How to become a happy camper this summer

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2012, 12:00am


With the school year almost over, Shea Stanley is fast sharpening her summer camp savvy. She's been searching for the ideal camp for her 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Tatum. With a smorgasbord of choices, Stanley is planning on school camp, ballet camp, swim classes and 'perhaps something new; we are looking at gymnastics'.

Stanley, co-founder of Little Steps Asia, an online resource for families, says that in Hong Kong there is an 'overload of advertising' for summer programmes. 'It's overwhelming,' Stanley says.

The reality is that camps have morphed from the days of bunk beds and campfires into multimillion-dollar businesses.

The cost of summer programmes can be upwards of HK$40,000 per child. Consider YMCA's Hawaii Horsemanship and Adventure Camp at HK$40,900 per child. The good news is that airfares are included.

That said, summer camp does not have to put a dent in the family budget. Consumers should consider what the costs include. Some camps include transport, which defrays the time and money involved in shuttling children to and from camp. Treasure Island Surf Camp, at HK$3,380 per week, includes pickup and drop-off at the Central ferry piers. YMCA's vast summer camp programmes often include lunch and transport.

Consumers may also consider whether meals and snacks are included, too. Sleepover camps such as the Salvation Army's two-night camps include three meals a day for HK$1,090.

Then there's the strategy of combining a camp with a family holiday, which can cut down on costs. For example, Treasure Island Surf Camp offers family camps for HK$700 at Pui O Beach and the option of dining at nearby Ooh La La! beach restaurant.

While organisations such as the YMCA offer a one-stop shop for parents, the a la carte option can cater to a child's interest. Anastassia's Art House has classes catering to those aged 17 and under. Towngas Cooking Centre offers cooking classes for parents and children. The YMCA has a camp for budding reporters, and even a Future Einstein Day Camp.

Parents can also go for the 'try before you buy' tactic. Many organisers offer free trial classes, such as My MusikBox, which is offering trials for its programme on May 27.

Abby Tang, mother of a five, three and two-year-old, opts for the ? la carte menu, which allows for more flexibility. She divides the summer into five categories: sport, academic, art, communication and teamwork, and fills in programmes for each child based on their interests.

'I find the centres have better deals than the schools and, with three kids, I often get a volume discount,' Tang says.

'Look around the area. Where I live there are a lot of smaller things - a place across the street does Mandarin lessons and there's a dance school down the street,' says Stanley. 'There are great public pools in Hong Kong and one in Kennedy Town has a splash pad.'

Also, indoor playrooms can be an affordable summer alternative. Gymboree charges an annual membership of HK$300, which includes play sessions and progress reports.

Schools in Hong Kong often have a selection of summer programmes open to the public, too. Hong Kong International School (HKIS) holds a Summer Discovery Programme and an English Language Leadership Programme at both its Repulse Bay and Tai Tam campuses. Woodland Pre-Schools have a wide variety of courses for younger children.

As always, watch the costs. Everything seems to be extra - even the T-shirts.

Tips on getting a deal

1. Start your research early so you are ahead of the curve on deals, and ensure your child a spot. Some camps fill up fast, especially at schools such as HKIS.

2. The YMCA is offering a HK$100 discount for early bird registration, and Twinkle Dance Company is offering a 10 per cent discount early bird registration fee for its Summer Dance Camp.

3. Ask if there are trial classes.

4. Ask what you are getting for your money. Does it include meals and transport? Some camps such as Treasure Island Surf Camp include transport.