Dubai: The winter break is here, and winter camps have sprung up in the UAE. There are camps and virtual camps. Both are popular. With the COVID-19 pandemic keeping children indoors with distance learning, winter camps offer an opportunity for physical interaction and a chance to learn new skills. So the camps are buzzing with the sounds of children, according to school officials and camp operators.
Most parents are not travelling during the holidays, and many camps offer options for outdoor activities for children. Exploring nature is one of the favourites. All the camps strictly follow COVID safety protocols, which seems to ease the parents’ worry.
What are winter camps?
Winter camps are activities organised for a specific period to keep children engaged and to develop their skills during the winter break. In the UAE, the camps are generally conducted by schools and holiday camp providers, and the activities include sport, arts and crafts and academics. They run from December 13 to January 2 for most private schools following foreign curricula.
What are virtual holiday camps?
These are camps organised online due to the pandemic, and are popular. Mentors from the school and other establishments conduct activities online or provide live guidance for activities that can be done at home.
A camp for under-10 kids
GEMS Education is offering several activities at its schools, organised through ESM Winter Camp.
Jimmy Repsold, Holiday Camp Director, ESM, said: “The ESM Holiday Camps offer a solution for parents who want their children under age 10 to remain healthy and active in a safe environment. The three-week, multi-activity sports camp has been inundated with happy campers so far, with numbers exceeding expectations and enrolments up over 35 per cent compared to last year.
“ESM Holiday Camps run from December 13 to 31 across 10 different venues across Dubai, all strictly following all guidelines issued by Dubai Health Authority, Dubai Municipality and the Dubai Sports Council.”
Focus on tennis
At Greenfield International School, a Taaleem school in Dubai, there is a Winter Tennis Camp run by ISM Sports through the winter break, for three weeks. The camp is a mixture of fun games and technical coaching for children aged five to 15.
Uptown International School in Mirdif, also a Taaleem school, is working with Infinite Sports UAE for multi-activity sessions from December 13 to 31. “Children can enjoy a range of sports and creative activities under the guidance of professionally qualified coaches. Activities include dodgeball, basketball, gymnastics, arts and crafts, and team building,” a statement from the school said.
“We have seen an increase in the number of children joining us since the October programme. The holiday programme helps children by providing an opportunity for them to develop sports and creative skills whilst interacting with others in a safe and social environment,” the statement said.
Children’s play museum OliOli has been offering a winter camp called The Inventshop, taking kids through a programme inspired by inventors, from the Wright Brothers to Henry Ford, Coco Chanel and more. It runs from December 13 to 24 for four to 10-year-olds. OliOli Marketing Director Lalit Ramchandani said it was planned with the utmost attention to health and safety measures, “such as limited capacity, following social distancing norms and constant sanitation of hands and equipment after every use”. Ramchandani said the take-up this year was bigger than ever.
“We were completely sold out a few days prior to the launch date. We noticed that people responded to our interactive make-and-take theme, which involved minimal screen time and majority skill learning. The children have enjoyed creating their inventions, taking time to perfect every detail, from design to functionality. One child said they wanted a musical instrument for Christmas, but now they have made and coded their own electric guitar instead,” added Ramchandani.
Learning the ropes
Aventura Rangers is a “life-skills” winter camp held at the ropes course within the ghaf tree forest of Dubai’s Mushrif Park called Aventura Parks, for children aged 6-14. As part of the programme, the Aventura Rangers get a chance to test their climbing, ziplining and orienteering skills, while exploring nature and sustainability concepts.
Each day is divided into four modules: Nature, Adventure, Sustainability and Arts. Campers experience activities related to each module where they are guided by experienced coaches at a 1:10 ratio of Aventura coach to campers. Each day ends with zip lining in the Adventure Park.
“As an outdoor Adventure Park, Aventura has experienced an increase in visitation compared to non-pandemic years, since visitors are craving nature and outdoor experiences. After lockdown and being indoors with so much screen time, we are seeing a trend where residents and tourists in Dubai are looking for outdoor venues, where they feel safe and can exercise in an open and natural space,” Lina Malas, director of Aventura Parks, said.
