From daytime fun to an adventure week in the beautiful British countryside, summer camps offer kids (and parents) time off. Here’s our pick of providers...
Words Rachel Webb
While summer camp is a North American institution, here in the UK we’ve been somewhat slower on the uptake. But camps offer fun and adventure for children as young as three – manna for busy working parents and those who want their children to get more out of their summer break. The best camps offer structure and experienced leaders who guide children but also let them enjoy it. While high-adrenaline fun and games are usually the order of the day, we’ve included a couple of specialist providers for children who want to get creative, scientific or both.
This London and Home Counties specialist has been running school holiday camps for over 35 years and its flexibility is one of the big draws for busy working parents, with daycare and fun built in. Locations are conveniently spread, and include Mill Hill School, Godolphin & Latymer in Hammersmith, Ursuline Prep School in Wimbledon and Halstead Prep in Woking. Croydon High School has been added to the camp locations for this year.
What’s special? Playtime Camp (3-4 years) is a paced blend of lively and focused activities, from cheerleading and adventure playground to mask making, biscuit decorating and collage. You’ll also find crowd-pleasing karaoke, drama, dance and a bouncy castle. Move on up to Mania (8-11) and kids can try their hand at archery, climbing, badminton, tag rugby and water polo. Not all activities are available at all camps, but enough variety is built in to appeal to their passions and widen horizons. All camps offer age-appropriate extra options – from immersive crafts workshops to horse-riding and motorsports.
Age range: 3-16
Good to know: Camps are very flexible, with everything from one-day to week-long or multiple week passes. Extended days can be booked at most camps. You can pre-book a lunch or send your child in with a packed lunch. All children have at least six activities a day, all logged in their personal timetable. While it’s dressed up as fun, they do sneak in mind-expanding options such as 3D modelling. And, a real child-pleaser, you have the option of an escorted day trip to Go Ape in some camps in 2018.
A trip to a museum may be enjoyable, but a Richer Education summer camp offers an exciting hands-on experience children will never forget. Even better, they’ll be learning real, transferable skills in some of the most valuable (and stereotypically tricky) areas: the sciences and STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Richer Education is renowned for operating weekend and holiday courses and camps that inspire children to take a more vibrant, practical interest in the complex wonders of the physical and digital world.
What’s special? The location, for a start: Richer Education summer camps take place at the world-famous Imperial College, London, a short walk from South Kensington tube and a stone’s throw from the country’s grandest museums. The air is abuzz with wonder and possibility – and the camp themes tune into it with dazzling inventiveness. In one five-day science course, your little one might cover everything from Amazing Aeronautics to Pirate Science, while STEM camps introduce kids to applied subjects including robotics, computer coding and electrical engineering. (We particularly like the sound of Crazy Cosmetics and Science Around London Town.) There’s a definite emphasis on drawing out the fun and colour of scientific discovery, and youngsters will get stuck in to projects that put their imaginations to use while fostering greater scientific insight and understanding.
Age range: 4-14
Good to know: Running from mid-July to the end of August, each Science and STEM camp runs for five days, 8.40am to 3.30pm, and is non-residential. There’s a 10% discount for multiple-week or sibling bookings. Children take their own packed lunches as well as snacks and enough water for the day. All levels of knowledge are served and children are welcome to take home any objects they make during the week. The only caveat is that camps tend to sell out fast, so be sure to get your little ones’ places booked well in advance.
Celebrating its 30th birthday this year, Stagecoach is well known for its weekly music, dance and drama classes and its motto of building “creative courage for life” is going strong. Holiday workshops give children as young as four the opportunity to take to the stage. This is high-energy stuff of a different order, as children have a week to put on a show – making friends along the way – and with no previous experience required. You’ll find workshops across London and the south
east, and in some lovely locations such as Alleyn’s School, Dulwich and King’s College School, Wimbledon.
