Heritage camps, also called culture camps, connect adopted children with their roots by introducing them to their birth country's music, dance, folktales, holidays, food, fashion, language and history in a fun and supportive environment.
Preschoolers at a Russia camp might color pieces of a troika puzzle picturing the classic Russian sleigh pulled by three horses. Grade-schoolers might play games or learn simple phrases in the language of their birth country. Middle-school kids might play folk instruments or learn about their country's history.
Making the Culture Connection
While cultural activities may be the draw for younger children, adoption heritage camps let older children find camaraderie in a relaxed setting. "Camp is a place where they are just like everyone else, and no one is asking them a million questions," says Beverlee Einsig of Dillon International Inc., which offers Korean, Indian, Chinese and Eastern European heritage camps.
There are as many camp styles as there are cultures they serve. Some meet for two days over a weekend; others last a week. There are day camps and sleepaway camps. Some are community based, perhaps operated out of a local school; others take place in a natural setting, miles away. Parent involvement tends to be heaviest in programs for young children, tapering off as children get older. And depending on their philosophy, programs may add adoption workshops to the heritage theme.
Many parents rely on heritage camps for birth-country information that they don't have access to. To this end, most camps strive to make the experiences genuine, engaging natives of the culture as teachers.
"I can't give enough credit to the local cultural communities," says Pam Sweetser, executive director of Colorado Heritage Camps, which runs nine camps for different ethnicities. "It's important that we stay authentic, and the community groups make sure we do that."