronic devices. They communicate with their parents using a landline phone. “It’s hard for them at first as their dependence on looking at a screen is quite strong,” says child psychologist Maria Papafilippou, who worked with the Parnassos program last year.
“Many youngsters struggle with getting used to this at first, but start to forget about it once they get immersed in the activities. They start to get enchanted with nature. When you embrace nature, you embrace yourself. You explore, you find out what you're good at and how to push your limits. You learn how to deal with different situations and conditions. All kids have the will to strive for autonomy. The question is how much should we give them?”
Teaching the parents
Some parents thought it would be a great idea to secretly bring phones to their kids during visits as a treat. “Instead of candy, they'd bring them a screen. That is an indication that, for many families, it is the main form of communication. During last summer's program, we noticed that what the kids are taught must also be taught to the parents, who also can't easily disconnect from their screens,” says Neni Karastamati, one of the owners of Elatos and the mother of 10 year-old Nikitas, who took part in the program last year.
“They themselves understand that bringing a tablet with them on their visits only to take it away again when they leave turns out to do the biggest harm. We all must take part in the effort. Many didn't get this until later on, when they saw that their kids developing new skills and discovering aspects about themselves they never knew existed and which would only show themselves if they were in a wilderness environment. Many have sent us thank-you letters after the program saying we've, in a sense, returned another child back to them.”