Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Summering in the Czech Republic

By Emily Prucha | Prague Daily Monitor |
4 June 2010

While many non-residents choose Prague as a vacation destination – trying to push a stroller through the crowds gathered below Old Town's famous astrological clock is enough to make any resident wary of the city's increased summertime tourist index. The majority of Prague's residents head out of the city during the summer months. Most Czech families that we know divide their time between a family chata (cottage) in the countryside and various letní tábory (summer camps). Many families in our "half n half" friend circle spend time abroad visiting their other "home" countries, which is something we have also traditionally done.

Due to the logistics of traveling overseas solo with a newborn and two young children, I opted to postpone this year's US holiday until winter. I'm sad that I'll miss some quality family time, including our annual beach trip to the South Carolina shores, but I'm upbeat about the pluses of staying put: no packing or jet-lag, and more time to enjoy relaxing at home, without school-year activities and obligations. The children are disappointed too, since they have vibrant memories from last summer spent with their grandparents and cousins in the mountains of Virginia. I'm hoping that once a bit more summer-like weather finds its way to Prague, the kids will be content with summertime in the Czech Republic, including weekend camping trips, biking day trips, lake swimming, castles tours, day-camps, and Prague's parks, ice cream cone in hand.

While we wait for summer weather, we started working on a small vegetable plot, although neither Radek nor I have much gardening expertise beyond the strawberries we grew successfully last year. Still, I'd like to think that our struggling lettuce, tomato, zucchini, carrot and cucumber plants may benefit from all the recent rainfall and perk up in time to produce enough for a few garden salads. So far, Oliver has delighted in ridding the garden of snails that otherwise gobble up the strawberries. He also enjoys watching the earthworms dig through the soil. Either way, our garden investment has already paid off in kid-terms. Oliver also monitors the buds on the other berry bushes. He tasted a few unripe currents and promptly declared them "yucky." Now if I can only teach him how to weed.

Having an enclosed yard during is a definite advantage in the summer in terms of getting the children outdoors with minimal effort or worry. I know that once the neighborhood families embark on their various adventures, the street will fall under an unfamiliar quiet that will send us looking for child-friendly activities in Prague and beyond. Luckily, there is a plethora of activities available to children in the area, including a rich tradition of letní tábory (summer camps), many dating back to the 1950s, if not before.

The tradition of going away to a summer camp is one that Radek fondly remembers as a child and youth. During Communism, many of the large letní tábory were sponsored by state companies so that the children of working parents could have a safe, wholesome outlet for their summertime energy. During school holidays, Radek would go away for several weeks each summer to the same camp where he fished, hiked, swam, cooked food outdoors, and learned about plant and animal life. In the meantime his working mother didn't have to worry about whether her son was up to mischief. Post-communism, some of the tábory were organized by scouting organizations. The Czech infatuation with Western culture and Native American traditions is evident in the structure of long-standing Czech tábory, such as El Dorado.

Now the letní tábory aren't founded by the state, and there is a wide range of types and costs of camps for children and youth of all ages. I found a fairly comprehensive online catalog of Czech tábory, which helps potential camp-goers and their parents identify appropriate camps in their region of the country. Most of our neighbors enroll their kids in overnight camps that last from one to several weeks, often held in the countryside or even abroad in Germany, Italy or Spain. Closer to home, there are also weekly day-camps focused on sports, languages or crafts activities, such as the tennis day-camp Anna Lee participated in last summer. This year she'd like to try a ceramics day-camp. There are also tábory for parents and children, where families sleep in tents or cabins. The parents participate in educational seminars themed on nutrition or child psychology, while the children practice sports or crafts.

For families staying in Prague during the summer, the Czech structure of Pražských domů dětí a mládeže (DDM) (Prague centers for children and youth) offers a multitude of year-round leisure activities at reasonable costs for Czech children and youth. Each district in Prague has its own website with cultural activities, courses, events and camps. Although speaking Czech is probably beneficial for these classes, I think children who've been exposed, even moderately, to the language could participate in one of these fun summertime activities.

A valuable online resource in English for parents of bilingual/multicultural children is www.kidsinprague.com, a website started by a few of my Prague mother friends with international backgrounds who are raising "half n half" children in the Czech Republic. The website lists English language reviews of kid-friendly activities, including new parks, family centers, restaurants with children's corners, storytelling programs, birthday venues, babysitting services, ideas for trips out of the city, and more. In addition to finding new areas to explore with children, the website offers parents a chance to give their own feedback.

My children's favorite organization for English language activities is Class Acts, a non-profit started by a group of international parents to promote arts, drama and movement activities for bilingual/multicultural families in Prague. During the school year, Class Acts sponsors a variety of activities, held in both English and Czech, including singing and drama classes for toddlers and preschool-age children, English-language storytelling, forest day walks through Divoká Šárka and after-school English programs. This summer, on June 20 from 12:30-16:00, the organization will hold its 3rd annual picnic in Kampa Park. The picnic will run similar to last year's, with the addition of a children's performance by an after-school English program. The picnic is open to all bilingual/multicultural family in the Czech Republic. I'm looking forward to an afternoon of camaraderie with other "half n half" families. I hope to reconnect with old friends and to meet some new friends as well.

Other theater events that I have on my summer radar include Teatrotoč on July 11-13, a street festival in Prague's Kampa Park, where international artists perform pantomime, juggling, acrobats and marionette theaters. In its ninth year of operation, the festival is an ideal venue for children to experience the spontaneous thrill of street theater, as well as to try their hand at puppet-making workshops. Letní Letná, which is held annually the last two weeks in August in Prague's Letna Park, is another a popular international theater festival in its seventh year running, with special shows and activities for children. It is a great way to close the summer with a bang.

Despite still having more or less a month before the school holidays begin, I'm already looking forward the summer with anticipation. Apart from bringing a new family member into our home, I'm also eager to try out some of the activities we've been planning, whether it's making a salad from our fresh garden produce, taking a short road-trip or watching my children try out a new skill in a summer camp, I have a good feeling about soaking up the best of the Czech Republic this summer.

Emily Prucha is a Life Section columnist for the Monitor. She likes writing about bilingual and multicultural families.
You can reach her at emily@praguemonitor.com. You can read more of her stories here.