When schools break up for the summer holidays, children cheer but adults groan. Eight weeks of stifling heat and bored children is a volatile mix. Unless you are able to escape to cooler climes, finding the right activity to keep them happy and stop you all climbing the walls is a challenge. Here are a few suggestions.
It's amazing what fun can be had with a jar of Epsom salts, or an empty water bottle with vinegar, baking soda and a balloon. Throw on some old work shirts or aprons, sunglasses for eye protection and get all mad-professory in the kitchen. Be prepared for lots of mess but comforted that you may be nurturing the talents of a Nobel-prize winning physicist. The educational publisher Usborne has some great ideas for easy experiments on its "50 Science Things to Make and Do" activity cards available in most good bookstores.
Alternatively, you could sign your little ones up for a Mad Science summer camp, running daily in Abu Dhabi and Dubai from 9am until 3pm from July 3-14 and the last week of August. Choose from "The Garden Camp" for four to six- year-olds, and, for seven to 12-year-olds, "Moving with Science" or the CSI-primer "Chemicals, Cells and Crime". Call 04 337 7403 for more information.
Pirates and princesses
Pretend play is an important part of a child's development and fabulously easy to encourage on hot days at home. After first ensuring that it's not a day when the water will be delivered or the plumber is coming, why not have a themed day and dress up too? If nothing else, you will make your children laugh.
After a morning of making costumes or pictures for the wall, lunch could be a fairy picnic on a rug in the living room (complete with fairy cakes, of course, and apple juice "flower nectar") or a pirate feast (think chicken drumsticks and mugs of frothy lemonade-float "grog") on a raft made out of sofa cushions.
Small packs of face paints can be bought from Spinneys and Posters and children are usually remarkably forgiving about the artistic ability of their parents.
For little princesses in Abu Dhabi, once they've grown bored of dressing up at home, the Arabesque Ballet Center (email@example.com) is offering two one-week "princess camps". Girls aged four to seven can try out ballet, jazz, hip-hop, arts and crafts and create their own costumes for their princess show at the end of the week. It runs from 10.30am to 1.00pm daily from July 24 until August 4 and costs Dh720 for the week. There is also a junior dance camp for dancers aged eight and above.
Dubai-based boys and girls can pop down for a super dress-up session at Favourite Things at Dubai Marina Mall. Every day has a different theme during their summer camp running from June 26 until September 1, including "wacky science day" and "princess and super heroes day". Suitable for ages two to four and four to eight, the camp runs from 10am until 2pm. Prices are Dh155 for a day and Dh620 for a week, with discounts for members. Contact 04 434 1984 for details.
Don't feel blue - go blue and have a Smurf-filled day. This summer sees the release of The Smurfs, a movie, featuring the voices of Hank Azaria and Katy Perry, so why not go and see that in the morning then in the afternoon head to Adnec for this year's Summer in Abu Dhabi festival? Running from June 30 to July 30, Summer in Abu Dhabi will be triple the size it was last year and will include, among other attractions, "Smurf world". Tickets cost Dh20 for children aged two to 12, and Dh40 for adults.
Once you have bought your Summer in Abu Dhabi Adnec ticket you can then also take advantage of "kids go free" offers at venues such as Ferrari World and the Al Ain Raceway. Perfect for another theme day when the Pixar movie, Cars 2 comes out.
Letting off steam
One of the key concerns of parents in the summer months is the lack of opportunity for children to exercise. A good dose of running around not only contributes to a good night's sleep for all, but helps keep children fit and healthy. If your child is always on the go, the thought of eight weeks stuck inside an air-conditioned room must seem like torture, but there are alternatives.
For younger children, treasure hunts or hide-and-seek at home can get them charging around; but when the novelty wears off and the children have rumbled your favourite hiding place, try out the soft play zones in activity areas such as Fun City in Abu Dhabi's Marina Mall or Cité des Enfants in Dubai's Mirdiff City Centre with its great science-orientated discovery areas.
Older children might need something a little more challenging, and the Manchester United Soccer Schools in Abu Dhabi has just announced its summer programme for children aged seven to 16. Held inside the air-conditioned football facility the Dome@Rawdhat, there are four one-week intensive courses from July 3, including, for the first time in the UAE, a goalkeepers' course with coaches specially flown over from Manchester. The course costs Dh995 for four days and includes kit. Call 02 449 8480 or visit www.manutdsoccerschools.ae.
Calling all Gleeks!
There are several theatre and dance workshops on offer this summer. Kids Theatre Works and Impact are both running drama camps at Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac) from June until August with shows being staged at the end, for seven to 14 years old. Younger children aged four to 10 can take part in a Kids Theatre Works drama camp at Dubai English Speaking School from July 3 to 7. See www.kidstheatreworks.com or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
There's still a chance for children aged 11 and above to work alongside leading theatre stars of London's West End, as a second round of auditions has just been announced for the Spotlight Academy's production of West Side Story at Ductac on June 11. Successful candidates will take part in three weeks of intensive workshops with the performances taking place from July 19 to 23. See www.westsidestorydubai.com for more information.
Impact is also running a series of voice and music workshops this summer at Ductac (same contact as above).
If your children are young but artistically inclined it is worthwhile popping to the bookshop and picking up one of the many superb Usborne Activities books. Bursting with ideas of arty things to do, these are great for keeping small hands and heads amused.
Older children may appreciate more unusual materials and Ductac is organising several different workshops in oil painting, acrylics, mosaic, art clay, silver, pottery and illustration. Courses range from one day to two weeks. For more information see email@example.com.
In the capital, from June 15, Abu Dhabi Pottery is offering morning classes as well as the usual afternoon classes. Suitable for children from five years old. See www.abudhabipottery.com for more information.
For working parents, the summer poses daily logistical and entertainment challenges, but there are plenty of multi-activity summer camps both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai with many offering early drop-offs and even breakfast.
Haddins summer camps at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi give children aged four to 14 access to a variety of physical activities from 8am until 3pm. The camps run from June 26 until September 8. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Libra offers summer camps in Abu Dhabi and Dubai at various schools. These multi-activity camps run from 8am to 2.30pm Sunday to Thursday from June 26 to August 25. See email@example.com.
Dubai Holiday Camps has been offering multi-activity camps to children aged three to 13 for more than 11 years. This year's camps, running from July 3 until August 25, start at 8.15am and in one venue last until 5.30pm. See www.dubaiholidaycamps.com for fees and venues.
Now would also be a good time to befriend someone at The Club in Abu Dhabi. Non-members can attend the establishment's summer camp if they accompany a member. The camp runs on a daily and weekly basis from 8am to 4pm and is open to children aged five to 12 years. Children can try a variety of activities including kayaking, climbing, arts and crafts and drama. Call 02 673 1111 for details.
With all these activities on offer, by the time September comes around, the children could well be in need of a holiday. Instead, we'll pop them back in school and breathe a sigh of relief.
Unless you happen to be a teacher, of course.