Working parents in Dubai face being priced out by costly summer camps

Families are looking for alternative entertainment for their children after being put off by monthly fees running into the thousands

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 07 AUGUST 2018. Zarina Dalati, mother of 4-year-old for a case study on parent searching for vacant spots in schools. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Anam Rizvi. Section: National.
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Parents in Dubai say they are being priced out of sending their children to summer camps by prohibitive fees.

With the lengthy school holidays now in full swing, some families are saving cash by providing entertainment of their own.

They said they are being put off by the hefty charges imposed by many camp providers, which can leave them spending in excess of Dh1,000 per week.

There are dozens of camps across the emirate - catering to a range of ages and offering everything from art sessions, football training and adventure activities - providing a vital outlet for children who face being cooped up at home during the hottest period of the year.

They can also be an important resource for parents working full-time who are unable to find care arrangements for their children during the day.

Zarina Dalati, 35, from the Philippines, has chosen not to send her five-year-old daughter to a summer camp this year.

"I do not want to spend more than Dh1,500 per month but the lowest I could find was was Dh3,000 to Dh4,000 per month. The range here in Dubai is around Dh1,000 per week,” said Ms Dalati.

"Cost is the major factor and I want to find something that is worth the money.”

"Summer camps do not have to cost an arm and a leg and there should be cheaper options available.

Ms Dalati entertains her daughter by taking her to the park every evening where they go cycling and running together, while on weekends they go swimming.

She said that camps are meant to help working parents during summers but the expense is an additional burden.

"Having a large family in Dubai is really difficult and my friend who has three children had to leave and go back to Canada."

Some parents are going down the creative route and have set up camps within their homes.

Yonah Jalbuna, a 35-year-old engineer in Dubai, created an informal summer camp for her six-year-old daughter. Her agenda is to ensure her daughter does not spend time on gadgets.

"I create lessons through games and we do experiments together at home,” said Ms Jalbuna.

"We have house chore cards so she can make these while having fun and also help with minor chores like cleaning her room.”

Ms Jalbuna includes her friends' children who want to be part of her summer camp at home.

"We checked summer camps which are cheap but these were not of good quality and would not help the child progress."

Heather Harries, founder of Kidsfull, a summer camp in Dubai, said the costs associated with running a camp can be quite expensive.

"It's difficult to break even because we want to limit the number of children we take. We have five children per one British-trained teacher," said Ms Harries.

Aquamania Summer Camp, at Atlantis The Palm hotel in Dubai, offers plenty of activities but will set parents back Dh2,500 per week. Courtesy Atlantis The Palm    
Aquamania Summer Camp, at Atlantis The Palm hotel in Dubai, offers plenty of activities but will set parents back Dh2,500 per week. Courtesy Atlantis The Palm    

"The cost of craft and educational material adds up. Also, parents demand more diversity in teaching arts, sports instruments etc."

Kidsfull charges Dh140 per day or Dh650 per week.

Fees for summer camps can vary greatly. While five-star hotel Atlantis The Palm charges Dh2,500 per week for its Aquamania Camp, a comprehensive programme of activities such as a boat tour, learning to scuba dive and snorkelling, some are much cheaper.

The Little Green Fingers summer workshops programme, operated by Galeries Lafayette Dubai, lets children between five and 11 years take part in activities such as growing their own plants, soap melting and carving, yoga and kite-making, for Dh120 per class or Dh200 for two days.

Rizwana, an Indian expatriate and working mother in Dubai, believes some summer camps risk exploiting  parents who do not have alternatives.

"Working parents do not have a choice as they have to send the child to a nursery or a camp. The summer camps that are open through the holidays take advantage of the situation by keeping fees high," said Rizwana.

She said her four-year-old son has not learned anything new or different at the camp he is attending, even though she is paying Dh5,600 per month.

"These camps should focus on activities that are different from what children learn in school. They should teach children sports or art."

Maria Mellett, a 35-year-old working mother, paying Dh2,000 per month for her three-year-old son's summer classes. and feels she is getting value for money.

"My son’s nursery organises a summer camp and I like their curriculum," she said.

The children enjoy an array of activities, including puppet shows and pizza-making classes.

Ms Mellett suggested parents look closely at the offerings and pricing of summer camps before making a selection.