How to choose a great summer camp

Summer camp boy kayaking
From local council holiday schemes to residential activities, Moira Holden looks at different kinds of summer camps and childcare. Here's what you need to think about before you book a place for your child.
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Summer childcare: where to look

Local councils run schemes during the holidays – usually at lower cost than privately-run camps – which often include many different sports, drama and arts and crafts. Check your local authority website to see what is available and ask other parents for recommendations.

Some schools also run their own schemes or give their grounds over to privately-run camp operators – you can usually sign up for a week or for a few days. Expect to pay around £250 a week for a range of activities. Nationwide providers include Camp Beaumont, Super Camps and Barracudas.

If you can afford it, it’s worth considering residential camps for an exciting, stimulating summer experience; providers include PGL and Kingswood Camps. A seven-night residential stay at a camp can cost anything from £270 to £700 depending on the range of activities on offer and the location; remember to factor in transport costs, too.

How to choose a great summer camp

You might like the idea of a football-filled week, but don’t forget your child might have (very) different ideas! This is their downtime during the holidays, so they should get a say in what they do. Don’t automatically arrange for your youngster to attend a sports activity camp simply because they’ve been cooped up at home immersed in revision for SATs or end-of-year tests and you assume they’ll benefit from some much-needed exercise.

If your child is interested in singing or drama, a week-long session at a theatre activity camp could be a good way of dipping their toe in the water to see if they’d like to join a longer-term arts group. Similarly, a drama camp could help a nervous child feel more confident in speaking. But beware of pushing a youngster into something which could turn out to be an ordeal for them.

Activity camp discounts and special deals

Most activity camps offer discounts for siblings, but some will also agree to discounts if a group of friends goes together, so sound out other parents about sending their children at the same time. Some kids are daunted at the thought of pitching up to a camp where they won’t know anybody beforehand, but if a mate is accompanying them they will feel happier about going. Summer camps will be mindful you could prove to be a loyal customer for several years, so always ask about discounts or special deals. 

If your family is coping with a child's illness or disease, charity Over the Wall organises free recreational activity camps for children with health challenges and their families.

6 questions you must ask before you book a summer camp for your child

Your child's safety is, of course, the most important consideration – read our parents' guide to holiday club legislation to understand how holiday activity providers are regulated.

  • Is an extension to the normal day available and how much does it cost? If you were stuck at work or in traffic, would you be charged extra for picking up a few minutes late?
  • What age group will your child be in? Are there enough children the same age or will they have to do activities with older kids and possibly feel out of their depth?
  • What is the sun cream policy? Will a camp attendant put on more cream throughout the day?
  • Do you need to provide lunch and snacks? What’s allowed in the lunch box and what isn’t? Are there vending machines?
  • Should you take out a holiday protection scheme? If your child is ill at short notice, most camps will not offer a refund.
  • What is the ratio of staff to children? What is the first aid policy?