The summer holidays are a beautiful gift. My summers were idyllic growing up almost Blyton-esque with endless shimmering days filled with freedom and fun. We’d set off at 8 am sharp on our bikes with a jam buttie and then head off towards the park. We would be gone all day, returning home with mud on our clothes and filled with stories of our antics. Nothing was off limits, hula hooping, jumping in the river, putting on a show to the two old ladies who always sat on the local bench, fishing for tiddlers and above all making new friends. Who could believe we could find such beauty and adventure in the middle of Anfield, Liverpool!
Now I am all grown up with a little person of my own, I am often asked by other parents how they can find these kinds of free-range, life-affirming and exceptional experiences for their own kids. When most of us have to work during the summer holidays, we need someone else to help create these memories for our kids. Here are my top tips for finding excellent holiday clubs for your little ones.
1. It doesn’t have to cost to the earth
Finding great experiences for your kids doesn’t have to be expensive. Look for small local companies who have a vested interest in the community, who may be offering full days or weeks in the summer. Choosing wraparound care for the whole six weeks can add up so look for single weeks at different places. This will also give your kids the variety they seek.
2. Learning can be fun
Seek out clubs and activities that will teach your kids new skills and offer them new opportunities. With schools focusing less and less on creative subjects the summer holidays are an ideal time to enrol your child in a highly creative project. If they love Minecraft look for a place which offers coding or animation. If they love Musicals look for a singing and performing arts course. Some summer schools are varied enough to offer all of these creative opportunities in one place. Get in touch with your local performing arts school or youth club to see what they offer in the summer.
3. Who is running the activity?
When you have chosen the right place for your child, check out their staff. They should all be DSB checked and experts in their field. Look for activities that use a wide range of workshop leaders rather than just running everything themselves. Make sure the company has full liability insurance and a clear safeguarding policy. They should be able to provide copies of all of these for you on request. Call them and ask them to talk through the week and what your child will be doing each day. This is an excellent way to get a feel for the course and also to talk about your child and their personality. Most providers will be happy to chat about your child as they also like to get a feel for who will be joining them for the activity.
4. Try something different!
I made a promise to myself when I became a parent that I would try to fill my child’s life with lots of different experiences. They might not know they love stage combat and costume making until they try it. Often children will stick to what they know and feel comfortable with so try to seek out a course or activity that will stretch your child physically and creatively. The summer schools I run are always filled with contrasting activities which every child is encouraged to try, they often say the moments they felt out of their comfort zone was the best part of the week.
5. What age groups do they cater for?
Make sure there is a range of ages catered for and the activities are well matched to your child’s age. Good providers will have a plan in place for each different age group and the activities will be differentiated so that everyone is happy and learning together. In my summer school, I have specific age groups which split off and come back together. Any reputable summer school should do the same so make sure you ask the question of age groups during the booking process.
6. Let them go
It’s often difficult to let our kids go off and be independent but this is so important for their development. Let them choose their clothes, pack their own lunch, be in charge of who they keep in touch with. Obviously, for little ones you are going to need to still do a lot for them but for older primary kids, let them be autonomous for the week and have a say in which activities they take part in.
7. Use it as an opportunity rather than a chore
When we are busy it’s hard to think about how we will fit our working and parental commitments together. And often the booking of summer camps feels like a chore we could do without. Get started early. Many activities start advertising about now, join local Facebook and Instagram feeds that are aimed at parents in your area. Ask around for other parents with older kids for recommendations. Most of our kids come year after year to our summer school from age 6 to 14, so there will be lots of parents who have used the same service for many years. You can pick their brains and get lots of ideas from them.
Think about what your child is lacking in terms of development. If they need help with fine motor skills, book them into a multi-sports course. If they lack confidence and self-esteem, look for a more holistic arts program. Or, if they find friendships difficult, look for a local company who will be drawing kids from inside your community. Most importantly remember they are there to have FUN so a programme like ours, with a focus on child-centred learning, is ideal.
About the author
Nicky Davin is the principal of Helen O’Grady Drama Academy Sussex. She runs award-winning Summer Schools in Brighton, Sussex. To see what her Summer School 2018 looks like see here.