Dubai-based interior design consultants Full Circle Design offers an interior design course for teenagers at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates. Image Credit: Full Circle Design

With the temperature already soaring, more and more summer activities for children are being moved indoors. Kids in the UAE usually find themselves in limbo at this time as parents — working and stay-at-home — are at a loss on how to keep them ‘fruitfully occupied.’ The only exercise kids seem to get during this time is for their fingers as they stay busy on smart phones and gaming gadgets.

As a result, short and extended summer camps are quite popular, so that children avoid spending endless hours in front of screens. There’s a plethora of indoor activities available around the UAE but that only leaves the kids, and often parents, confused about what to pick.

"I wish I could go to a summer camp that includes real camping, mountain hiking and spending time in nature." Khush Naheta

Ten-year-old Khush Naheta said he would like nothing more than to be outdoors.

“I wish I could go to a summer camp that includes real camping — putting out tents and everything — mountain hiking and spending time in nature and with animals. I love animals and would love to be outdoors,” he said.

His mother, Dubai-based Indian businesswoman Kanan Naheta, said most summer camps here offer run-of-the-mill activities. She might not send Khush to the mountains this summer but she is keen for him to explore activities that he does not otherwise pursue during the school year. She wants him to participate in scuba diving, kayaking or horse-riding. But the weather could hamper that.

“Plus, the cost of summer camps here almost equals [the price of] a ticket back home and I would rather send my child home to spend time with grandparents and extended family, learning more about life,” she says. “I am not keen that he step out of his regimented academic year and head to another regimented Sunday to Thursday camp. I honestly think our children have a very hectic schedule during the academic year and wish to give them more flexibility during their holidays.”

Olga Mitina, a Russian mother of two — Dimitriy, eight, and Andrei, three — has just started sending her eight-year-old to summer camps. But her idea of summer camps is similar to Khush’s. She, too, feels that children are just herded from one activity to another without the organisers truly making it a fun and enjoyable activity — they are more like day care and do not provide a learning experience in the true sense of the word.

“Last year I sent Dimitriy to a residential camp in Russia where he explored learning and playing sports in the mountains. It is imperative the child has fun while in the camp,” Mitina said.

It is important that organisers understand what parents want from a summer programme. What’s also important is what the children want.

Keeping these demands in mind, organisers are coming up with innovative ideas.

Dubai-based interior design consultants Full Circle Design is offering, for the first time in the region, an interior design course for teenagers at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates.

“It’s a unique programme for creative kids who are thinking of interior design at university level and for those who want to try a different, creative subject that’s not offered in second-level education,” Sharon Connelly Donaldson, creative director at Full Circle Design told tabloid!. “It is also a very practical kind of course as its focus is a redesign and personalisation of their bedroom by them.”

Connelly Donaldson says the 15-hour course is intensive but interactive, providing kids with a “fun and inspiring environment to work in”.

“Kelly Norman [who is conducting the course] has over 18 years of experience in the industry in Canada and the Middle East. The company was already doing courses for adults in interior design but we’ve had requests from teenagers — especially those who wish to get together a portfolio for university admissions — that led to the creation of this course. At the same time there aren’t teachers at a school level who specialise in this [field]. So Kelley can give [them] professional guidelines on how to approach a project.”

"We don’t get a chance to investigate topics during the school year... I want the opportunity to research." Advay Kuber

Nine-year-old Advay Kuber has come up with an idea which can add value to children’s school work. He says he wants to attend what he calls an “investigation camp”.

“I have been to camps earlier that took us to local entertainment venues for children. What would really interest me is an investigation camp that would help me research new areas of interest — why do kangaroos have a pouch, what kind of teeth do dogs have and do dogs have a bone in their tail… We don’t get a chance to investigate topics during the school year [apart from what is taught to us]. I want the opportunity to research and put together a presentation for my family and friends,” Kuber said.

Mitina’s complaint about being herded together from one activity to another in summer camps is echoed by Dubai-based mother of one, Fatima (full name withheld on request).

Both Mitina and Fatima raise questions about the staff, venue, the environment and organisers at summer camps.

