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The benefits of summer camps

Kids at summer camp
In American movies 'summer camp' is a rite of passage. Could UK activity holidays prove to be just as popular? Providing some excellent and unusual learning opportunities, read on to find out how summer camps could benefit your child.

The American summer camp phenomenon can be traced back to the early 1900s, and here in the UK the tradition has been noticeably taking root for almost thirty years. A true summer camp experience is more about an ethos than simple activities – the building and development of life skills, such as independence, interdependence, tolerance, responsibility, respect and loyalty.

Stays at camps can range in length from one day to a week. There has been a growing interest in adventure and specialty camps, and those that cater for older campers offer the opportunity to try out high-powered sports in a safer environment. Multi-activity camps offer children a wide range of choice and the opportunity to discover a talent or new interest.

The benefits of summer camp

There has, perhaps, never been a better time to introduce children to summer camp if they have never been before, and to keep packing them off if they have! Mum Donna Donnovan says she was baffled when each year her children would pick camp instead of the alternative offered option of a traditional family holiday. After six years she finally ‘got it'.

'As my pre-teen children were screaming for freedom and independence, what they were actually longing for was structure and guidelines,' she says. 'And that's exactly what they get at camp. There is great comfort in predictability. Knowing exactly what to expect makes you feel safe.'

Summer camp could also offer a solution to the loss of traditional methods of developing useful skills – climbing trees, stringing conkers, changing the wheel of a bike, the adventure of exploring outdoors. They can help ensure your child does not miss out on the learning benefits to be gained from the great outdoors and adventures they would not otherwise experience.

Getting kids more active

Parents may find camp a useful aid in the fight against obesity and inactivity as well. 'We could never find anything to get our kids off the sofa,' says Jean Oliver, mum of nine-year old twins Patrick and Jonathan. 'We'd never been to camp ourselves, so the idea of sending them off for two weeks of high adventure never dawned on us... We'd resigned ourselves to their chorus of woe and boredom every summer, and frankly, we were beginning to hope for year 'round schools so we wouldn't have to deal with keeping them occupied and out of trouble. Not any more!'

Finding a mentor for the summer

Another characteristic of true summer camp is the relationship between the adult and child. Staff take on a pastoral role and are trained to ensure every child participates and gets the best from their time at camp.

‘This is precisely what parents are looking for,' points out Jeffrey Solomon, executive director of the National Camp Association in the US. 'Our kids today are the first generation to grow up with the internet, a virtual cyber-community where they can explore for hours on end. That's all well and good, but they need to learn from a multitude of venues, and summer camp lets them trade their big blue computer screen for some good old fashioned big blue sky. Camp is a living, breathing, hands-on experience. Some of what kids need to learn just can't come off a computer – they need to be there, live and in person.'

Can't wait to get your child canoeing, abseiling and more? Read our advice about how to pick the right summer childcare for your child, including 6 questions you must ask before you book.

UK summer camps for kids: technology camps

Fire Tech Camp is the leading holiday tech camp provider for children and teens in the UK. Based at Imperial College in London, with regional bases in Cambridge, High Wycombe, Brighton, Manchester and Bristol, (non-residential) Fire Tech Camp courses include Video Game Design, Minecraft Redstone, Digital Photography and Editing and Rapid Prototyping. Prices start at £100 for one-day courses. A residential course is also available.

Tech Camp offers engineering, coding, IT and technology-related holiday camps in Abingdon, Coventry, London (Chelsea and Harrow), Surrey and Winchester. Activities include building robots and rockets, learning coding skills, designing computer games, trying 3D design, building and flying a drone and electronics and model-making; both residential and non-residential courses are available.

UK summer camps for kids: eco-friendly adventures

Making windmills, wildlife spotting, den building, water rocket competitions, canoeing and rock-hopping... just a few of the 'green' activities on offer in EcoWeeks for children at CAT, the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales. Prices are £325 per child.

UK summer camps for kids: sport camps

Activate Camps is the leading provider of active childcare across the UK. Sport camp options include cricket, netball, gymnastics, soccer, hockey, tennis and lacrosse.

UK summer camps for kids: performing arts and dance

West End Stage offers a mix of drama, singing and dance classes in central London, as well as West End masterclasses and a trip to a West End musical.

If ballet, tap and modern dance are your child's main interest, a Royal Academy of Dance residential camp in London, Birmingham or Dartington will offer lots of opportunity to take to the stage. Prices start at £425.

UK summer camps for kids: sailing

From beginners to expert sailors, all abilities are catered for at a Wickedly Wonderful Sailing Camp near Chichester, learning the basics of water, tides and winds and ending each day with campfires at the beach.

UK summer camps for kids: robotics

From building models to learning about robots and and building and programming LEGO robots to solve a number of puzzles, there's loads to create in bricks and code at a robotics summer camp. Non-residential; find out more from HG-Education.

UK summer camps for kids: cricket

Cricket holiday coaching camps are available at City Cricket Academy in Leicester, including master classes in batting and bowling.

UK summer camps for kids: science camps

Mad Science Holiday Camps aim to inspire children about the world around them by making science come to life with experiments, hands-on fun and building (with lots of learning through trial and error, of course).

Richer Education offer science, robotics and coding and civil engineering Saturday workshops and holiday camps to primary-aged children at Imperial College in London.

UK summer camps for kids: football

There have been residential summer camps for football-mad boys and girls for 35 years at the Bobby Charlton Soccer and Sports Academy. For Juniors aged 8 to 11, coaching has a focus on fundamental skills: Passing, Finishing, Heading, Dribbling, Ball Familiarisation, Control, Running with the ball and Body Management. 

UK summer camps for kids: outdoor fun

Camp Wilderness connects children with the great outdoors, giving them the chance to camp in ancient woodlands, build and cook over open campfires, swim in lakes and learn traditional bushcraft skills. Camps run at six woodland locations, from Kent to Yorkshire, and prices start at £249 for three days.

UK summer camps for kids with health challenges and their families

Charity Over the Wall organises free recreational activity camps for children with a wide variety of illnesses and diseases and their families; thanks to volunteers and donations they are invited to experience activities such as kayaking, fishing, climbing, swimming, dancing, challenge courses, archery, arts and crafts, talent shows, discos and much more.

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