Thursday 18 January 2018

Parenting: Summer camps - Try a camp less ordinary

Here comes the summer: Aoife Kelly, from Balbriggan, gets creative at Imaginosity in Sandyford, Co Dublin.
Here comes the summer: Aoife Kelly, from Balbriggan, gets creative at Imaginosity in Sandyford, Co Dublin.

Mary Kirwan

It can be tough to keep children entertained during the summer holidays, but inventive organisers have some new ideas

'I'M bored!" has to be the phrase that parents fear the most from their frustrated little ones at this time of year. Schools are shutting for the summer and many mums and dads are facing the daunting prospect of keeping boredom at bay for two months.

One of the major bastions against boredom is the plethora of summer camps now up and running nationwide.

GAA, rugby and soccer are perennial favourites for sports-mad youngsters while Irish language summer schools also remain a popular option.

But single sport summer camps and Irish college are not the only options available.

Inventive camp organisers are aiming to convince parents to send their kids to something different this summer.

Imaginosity is an interactive museum for the under-nines, which has been open since 2007 in Sandyford in Dublin.

This summer they have launched a programme of summer camps, catering for children as young as four.

One of those open to four-year-old children aims to teach them about science using such props as magnets and invisible ink.

And if you're convinced your child is Brad Pitt in a booster seat then Imaginosity's Born To Act camp for four to six-year-olds could be their first big break. The organisers claim that the camp will bring your child's natural-born actor to life in one week of pure drama and movement.

The participants will learn about things like stagecraft, voice technique and improvisation and the course culminates in a stage performance.

"Imaginosity is based on the American model of children's museums. It's multi-sensory and the philosophy is play to learn and learn to play," says spokesperson Orla Kennedy.

"We forget how important play is and we believe engagement in play is a fundamental basis of childhood.

"I grew up in a formal learning environment but I've discovered there are loads of different types of intelligence," Orla added.

The week-long Imaginosity summer camps run for the month of July and are limited to 12 or 15 children for each week.

The classes run between 9.30am and 12.30pm each day of the week and costs €100, with two teachers in attendance for every group.

Moon landing

If your child is focused more on Star Trek than the Lions tour, then a summer camp with a difference in Cork's Blackrock Castle Observatory could make their summer.

Spacecamp is for nine to 12-year-olds and teaches them about everything from astronaut landings to alien life.

The Blackrock Castle Observatory is both a visitor attraction dedicated to the cosmos and a scientific research centre based in a 17th-century castle.

"Spacecamp is now in its second year and is a week-long space camp for nine to 12-year-olds, and the theme is space," says observatory education officer Frances McCarthy.

"There is an astronaut day and the children have to design and land a space craft. They can have a dry landing, like Mars, or a splash down in the sea. On the final day they shoot off a water-powered rocket.

"There's a firing range out by the river which has a tendency to scare people out walking their dogs," says Frances.

"There are lots of sports camps out there. For some young people this type of camp suits them more.

"This year, for the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, we will have a birthday cake. When the weather is good they do solar observing and moon observing. It's just a fun, quirky camp."

Saidhbe Ellick (12), from Upper Glanmire in Cork, did the Spacecamp last year and had a blast.

"I am not that into sports so I liked doing this one. I went last summer and I learned all about the different planets.

"I made different constructions and we made a volcano, which was my favourite. We made three different types that exploded at different speeds.

"We looked at the sun through a telescope and saw the sun on a piece of paper. We also made a rocket out of a pump and a bottle."

Saidhbe, who is in sixth class in the Cork School Project, also made lots of friends at the camp.

"I met a lot of people there and I'm still in contact with some of the girls.


"I really enjoyed it. When we were doing the moon and the planets we got to draw them and exhibit our drawings in the observatory.

"There was a game called the comet chaser and we had a league and the team that won in the end got glow in the dark stars."

Saidhbe is a veteran of summer camps.

"I have done a lot of other camps too. I went to the Fota Wildlife Park one but I loved the chef course in Brennan's because we got to bring home food at the end of the day."

If it is manners, morals and values you want for your kids this summer then the Galway based Christian Camp of the Arts could be what you are looking for.

It has being running since 2001 and starts July 6 for a week and costs €55.

"We have a Christian ethos but we do not try to indoctrinate anything into the children," explains creative arts director Christen Hubbard.

"We try to teach values, such as what do you do when you are at a till and get too much change back, or telling the truth to your parents even if it means you get into trouble."


The camp is based on a US summer camp the director attended as a child and includes activities such as art, game shows, woodwork and a musical at the end of the week.

"Our goal is to create an environment where every child is a success. We would prefer if a child lost a race to go back and pick up someone who had fallen," Christen explained.

At the other end of the spectrum, the UK sees the opening of the first residential summer camp for children of atheists, agnostics and humanists this summer.

Camp Quest is another US inspired summer camp taking place in Bath.

The camps were established in the United States in 1996 because its founders objected to the fact that boy scouts had to take a religious oath.

Along with outdoor activities and camping, topics for discussion include philosophy for children, pseudo science and critical thinking.

Camp Quest founder Edwin Kagin recently rejected allegations of extremism: "We don't teach children not to believe in God, we simply tell them it's OK not to believe in God."

"Gosh! I'm sure they would think our camp was strange too," says Christen Hubbard about Camp Quest.

A universe away from the offbeat 'is there a God or not' camps is the Motiv8 Performance Excellence Academy, which runs in UCD this August. This camp aims to develop sporting excellence in teenagers aged between 13 and 19.

"Some camps are glorified childminding. This camp is aimed at an elite of children who want a professional career in sport," said camp director Justin McNulty.


"It is about character and athletic development. If you strengthen character it can dictate success, which is transferable into every aspect of life, from careers to relationships."

The academy costs €325 per person for five days and focuses on all sports, not just a particular one.

Whichever summer camp you choose for your child this summer there are some basic checks that you should carry out before your sign them up.

James Doorley, chairman of the Consumer Association, recommends doing some research before you hand over the money.

"Find out who is organising it and that they have a good track record. Ask other parents about it too.

"Make sure it is a legitimate organisation and not a fly-by-night operation. We have come across people out there trying to make a quick few bob in this economic climate," he warned.

Problems sometimes do arise when the camp doesn't live up to what was advertised.

"If you have a problem ring the camp and talk to them first. If you are not happy put it in writing. If that doesn't work there is the small claims court. It only costs €15 for an adjudication," James advised.

"Make sure the camp has proper health and safety and child-protection guidelines," he added.

The ratio of staff to children should also be checked as should the qualifications and experience of the staff and the director.

A HSE statement says: "All organisers of summer camps for children are advised to adopt the national guidelines for the protection and welfare of children, namely the Children First guidelines published by the Department of Health and Children."

Currently it's the responsibility of the summer camps to ensure that the appropriate background checks are carried out on staff.

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