x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Concerns over lack of childrens' summer activities

The municipality is planning to open more than 120 playgrounds and a dozen parks this year. But parents and organisers say more offerings are needed.

Abu Dhabi’s beach sport park is one place for youngsters to spend some time, if the weather plays fair and not foul. Andrew Henderson / The National
Abu Dhabi’s beach sport park is one place for youngsters to spend some time, if the weather plays fair and not foul. Andrew Henderson / The National

ABU DHABI //As the mercury rises, Anne Welling is struggling to find activities to keep her three children entertained and out of the sun.

"This is our second summer and I'm dreading it, as are they," said Ms Welling, whose children are 18, 15 and 13. "It is like winter in the UK, where you only go out when you have to. The kids get so bored. The pool in our complex is hotter than bath water, and there are no beaches to go to."

Ms Welling's story is not uncommon in the capital. Facilities that keep youngsters active and out of the heat - but don't break the bank - are sorely needed, residents said.

"I love that we have tons of playgrounds here for my girls, but now it's really starting to warm up, and I don't even know of any programmes available for kids in Abu Dhabi," said Thomas Wilcox, a US citizen with two daughters under five. "Even most of the beaches charge just for entry."

The municipality is working to alleviate the problem with more than 120 playgrounds and a dozen parks expected to open this year.

"In these parks, we have provided different options of playgrounds and play areas," said Badreya al Dhahiri, the division manager of community services at the municipality. "Also, we have provided shaded green areas ... In addition to the parks, the municipality has upgraded the Corniche and also provided play areas for kids."

Parents and organisers said more offerings were needed.

"It's one of the biggest problems here," said Michael Haddin, the managing director of Haddin's Fitness, which runs children's sport programmes at Zayed Sports City. Haddin's summer camp offers dancing, ice skating and bowling alongside more traditional activities, including football. The weekly fee is Dh650.

The World Health Organisation recommends that children between the ages of five and 17 get at least one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. In the UAE, one in three children are overweight or are at risk of becoming overweight.

The Health Authority - Abu Dhabi (Haad) has developed the "Eat Right, Get Active" campaign to help change attitudes about diets and physical activity in schools and at home.

"It's so important that children aren't just told to be active, but that they are also enabled to do so. It can be formal sports, or skipping at home, or just going for a walk," said Jennifer Moore, the section head of family and school health for Haad.

Duplays, which runs social, recreational and competitive sports leagues, recently launched programmes for teenagers in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. Their beach sport programme this month attracted more than 500 participants and served as a lead-in for the launch of school-based leagues this summer.

Derv Rao, the director of operations, said Duplays will pilot a basketball and football scheme in up to eight schools. "Our goal is to build up their confidence by introducing sport and making them feel like they can do anything," he said.

jthomas@thenational.ae