Traveller's Guide: Summer camps

Keep your children entertained over the holidays

When schools lock their gates at the end of term, children gain a spring in their step – while, all too often, their parents' shoulders slump. How can youngsters be safely, productively and affordably entertained throughout the long summer holiday?

Americans have a solution. With longer school breaks than Britain and, typically, less holiday leave for working parents, residential summer camps often provide a home-from-home. "There's an incredibly strong culture of that in America," says Fiona Jakobi of Camp Experts (07795 491350; campexperts.co.uk), an international organisation that provides free advice to parents. "Sending your kids to camp is like the 11th commandment over there."

In films, such camps involve an expansive lake, a lack of electricity and things called s'mores and poison ivy. UK parents are now learning the lingo, turning to summer camps to keep their children occupied. Some even pack them off to the States to sample the original experience. Seven to 16 year olds can do so in New York and New Jersey with School Holidays USA (0121 411 9165; schoolholidaysusa.com) from £500 for a week plus flights.

Closer to home, the British Activity Providers Association (01746 769982; thebapa.org.uk) accredits more than 100 summer-camp providers in the UK and Europe, ensuring that their members meet high standards of safety and service. More than 600,000 people currently use their website every year – and numbers are rising, says national director Pete Stacey.

Many programmes focus on sport and adventure, where the A to Z of activities runs from archery to zorbing – the dubious pleasure of hurtling down a hill in a huge inflatable ball – but each provider has its own programme. The Outward Bound Trust (01931 740 000; outwardbound.org.uk) hosts residential camps for 11 to 19 year olds in Scotland, Wales and the Lake District from £479 for eight days. The YHA (01629 592 530; yhasummercamps.co.uk) also runs camps with themes targeting 10 to 19 year olds, at hostels in Shropshire, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire and Hertfordshire. Its holidays start at £335 for five nights. XUK (020 8922 9739; xkeys.co.uk) keeps six to 17 year olds busy in East Anglia with quad biking, football, scuba diving and more from £459 per week. And ATE (0845 456 1205; ate.org.uk) offers residential "Superweeks" for children aged eight to 16 at five centres in Britain from £379 per week.

For young adrenalin junkies, Stacey notes the increasing popularity of coasteering – which includes cliff jumping, swimming beneath sea cliffs and exploring rock arches. Try The Venture Centre on the Isle of Man (01624 814 240; adventure-centre.co.uk), which runs week-long residential camps for £250, targeting nine to 15 year olds. But "the growth area recently has been bush tracking and bivouacking," he says. As part of YMCA Lakeside's day camp programme (01539 539 000; lakesideymca.co.uk), costing £147 per week, over-10s can spend one night bivouacking under the stars by Lake Windermere. "It's the Bear Grylls effect. Kids love getting dirty, building dens, lighting fires – all the things that we were allowed to do."

There are plenty of less boisterous options, including art-focused camps and academic programmes. Fire Tech (07798 928 057; firetechcamp.com), for example, runs day camps throughout England where those aged nine to 14 can take mobile app design, video game development and robotics classes, while teens can learn programming, priced from £400 for a week.

For those whose budget won't stretch that far, Fire Tech has a small number of scholarship places – and they're not alone. As well as offering scholarships, many summer-camp providers now accept Childcare Vouchers to lighten the load and some give discounts for early or multiple bookings.

For American camps, claim a 10-per-cent discount at saveoneverytravel.com. "Some camps are prohibitively expensive, but many offer reduced rates in special circumstances," says Jakobi. "Nothing's free, but there are options for all wallets."

Let's get creative

Hanging from a zip-wire isn't everyone's cup of tea. For 15 to 18 year olds who are more interested in treading the boards, The Cambridge School for Visual and Performing Arts (01223 345 698; csvpa.com) offers intensive summer residentials, with drama classes given by seasoned professionals. The course costs £1,019 per week.

Meanwhile, PGL (0844 371 0101; pgl.co.uk) enables children to split their time between creative activities and physical adventure. Shropshire-based camps see tweens and teens perfecting their dance moves every morning, then trying out anything from motorbiking to fencing in the afternoon. Its film-making and photography courses operate on the same basis, costing from £569 for seven nights.

