Years ago, summer holidays used to be marked by visits to grandparents and long hours of playing – everything under the sun – with cousins and friends. The holidays are still as long for today's children but, these days, the time tend to be a bit more structured. There are summer camps or activity classes meant to teach children something new and keep them happily engaged, at least for a couple of hours a day.

Gerry Martins outdoor activity

Gerry Martin's outdoor activity (Pic courtesy: Gerry Martin)

Small wonder then that come summer and most parents are on the lookout for the right activities and camps for their children. The question is, with the mushrooming number of camps, how do you go about selecting one that suits your child? We asked parents, activity experts and camp co-ordinators across Bengaluru to get an answer.

Safe, short and familiar

Safety first, is what everyone had to say. “I look out for basic stuff like staircases, enclosed balconies and the cleanliness of the toilets. Safety and hygiene are the two most important issues for me when it comes to selecting a summer class for my boy,” says Purobi Banerjee, mother of a seven-year-old. Banerjee says she preferred sending her son Vinayak to his pre-school for summer activities when he was younger. “Around three or four years of age they prefer a familiar environment so it’s better to stick to tried and tested places like the school, if they are holding some activities,” she adds. Several parents of pre-schoolers second her opinion. “If you are keen to enrol your child for something at an entirely new place, then be prepared to accompany her and probably sit throughout the activity class, at least for the first few days till she settles in,” says Meghna Malhotra, mother to four-year-old Vanya.

Click here for the complete list of activities in our events section

Indu Lobo prefers to keep her children's summer schedule short and simple. This gives them all the freedom to go on a holiday if they want, instead of tying up the children for the whole of summer. Lobo, who works with the activity centre Doodle Den, feels that instead of enrolling children for too many activities, parents should first enrol them for short term camps, see how that goes and then decide whether they want to continue. “Kids have short bursts of energy and instead of whole day camps, ideal ones are those that last for a few hours, especially for younger children,” she says.

What’s your child’s interest?

Are you enrolling your daughter for ballet lessons this summer? Ask yourself if it is what you want her to learn or something she’s genuinely interested in. “I like to closely work with my children and decide what is likely to interest them,” says Gitanjali Sarangan, pre-school coordinator at Magic Puddles, an activity centre for children. She adds that for older children, you can select something that the child can continue.

Gerry Martin Summer camp

Gerry Martin's summer camp (Pic courtesy: Gerry Martin)

If your child is around six or seven, you could select something on the lines of a ‘Fun with Science’ programme or a theatre workshop. Whatever you decide upon, do it only after a thorough discussion with your child, says former National Geographic adventurer and herpetologist Gerry Martin. He also advises that you keep peer pressure in mind, as many children would probably “want to do the things that their friends are doing”. Most importantly, talk it out with your child. Former Olympic swimmer Nisha Millet, who conducts extremely popular swimming camps in summer for children at several clubs, suggests that parents should “never push their kids”.

How is the activity centre?

The reputation of an activity centre or the person conducting it, is also a factor parents need to keep in mind. Bengaluru has several places like Active Canvas, Doodle Den, Claytopia, Ranga Shankara and others conducting special summer activities for children. “The advantage of a place reputed for their classes over the years is that they have a system in place and you know what kind of results to expect,” says Padmaja Nagaraj, who has enrolled her son for Shiamak Davar’s classes.

Be careful since a franchisee may not be as good as the original, so you do need to check the safety factor, amenities and services being offered. “Avoid places that seem too commercialized and do not give you much options to choose or the freedom to make short term payments,” suggests Lobo.

Ramya Angadi from the NGO, Evolve, has been running summer camps for children on life skills and fun stuff for the last six years. She says that despite a good reputation, parents always have a few standard questions to ask and fee related queries are the last of them. “They always check on safety and hygiene and find out how many children are there in one batch as a smaller number ensures better attention. They also want to know if the child is being offered something different from what they learn in school as well as the commuting time to the centre.”

Who are the activity experts?

If it is an outdoor residential camp, you need to first ensure that your child is mentally ready for it. It is imperative that we know the people who are taking our children out on a camp, says Martin, who organizes adventure and outdoor skills camps for children. “Meet the people conducting it and ask all the questions you have. Ignore the ones who are trying to sell. Check on who else is there in the faculty, their backgrounds, who they work with and what they bring to the table.

Gerry Martin Summer camp

Gerry Martin's Summer camp (Pic courtesy: Gerry Martin)

It is best to go with programmes that offer a healthy adult to child ratio, are prepared for physical and emotional contingencies and understand child learning and dynamics well. Make sure the people who conceive the programme are going to be on the programme,” he says. Safety is of utmost importance here so don’t be ashamed of asking relevant questions like whether there are doctors in the team and checking credentials. Martin, a trained wilderness medic, says that’s the first thing on most parents’ mind when they send children to his camps.

In fact, getting to know the people behind a camp is a good idea even if your child is attending a regular activity class this summer on a daily basis near home. After all, summer camps and classes do not come cheap and both you and your child need to get some value out of the money spent.

What’s happening where?

A select list of summer activities and camps for you to choose from: See the complete list of activites in our events section.

Doodle Den, Richmond Town
Children between four and nine years get to learn a different thing each day, from baking and pottery to creating wall hangings and learning how to jive. There’s also an introduction to the Israeli self defence tactic – Krav Maga, plus two days of interactive theatre workshop for the little ones and a five day self-exploratory workshop for children above nine years. The camp is on every day from 13th April  to 24th April, for two hours each day, depending on what course you opt for. Cost is Rs. 1000 approximately. Tel: 41240090

Bangalore Association of Science Education (BASE), Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, Chowdiah Road
BASE is organizing a 10-day camp for kids in classes III to X in April and May (dates yet to be decided). Children will learn science in a practical way through activity based experiments and construction models. There will be a variety of topics covered, from magnets to environmental science to Mathematics. Cost is Rs. 350. An extended one month course for older kids is also available. Tel: 22266084 (Madhusudan)

Ranga Shankara, JP Nagar
Theatre, puppetry, photography, speech, playwriting, poetry and even car mechanics, it’s all there at Ranga Shankara’s Summer Express 2009. Taught by well known faculty like Padmavati Rao and Kirtana Kumar, it’s aimed at children between 7-16 years and is priced between Rs. 750 to Rs. 3000, depending on which programme you select. The summer activities here start from 6th April. Tel: 26493982

Nature photography, Hunsur Farm, Rathnapuri
Children will learn about both photography and wildlife in this interesting week-long camp to be held between 7th April and 13th April. This is a residential camp and the children will stay away from home, in a farm close to Nagarhole. Conducted by Gerry Martin and Wishbone Interactive, the faculty on this camp includes wildlife photographers, Dillan Mandanna and Phillip Ross, and outdoor expert, Xavier Barnes. Tel: 9845779666

Active Canvas, Jayanagar
The theme this year is 'Around the World' and your kids can get a hands-on lesson in geography with art and craft from around the world like Origami, Batik and Bonsai. They can also learn about the culture of different countries. The summer camp lasts from 6th April to 8th May, every Monday to Friday, 10 AM to 1 PM for children between three and 13 years. Children need to enrol for a minimum of two consecutive weeks and can extend if they wish. Tel: 41609122

Evolve, Jayanagar and Sarjapur
From learning first aid basics to the importance of banking to event management, the proceeds from Evolve’s summer camp go towards the development of underprivileged children. Children can also learn art and craft, gardening, cooking, et cetera. For three to 16 year olds, it is conducted in different batches. Starts from 6th April onwards. Tel: 9880100064