Lessons for all the family

Music, languages, rafting, archery - it's all on offer to every age group at summer camps
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The Independent Online

Summertime's coming and the living'll be easy - for children and teachers at least. But, while they get a deserved break, most of us will sweat it out in the office, with only a couple of weeks to spend with our families.

Summertime's coming and the living'll be easy - for children and teachers at least. But, while they get a deserved break, most of us will sweat it out in the office, with only a couple of weeks to spend with our families.

Summer schools are one way to make the most of that time together, and keep the youngsters off the PlayStation and cheap cider while we are at work. There is something for everyone, from the most precocious to the frankly feral.

The biggest and probably most prestigious summer school takes place at Marlborough College in Wiltshire. Marlborough has been schooling Britain's upper crust for 150 years. The summer school is a little younger, at 30, but it has the entire rambling building at its disposal. Week-long courses run from 17 July to 6 August on everything from dry-stone walling to Latin American dancing, and there's top notch entertainment, with concerts featuring such diverse talents as a Queen tribute band and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Unlike sending a son to the school, you won't have to remortgage your house. Courses cost £215 a week for full day tuition, plus £195 a week for a twin room, and every age is welcome, from three years old to 93.

Celine Geddes, 50, from Hampshire went last year with her 11-year-old daughter Emi, and is going back this year with her mother and two friends. "My mother's 76. One of her friends is in her eighties," she says. "That's what's so incredible about it: you get a cross section of ages, and it's stimulating for everybody."

While she studies sculpture and Pilates, Emi will be out getting dirty with the Young Adventurers and studying creative writing. Emi is clearly looking forward to it. "I really want to go again," she says. "You do different things every day, and they were all really fun."

Another famous public school that opens its gates for the season is Uppingham, in Rutland. Like Marlborough, Uppingham offers a wide range of courses, from dog-handling through watersports to theatre and languages. But its music courses, built on the school's reputation for music tuition, are the jewel in its crown.

Two young musicians' courses, each five days long, run from 18 and 25 July, and a young pianists' week runs from 13 to 20 August. With a ratio of about one teacher to three students, the £195 fee is well spent. Boarding costs an extra £140.

This will be the third summer the Polkey brothers from Lincolnshire have spent at the school. "It's fun, and you enhance your musical skills," says Andrew, 13. "There's a good balance between the musical bits and enough relaxation."

His mother Catherine has been impressed. "They're stretched, but they enjoy it. And the teachers are so enthusiastic, and relate so well with the children."

With both Polkey parents working, Catherine has paid to board, and her sons enjoy it too. "It's all part of the fun, the socialising," she says. "They get to spend time with other children who think it's cool to play music."

There are also more specialised courses. For children who like languages, or who need a holiday booster, the Cambridge Language and Activity Courses (CLAC), run from two sites near Chichester, offer one to five weeks' tuition from 10 July to 14 August. Ages eight to 17 are catered for, with eight- to 12-year-olds at Lavant House, and 13- to 17-year-olds at Slindon College. Courses cost £425 for eight days and include 20 hours' tuition in English, French, German or Spanish, plus activities including swimming, tennis and team games, with a horse-riding option.

With almost all children boarding, and a mix of people from across the world, students get plenty of opportunity to practise what they've learnt. "We just try to get them communicating," says Anne George, who runs CLAC. "We think many kids today are quite insular. We try to get them to talk, and they enjoy it."

No computers, Gameboys, or - in the evenings - mobile phones are allowed. And it seems to work, at least for Laurie Neatherway, 15, from Oxfordshire, who last year got an A* in his French GCSE and is now doing AS with A-level to follow. This will be his third year at CLAC. "You make a lot of new friends, and have a lot of fun, even though it's learning," he says. "I get to practise my French a lot with students from Europe. I like French anyway, but it's definitely helped me."

For most children, summer is all about doing fiendishly active things, and Mill on the Brue summer school provides 20 acres, a river and an assault course on which to do them. Seven-year-olds and up are based in Bruton, East Somerset, with a special camp in Raasay for older children.

Days are spent rafting, riding the zip wire, doing archery or trekking. In the evening, there are arts and crafts activities, as well as badger-watching, and children are kept busy from when they get up until they go to bed. There are no computers or TVs, no junk food and no fizzy drinks.

Mill on the Brue prides itself on its environmental ethos. The children eat local organic food and are taught about recycling, conservation and the eco-friendly architecture of the site.

Seven-year-olds and older can go for the day for £48, or eights and up can do a week for £403. Fifteen- to 17-year-olds go off to Raasay for nine days for £520.

Harry Satloka, 12, from Devon has been going to Mill on the Brue for the past three years. As well as enjoying the trips, he feels he really gets something out of them. "I was scared of heights, but I did rock climbing at Mill on the Brue and I was scared, but I really enjoyed it. And I come back with silly stories to tell my dad." His dad clearly enjoys them: "Harry's had three fantastic years there," says Rudi, 46. "It's the ultimate all-inclusive adventure holiday for kids."

If you're stuck in the smoke, and still want to spend the evenings with your children, there's the more affordable, convenient alternative of day camps, such as Poolside Manor in Finchley, north London. A pool and grounds give your children the chance to blow off some summer steam during the day, through the last two weeks of July and the first three of August.

For about £120 a week, three- to 12-year-olds can swim, play squash, tennis, and field games, or - if the weather turns - do arts and crafts indoors. "I enjoy the camps: they're exciting and you always have an activity to do," says Poolside Manor veteran of six years Harry Lansman, 10. "The tennis is really good, and the swimming is amazing."

There's something amazing on offer for every child this summer. So go out and see what you can find.