Deepika Thapar Singh, CEO — Principal at Credence High School, Al Khail, said students are enjoying online classes in Literacy, Numeracy, Phonics and Understanding the World. “Enrichment classes” are being conducted for Grade 10 and 11 to prepare them for the CBSE board exams.
Reading across the curriculum is being encouraged through a variety of reading activities assigned to children across all grades. “For our Early Years children of Kindergarten who are joining us in April 2021 we have our ‘TRIPLE 5’ classes going on so that we are able to close the learning gap for them,” Singh added.
Arts, health, and coding
Mohammad Ali Kottakkulam, Principal of Gulf Indian High School, Dubai, said the school has organised two weeks of ‘Art for well-being’ where participants will engage in various art activities. The senior students are involved with a collaborative project with a health and nutrition organisation and a school in India on the UN Sustainable Development Goal ‘Zero Hunger’. The students were also allowed to join the Yskool multi-activity winter holiday camp on subjects such as Coding, Design thinking, English, Arts, World Languages, Music, Dance, Math, and Health and Fitness.
My sons always wanted to be inventors, and this was the perfect opportunity for them. Every day I was amazed by the things they got to make at the camp.
What the parents say
Rajan VN, an Indian expat, has two children in winter camp at Credence High School. His son in Grade 9 is taking optional and free online classes in Maths and English, among others, offered by the school this winter break. “My son is using his extra free time to catch up on some remote learning. It was his choice as he wanted to revise some subjects. We are not travelling for the winter holiday, and my son can spend some time online learning new things this way. It’s completely optional, and he can stop anytime he wants, but I think he wants to continue till the end of the winter break.”
Dubai-based parent Anette Al Hamadi, who sent her two sons, 7 and 9 years old, to The Inventshop, by OliOli, said: “I was excited to send my sons to The Inventshop winter camp because of how unique and different it is. My sons always wanted to be inventors, and this was the perfect opportunity for them. Every day I was amazed by the things they got to make at the camp.”
After doing previous virtual camps during the lockdown, which my son loved, I felt he definitely needed to physically interact and socialise with children his age in a productive manner.
Vidhya Tharwani, the parent of a 5-year old, said she felt it was time her little boy swapped virtual activities for something in-person where he could socialise with kids his age. “After doing previous virtual camps during the lockdown, which my son loved, I felt he definitely needed to physically interact and socialise with children his age in a productive manner. I trusted OliOli with their safety protocols seeing how they operate the museum, but I was even more reassured when I walked into the camp room and got to see spaced out tables in a large room capped at 10 children only. I’m grateful that my son can enjoy creative, in-person camps that don’t compromise health and safety.”
Aventura Rangers participant Carmen Roushdy, 6, from Egypt, said: “I enjoyed the nature trail, we cleaned the rabbit food thingy and fed the rabbits! “
Rim Opale, an Algerian who is seven years old, said: “This camp is big, good and natural! and my favourite game is the Zipline one … it’s one of the best camps I’ve been to!”
Ellie Lovato, 8, said: “I learned how to take care of the bunnies! And it’s my favourite thing in this camp.”
It was his [my son's] choice as he wanted to revise some subjects. We are not travelling for the winter holiday, and my son can spend some time online learning new things this way.
Many parents who have sent their children to this camp appreciate its back-to-basics approach and how it reminds them of their childhood — one without so many screens and high-tech equipment. Salim’s mother, a former girl scout leader, said: “It reminds me of my childhood! And how much time we used to spend experiencing nature and learn from it.”
Another mum, Maliha, said: “There is no camp in Dubai that has this natural setting. I stayed at Café Chris to watch how the camp was run. I was happy with the activities, and saw that all of the kids were enjoying each activity.”
And Dalia from Algeria added: “We want our children to move and experience nature the way we used to do so in our native country.”
While Patricia from France said: “After the lockdown restrictions, I want my children to go out from the house and to get into nature, away from their computers and phones. Aventura Camp is exactly what I was looking for.”