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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

From parkour to advanced French, UAE's summer camps are serious fun

Lifeline for parents as more than 200 sites now open

Summer camps in the UAE. Antonie Robertson / The National
Summer camps in the UAE. Antonie Robertson / The National

The words ‘summer camp’ conjure images of scraped knees, jumpers for goalposts and tedious visits to the museum.

But a surge in demand from parents desperate to have their children entertained for the 11-week break has led to a startling boom in the number of camps.

And along with traditional sports and archery, your young one is just as likely to be learning advanced French and parkour - the urban free-running discipline more often seen in action films.

Most privately-run camps opened this week, to the relief of many parents, given school ended a fortnight ago, while government-run sites also opening.

But the chances are many youngsters have been booked in for months.

“Parents start looking for summer camps from March and the inquiries keep coming in until September,” said Mohammad Urfi, operations manager of Coursetakers.ae, an online platform that collates information on summer camps and educational courses throughout the year.

There are about 200 summer camps registered with the site, of which about 60 per cent are in Dubai and 20 per cent in Abu Dhabi.

Read more: UAE sees an increase in expatriate families staying in the country during summer

“We have received positive feedback. They generally say that their kid had a great summer break, enjoying games and learning new skills.

“Summer camps are not just about kids playing games anymore.”

One such specialist site is Parkour DXB, which teaches the French-established discipline.

Aside from physical exercise, it is designed to give children confidence, overcome fear, assess risks and problem solve.

“During the course we look at developing physical and technical skills such as climbing, hanging, jumping, rolling, swinging, vaulting from different angles and surfaces along with developing conceptual skills,” said Barry Haggis, head of Parkour DXB.

“Participants can learn different techniques each day and it will help them get fit. It can be very physically demanding, but also fun.

“We are all made to move and by using all parts of the body to play games, complete challenges and move around is the perfect way to get fitter without even realising it.”

For the more language-inclined, a centre in Dubai will be holding a French learning summer camp for children aged between seven and 10.

“This is the first time we’ve organised a summer camp for non-French speaking children, it’s a great opportunity to children from all nationalities to come and learn a second language in a fun and easy way,” said Faustine Bonnot, head of the language department at Alliance Française Dubai.

The summer camp will run three times per week from July 2 to 31.

In the capital, children aged between four and 14 can stay fit over the summer by enrolling in a camp organised by the Abu Dhabi Country Club’s sports school.

The challenge for many parents, manager Antione Baroudy said, is to get their children off their phones and devices.

“It’s important to let children release their energy into something useful away from their gadgets and summer break is the best time to do so,” he said.

“I have been organising summer camps since 1990 and since then parents have become more enthusiastic and interested in enrolling their kids.”

The cost of camps vary, but are typically from Dh150 per day or about Dh1,000 per week.

Read more: Emirati fondly remembers summer camps of the seventies

Despite the rise in popularity, parents in the Northern Emirates or with special needs often have a long way travel.

Rima Abu Khreibi a 40-year-old mother of three, said she struggles to find somewhere for children with disabilities, with most only offering sports-based activities.

“My elder daughter has hip dysplasia and finding her a suitable camp in Sharjah is not easy so I’m looking for a non-physical summer camp for her,” said Ms Abu Khreibi, who is Palestinian.

She registered her five and nine-year-old sons in sports camps in Sharjah but had to enrol her 10-year-old daughter in a programme in Dubai.

“If I find a camp in Sharjah that suits them all I won’t hesitate as it will be much easier on all of us,” Ms Abu Khreibi said.

Umm Abdulkareem a 40-year-old Dubai resident, enroled her son in a karate and dance camp last year but the courses did not last the length of the summer holiday.

“He thoroughly enjoyed the karate classes it was a good experience for him, but it was only for one month,” said Umm Abdulkareem, who is Yemeni.

“I don’t like to leave him alone while we are at work and having a camp for at least two weeks will make his vacation more interesting and enjoyable. This year I’m planning to enrol him in a sports camp to practice football,” she said.

On the east coast, more camps are opening, with the Dibba Cultural Centre is offering more traditional activities.

“This year the programme is different from the last year as it will focus more on cultural activities in theatre, music, visual arts and literary workshops, all designed for youngsters aged between seven to 17,” said Wedad Al Hamouri, manager of Dibba Cultural Centre.

For Samah Kamil, a mother of three, is relieved.

The 37-year-old, from Lebanon, no longer needs her mother’s assistance during the holiday.

“I used to bring my mother from Lebanon to stay with me during the summer break as I can’t leave the kids by themselves at home without supervision and I didn’t have any other option,” said Ms Kamil.

Fujairah Tennis Country Club and Fujairah School of Arts now run one-month-long summer programmes.

“It was a real struggle in the past to find a full day camp but this year I managed to find more options - and now the kids can enjoy their vacation too,” Ms Kamil said.