Children find their calling in summer play

With families staying in the country more and more, it is hard to keep youngsters occupied. But there is a way to ensure they do not get bored.

ABU DHABI // As a mother of two, Jessica Broun knows only too well the difficulties of summer in the UAE. She is in charge of a summer camp at Raha International School for 80 children, aged four to 12. "This is my third summer in Abu Dhabi and there's not a lot out there," she says. "My kids don't like to swim every day and, if they do, they want to know who's going with them. They can go ice-skating and bowling but there's a small repertoire."

Both her children, aged five and seven, are attending the camp. "Here, the kids are learning life and social skills." David Jenns, the manager director of Libra, which runs the school, has lived in the UAE for more than 10 years. In recent years, there has been a growing trend of families staying in the country for more of the summer, he says. This has increased demand for camps to keep children occupied.

Libra now has seven camps in schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai since launching them last year. They are for children of all nationalities. The camps are becoming increasingly advanced and high tech. The children can take part in activities including performing arts, crafts, film-making and sport, including basketball, dodgeball and rugby. They can even learn French and Italian. "Parents are struggling to find things to do," says Mr Jenns, who has two children, aged seven and eight. "As a parent, you want something constructive for the children."

Emmanuelle Vuilleumier, eight, says she has no friends to play with at her home in Abu Dhabi, everyone having left for the summer. The little Canadian says she and her two-year-old sister "get in trouble" during the holidays without something to distract and separate them. She is much happier having found new friends. "I love art and PE, and I like to play basketball, football and do drama," she says.

The camps cost Dh750 a week, but parents say they are an invaluable support. Emmanuelle's mother, Madelina, relies on summer camps to keep Emmanuelle occupied. Having sold their home in Canada, they have remained in the UAE for the past six summers. After the morning camp, she sends Emmanuelle to Libra's swimming academy, desperately trying to fill the hours for her daughter. "During the school year, she is always doing tennis, swimming and karate, so I thought this is a good opportunity for her to have some more intense time improving."

Mrs Vuilleumier says the camp, close to the family's home in the Mangrove area of Abu Dhabi, takes her daughter out of her comfort zone, enabling her to mix easily with different children. "We've always pushed her to be outgoing," she says. "She gets to do activities we couldn't do at home too." Lance Culbert, nine, was born in South Africa. At home, he has nothing to do except read and play video games, he says. For the sporty boy, it is his second week in the camp, but he wants to do two more. "Summer camp has been fun and kept me busy so I really like the sports and drama. My mum just wants to get my brother away from the video games."

His father, Kevin, says Lance and his 12-year-old brother, Trevor, are not encouraged to watch television in the house, but in the summer, they get cabin fever when they stay indoors for a whole day. "Both my wife and I work full-time, so it's not just a case of child care but entertaining them too. We want them to be able to do things that physically challenge them." Rashid al Muhairi, 10, never gets to do drama at school so has found a hidden talent.

Rashid, an Emirati, goes to camp with his brother and sister. "I don't like summers," he says. "Without summer camp, I'd be at home playing video games, doing nothing." He performed in a short film the children created called Space, about aliens and the planets they live on. Lance, whose film was called Alien Invasion, adds: "We like to dress up in drama. We can be really creative here."