Another option is Camp Cooper (03333 44 00 77; internationalsummercampuk.com), near Perth in Scotland, which costs from £750 for a week and allows seven to 17 year olds to choose from "electives" in fields such as journalism and art.

Rock out with KZR! Music Rock out with KZR! Music Call it a day

Children and parents who are reluctant to separate overnight can cut their teeth with day schemes. Camp Beaumont (01603 857 454; campbeaumont.co.uk) is one of Britain's most experienced summer holiday operators for under 17s. Day camps offer more than 40 sporting and creative activities, running weekdays through the summer from 8.30am to 5.30pm. Camps are based at 10 schools in London and the Home Counties, costing from £161 per week.

At The Academies (08443358217; theacademies.co.uk), day camps for three to 17 year olds cost from £30 per day across the UK. Their tiniest campers can be "Groovy Gardeners" or "Mad Scientists"; six to 13 year olds enjoy sport, art and performance activities; and teens gain coaching qualifications to boost CVs and Ucas forms. Budding musicians, aged 11 to 17, can rock out with KZR! Music (01442 863 906; kzrmusic.co.uk) at The Hemel Hempstead School in Herts. Two days, 10am-4pm, £120.

The fun way to learn a language

"Camps that teach French, Spanish, German and Chinese are increasingly popular," notes Jakobi. They can be expensive, though. Junior and Teen Camps (00 41 26 915 0505; jtcamp.ch) in Flims Laax, Switzerland provides seven to 16 year olds with language tuition, as well as ice skating, DJ lessons, formal dinner dances and more, at Sfr6,550 (£4,520) for a 17-day residential camp in August.

A little cheaper, but still Sfr1,450 (£990) for a week, is Camp Suisse (0845 519 1031; camp suisse.com), which has language tuition in French, Spanish or German alongside outdoor adventure and sports activities in the Swiss Alps. Alternatively, 12 to 17 year olds can spend a week in Beijing or Shanghai with That's Mandarin (00 86 21 6152 0017; thatsmandarin.com) from CNY8,900 (£870). These international camp fees include airport transfers, accommodation, meals and courses, but not air fares.

Contact and care

Packing your precious cargo off into the (relative) unknown can be hard. Help your child by taking a positive approach, says Jakobi. "You can't run and get them as soon as there's a problem; it can require a little tough love. Parenting is about giving children roots and the ability to fly – and camp provides both. It helps them gain independence in a stable environment." That noted, the decision to go to camp should always be the child's, and while parents can encourage, they should never push.

Remember that summer camps are designed with children of all types in mind. Most partner them with a grown-up who will make sure they brush their teeth, tuck them into bed every night and give them a hug if they're homesick. If you want to speak to your child while they're away, check camp policy. Most frown on mobiles, so you're unlikely to be texting during the day. Calls may be restricted to certain times, but letters are generally encouraged.

How to choose

It's important to do your research. Involve your child in the selection process (though not necessarily the short-listing), to ensure they're interested in the programme and feel comfortable. "If a child is shy, you wouldn't send them to a camp with 400 kids," Jakobi points out.

Family-run Mill on the Brue in Somerset (below; 01749 812 307; millonthebrue.co.uk) could be a better option, where eight to 15 year olds are split into groups of no more than 12 (from £560 per week).

When it comes to individual requirements, "most can be met," says Jakobi. "Halal food is easily provided and there are single-sex camps in America." Don't make the mistake of thinking what's right for an adult is best for a child. "Youngsters often feel comfortable in a tent or a dorm. There may be fewer issues of homesickness and loneliness here."

Call and ask questions to find out as much as you can and scour sites such as mumsnet.com for further insights and recommendations.

Safety first

With so many outdoor activities on offer, it is important that you look for providers that are licensed by the Adventure Activity Licensing Authority (bit.ly/camp safety), monitored by Ofsted (ofsted.gov.uk) or accredited by BAPA. Most providers have comprehensive websites with information on staff training, campers-to-staff ratios (which should be about 10 to 1 for children aged eight to 14), and staff CRB checks. If you can't find this information online, telephone to check.

Make sure you consider the unexpected, too. Ask whether staff have first-aid qualifications, if the camp is in contact with local doctors and hospitals, and what insurance policies are in place. Your child may need additional cover.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn