The fun way to study anything from singing to web design

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The Independent Online

IZ ANY1 GOING 2 B PARK ON AUGUST 5TH ON THE POPSTAR HOLIDAY?" This is the question posted on PGL's internet bulletin board, one of many from excited youngsters who already have their summer holidays booked up.

This person is heading for a six-day pop star training course at Boreatton Park in Shropshire at a cost of £434. Budding pop stars aside, there is a wide range of summer activities for most ages run by private companies, charities or borough councils. They include day and residential camps, specialist educational courses, and local, day-long activities. As people start booking summer courses as early as January, it's worth investigating your options now.

Summer Fun 4 Kids ( www.summerFun4kids.co.uk), an online directory of UK summer camps and holiday courses, is a useful place to start. Day camps usually run on weekdays and cater for three-year-olds and up, while residential camps (for seven-year-olds and over) normally last a week or two. Sports and performing arts remain among the most popular courses, and the charity Active Training and Education has residential summer "superweeks" in these areas that cost about £300.

Camp Beaumont, one of the most established private providers, has two new summer programmes - Tech Hedz (for 15- to 17-year-olds) and Cybercamp (for six- to 16-year-olds). Their aim is to put the chic into geek and allow children to explore digital media, making their own documentaries and digital animation. A one-week multi-activity camp costs £418, all-inclusive, while specialist programmes such as Cybercamp cost an additional £43.

If you do choose a summer camp then look for a centre that is a member of the British Activity Holiday Association, which means that it has been independently inspected and its activities licensed by the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority.

If you're after a summer school for the whole family, then Marlborough College in Wiltshire has a range of courses for both kids and adults. It's been running summer schools since 1975, and has 88 new half-day courses. This year it has added phunk dancing at £110 a week. If that's not your scene, then how about silk painting, fly-fishing, or the popular waterland outdoor adventure (£228)? Accommodation is in family, twin or single rooms, with an adult in a family room paying £229 and a child £125, including food.

If you want to use the summer to learn or improve language skills, then the Cambridge Language and Activity Courses (Clac) has tuition for eight- to 17-year-olds, with courses lasting between two and six weeks. You can study French, German or Spanish, and enjoy sports and arts activities and excursions on the side. Anne George, who runs Clac, explains that older children usually want to improve their skills in the run-up to GCSE.

A week costs £450 per child, which includes tuition, accommodation and food. Sixty per cent of the students are returnees. According to George, that proves that "friendship is the most important thing. We have very secure settings and the children relax and have a lot of fun. They get a feel for a language, which at school is just seen as another subject to study."

If you want a course that doesn't cost anything at all, Tower Hamlets in London has free programmes at its summer university for young people aged 11 to 25. Its programme isn't finalised, but normally includes courses in web design, dance and film-making.

Finally, if you're just looking for a day out - as well as a neat tie-in with the National Curriculum - how about a visit with a historical theme?

You could try Beamish, the North of England open-air museum, which gives children the chance to experience life in the Great North in the early 1880s and 1900s, or Crich Tramway Village, a restored period village in Derbyshire. If it's historical ships you're after, London's Cutty Sark is also a popular day out, especially among seven- to 12-year-olds. In seagoing days, parents paid £40 for their (slightly older) sons to become apprentices; today, entrance for a child under 16 is £2.96 and the ship has voluntary guides who are ex-sailors.

So, while summer may seem a long way away, it's already time to start booking that course. Who knows, you could be recording your own CD, speaking Spanish, or directing a documentary by the end of it.

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