What’s special? For children already plotting their conquest of the West End or Hollywood, this is heaven. But even if your child is not a thespian or dancer in the making, this is a highly active and productive workshop. Don’t expect Ibsen – Legally Blonde The Musical and Trolls are among the summer productions promised in 2018 – so child-pleasing. This year’s birthday will be marked by lots of events, including a Guinness World Record attempt in July when Stagecoachers around the world will stage a simultaneous performance of Beauty and the Beast Junior.
Age range: 4-18
Good to know: Stagecoach operates a franchise system, and each school is led by a professional principal and team, with experience in both performing and teaching performance. Holiday workshops can be a good taster for children who may want to take things further and join the regular school. Some summer workshops offer two shows suitable for younger and older age groups. Sibling discounts may be available.
Sparks summer shoot camps are a week-long movie-making spectacular designed to let children as young as four years old get behind the camera and create a blockbuster. The workshops are held in six London locations, from Highgate to Balham, with an additional film centre in Weybridge. Not every age group is catered for in each location.
What’s special? Varying levels of experience are welcomed and children get a chance to try out different creative and technical roles and responsibilities. There is a high staff-to-student ratio and each summer a new theme for the film. Sparks operates a “studio system” to challenge more experienced filmmakers and encourage their talent. At the end of the week there’s a Cast & Crew preview screening before the final red-carpet premiere in September. Films are distributed to proud parents for home viewing and sharing afterwards.
Age range: 4-18
Good to know: Sparks runs age-tiered term-time Saturday courses and after-school clubs too, so the summer camp is a great way to ignite children’s interest and see if they want to take things further. The experienced team argues that filmmaking builds a wide range of skills – from teamwork and problem-solving to storytelling and visual literacy. They have been running movie-making courses since 2010 and have published a book with Quarto to inspire young filmmakers.
Family-owned XUK attracts children from across the UK to its residential summer camps. Its dedicated English Summer School means you also find a great mix of young people from across Europe and even further afield. Special attention is paid to splitting camps by age, so that kids have the right environment and activities. Its London day camps are perfect for younger children.
What’s special? Mini Minors day camp is a split-age activity camp (3-4 years or 5-6 years) with lots of fun, a resident clown and special activities such as fencing. From age 7, children move on to XUK day camp, giving them the option to choose activities that most interest them. Both camps are located in Brookland School in leafy Hampstead Garden Suburb. The Activity week-long residential camp is located in idyllic surroundings at Abberley Hall School, Worcestershire and includes trips out to cultural hotspots such as Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon, plus a smorgasbord of activities, from zorbing to quad biking.
Age range: Day camps 3-13; residential camps 6-17
Good to know: Lots of children here are repeat bookings and the day camp (rated Ofsted Outstanding) gives them the opportunity to move on up in familiar surroundings before, perhaps, trying out a residential camp. Half days are available here and summer afternoon swimming courses offered at day camp are a treat that also give kids valuable skills.
The emphasis at Activate Camps is on high-energy sports and activities that get children trying new things. Camps take place across England, and with excellent locations across the south east in well-equipped locations such as Berkhamsted School, Dulwich College, Merchant Taylors’ School, Sevenoaks and St George’s College, Weybridge. Not all activities are available at all schools, so check by location and activity programme.
What’s special? For younger children (aged 5 plus), the Multi-Activity Camps offer themed activities, including sport and nature, and with “pick and mix” options from T-shirt designing to treasure hunts and crazy Olympics. Sports-mad kids will love the sports-themed camps, including Andrew Flintoff Cricket Academy, Pro:Direct Soccer Academy, Ultimate Lacrosse Experience and Louis Smith Gymnastics Experience. The new Netball Fever course is custom-designed by Tamsin Greenway. Sports stars are part of the experience; for instance, every Cricket Academy includes a visit from a current or past pro cricketer.
Age range: 5-16
Good to know: Camps run from three to five days and are non-residential, with discounts for multiple weeks or siblings. Early drop-off and late collection is available at some camps. Children take their own lunches, with careful supervision ensuring they stay hydrated.