Baby-sitting or summer camp, is the question. With schools closed for a long summer break, parents – especially working parents – are at their wit’s end to manage their children’s high energy levels and also provide a structured and supervised activity plan. Enter the summer camp. Most clubs are offering the facility these days and despite the best intentions, they are not a patch on professionally run camps. Some of them are downright shoddy and there is no supervision from authorities the way schools are supervised by the Education Ministry, for example.
Yet, desperate parents line up to register their kids and the organisers make a heap of money. Very often, the parents turn a blind eye to the lack of facilities. A photography class can be just children clicking their mobile phone camera with elementary tips on framing a friend’s face. A painting class can be just youngsters sprawled on a carpet of questionable hygiene and sloshing water colours over a page. Many summer camps do not have a first aid arrangement or even a complaints register. Parents who may have a disagreement or even a suggestion will find themselves ghosted in whatsapp groups or find that their children are being targeted by the faculty as troublemakers.
When talking about summer camps in Bahrain we have to naturally take into account the cruel weather and be practical about the activities we choose for the children. Parents would do well to remember, though, that handing over and taking back the children from camp each day is not the end of their duty. The evenings stretch long and I remember how parents from the time that I was a child, used to take us swimming or just hang out with us as family, playing board games and telling each other stories. In the Bahrain of the ‘seventies, even TV was restricted to five or six hours transmission from Aramco and there were no Internet and smart phones. How resourceful we became in keeping ourselves engaged.
Since summer comes around each year, why not have a list of rules and a more strictly supervised environment for these camps? Camps must be clean and have a set student-teacher ratio. They must offer a good ratio of physical activities and artistic and academic activities. The age groups must be clearly segregated so that every child feels intellectually cared for according to his/her age. There must be a good mix of indoor activity and educational visits according to the weather conditions.
In addition, I really would like to propose that charity associations run summer classes for children from families that cannot afford fancy fees and put their considerable organisational ability into structuring a fulfilling activities calendar for their charges. Many of us know of families where there is only one bread-winner, usually the father, and whose salary might not stretch to a summer camp. The children get bored and into mischief and family peace gets disrupted for three whole months. An affordable summer camp where members can share their skills in craft, reading and personality development with the children for a small fee (I strongly recommend a small fee because a freebie will not be valued) would be a great way to give back to the community.
A successful and imaginative summer camp required parents to get their act together first and list their expectations beyond mere baby-sitting.