Having suffered in the past where her son was grouped with children of different age groups into one big space without enough supervision, Fatima is careful to now send him only to a place that is run professionally and with the highest safety standards. As the parent of a single child, she feels it is tough to keep her son occupied and, after their holiday abroad, she will send him to a summer camp where he can expend his energy by playing sports and learning new techniques.

“Parents mainly want to know that the children are safe while learning and having fun,” said Kylie Mockeridge, operations and strategic manager at Hummingbird Early Learning Centre in Dubai. “[When they come to the centre] parents make sure of the environment — the play area, teachers and medical facilities. Usually a small ratio of staff to kids helps.”

Mockeridge said at Hummingbird they have one teacher attending to two to five children, depending on the age of the kids.

“We have an indoor play area and jungle gym which helps overall growth and development, where they can let off all their energy [in a cool environment]. We plan activities around children’s interests. It’s all project-based learning. They’ve had a full year of school but we still try and make it educational-focused in a fun way. All our centres have DHA registered nurses at all times. Plus the [nursery or camp] should be approved by the Ministry of Social Affairs, etc,” she said.

And then there’s Roshan (full name withheld on request), a Dubai-based pre-teen, who “prefers to relax and unwind at home after being in school with many hectic activities”.

“I don’t like going to summer camps as most of them do the same things we do in school. Instead I’d like to meet my cousins and spend time with them. It is so much fun going back [home] because I get pampered by my grandparents and aunts and uncles,” he said.

It is more important to spend quality time with kids during their time off and generally allow them to unwind. Kids are involved in numerous activities throughout the year and summer time is when they get a chance to just chill out.

Interaction with extended family is very important to a child’s growth, as they learn from people who not only belong to various professional backgrounds — and are of different temperaments — and this encourages conversations to be more organic.


Parents, make sure…

It is only when the parents, child and summer camp providers work together can the long summer months truly be enjoyable and enriching for the young ones.

- Every parent needs to discuss with their children whether they want to be part of a summer camp or not. Forcing the child into something they are not going to enjoy just for the sake of keeping them busy serves no purpose. They will get tired physically but irritated or sullen at all times.

- Children these days are very astute. They might already have ideas of how they would like to spend their time. Ask yourself what does your child need help in? Ask what activity they have thought of pursuing, but could not. That might be a good place to start to explore how they can spend their holidays.

- Keep a balance between structured and unstructured time. Remember that kids have a regimented academic year. It might be good that you want them in a structured day during the break but it is not in their best interest to push them into it.

- If the child is truly resistant, explore the idea of sending them to grandparents or relatives. Not only will they get that essential dose of pampering but help them learn about life and culture in the home country.

- Most importantly remember DO NOT attempt to keep your child stimulated at all times. Allow them to be bored. Parents, it is not your job or the school’s job or anyone else’s, to keep your child entertained all the time. Let them day dream sometime. There is enough research conducted to know the advantages of being at a lull and discovering a fountain of creativity. Just like when we sleep the brain processes and assimilates all the learnings of the day, one of the brain’s most important function. In the same way when your child is staring into nothingness he is giving himself an opportunity to turn inwards and explore his own strengths.


What to look into when choosing a summer camp

Reputation: Investigate for how many years the organisation/camp has been running for and get feedback from parents who have sent their child to the camp before. Sometimes what is advertised is not what is provided. Also, make sure the organisers of the summer camp have researched their target audience and are providing what the children need.

Qualifications of staff: When you are paying for a service, you have the right to ask who your child will be trained, supervised and looked after by. The staff need to be qualified professionals, not part-time summer interns.

Activities: Children do not want the same activities they are learning in school to be part of a summer camp. Then it feels like an extension of school, which they should have a break from.

Let’s explore

Building on Advay Kuber’s idea, the Athena’s Investigation, Presentation and Communication Summer Programme will be held in August. Kids can sharpen their skills of research, presentation and communication that are the components of a successful child and adult. For more information log on to athenalifecoaching.com or call 056-1399033.

— Sunaina Vohra is a certified youth and family life coach in Dubai and writes a fortnightly column on parenting in tabloid!