With the long summer holidays upon us, many parents will be hoping to keep themselves sane and their children entertained by signing them up for summer classes. But with a plethora of programmes to choose from, selecting one that will entertain and educate your child can be a daunting task.
'One of the most important considerations when selecting a summer programme for your child is their interest,' advises Dr Caleb Knight, an educational and child psychologist at the Child and Family Centre in Central. 'It is not productive to push a child into a programme of activity in which they show little motivation.'
Parents can encourage younger children to experiment with activities, but it's important to offer choices to older children, he says.
Last year, Tracy Lau Yeung enrolled her son in Sunkids' bilingual summer camp in Happy Valley. She wanted Hayton, now six, to improve his English and Mandarin skills. When she recently discussed summer classes with Hayton, she was relieved when he asked to join Sunkids again.
'Hayton became much more enthusiastic about learning languages because he was having lots of fun during Sunkids' music, drama and storytelling sessions,' she says.
Along with the bilingual summer camp, Sunkids encourages linguistic development through cookery, drama and hip hop workshops for children aged three to six.
But not all children are as willing as Hayton to try new activities, says Knight. He advises parents to encourage kids to give new activities a try and take part a few times.
'But if you see real resistance and emotional difficulty resulting in power struggles between you and your child, stop the activity and switch to something else. For children that are very resistant to any activity, tell them they will have to do something,' he advises.
Barbara Ashbrook says that it is a struggle to find a summer programme that her children, aged three and four, are comfortable with. 'It takes them time to adjust to a strange environment and a different crowd of 'new friends'.
'Given that camps are usually only a week or two long, by the time they start to enjoy the programme it's all over. Most activities require children to participate without a parent or caretaker which doesn't work for all kids.'
Anxious or fearful children will not benefit if they are constantly wondering whether they have been abandoned in a strange place, says Julie Lam, founder of Highgate House, preschool at the Peak.
'If a child will only be attending the summer school for a couple of weeks and is having difficulties separating, we would invite the parent or helper to stay in the class or near the school,' she says.
The school follows the Steiner Waldorf philosophy of helping children to develop at their natural rate. For children aged one to six, its programme includes creative play, baking, artwork, music, and outdoor time to feed the rabbits, water the plants and play in the sandpit.
Lancy Ho's son, aged eight, will be away from his parents and helper for the first time this summer. He will attend 'First Time Away From Home', a two-day, one-night residential camp which encourages independence through swimming, cycling and table tennis activities at the Beas River Country Club.
'Together with friends, he will have the opportunity to explore a new setting while learning to be responsible for himself and his belongings,' says Ho.
Hadas Hecht, child counsellor at Child and Family Development Practice in Repulse Bay, agrees that summer camps are a great way to expose children to new experiences. The key to helping children enjoy a residential camp is through communication, she says.
'Parents should discuss details of the programme with their children. Air concerns and highlight the fun things they are likely to experience.'
Children should not be forced to attend camp before they are developmentally ready, nor should parents agree to a 'rescue deal' to pick their child up should he not enjoy the camp. 'To offer such a rescue situation reduces the belief in their ability to go all out and work through their feelings and fears. In fact, it sends a very negative message to your child,' warns Hecht.
While summer programmes can be a wonderful way for children to spend a part of the holidays, parents should remember that summer is a time for relaxation. Knight urges families to avoid over-programming children's activities. 'They should have plenty of time for open, unstructured play with peers as well as down-time at home just to relax.'
Cora Ha, a consultant with parenting facilitators Family Foundations Ltd, believes that the long break is an opportunity for family members to reconnect. It's something that Ann-Marie Darracott is looking forward to doing with her four-year old son.
'Last year, I enrolled him in trampolining, tennis and gymnastics with Multisport, which he loved. I may consider sports activities again this year but mostly I plan on some 'me and my boy' time,' she says.
Linda Lau Mo-ling says that her desire to spend time with her six-year-old son Aston, combined with the cost of summer programmes, makes her particularly selective in her choice of classes.
'Last year, I signed Aston up for Anastaccia's Art House summer camp because he nagged at me every day to do so. He loved the class and said that he felt like a real artist.'
Held in Happy Valley, Repulse Bay and Sai Kung, Anastaccia's camps are led by professional artists who, through storytelling, inspire children aged three to 16 to paint imagined images.
Parents' participation in children's social activities is not the norm in Hong Kong, if Nielsen HK's surveys are an indicator. It has found that while parents will happily sign their children up for summer programme, the vast majority (90 per cent) rarely accompany them to museums, and 45 per cent rarely take their youngsters to libraries. And a third rarely take their children on a trip to the park.
OFF TO SEE THE WIZ
Red Wizard, a website specialising in promotions for Hong Kong families, is running half-price deals for children's summer classes
- Akademikas: skills courses for children aged 10 to 18, and art programmes for those nine to 18.
- Katterwall: singing classes
- Pangea: kung fu classes for children
- My Happy Sunflower: pottery classes aimed at children aged four and over
- Smarticle: art and magic workshops for children aged from three to 10
- Sunkids: workshops for children aged four to six
- The Yoga Room: children's yoga workshops
The deals listed are for a limited time and available only on the website (redwizard.hk). Red Wizard director Sophia Khimji says 5 per cent of the proceeds will be donated to the children's charities, Bring Me A Book and the Christina Noble Children's Foundation. The site is also running a competition to win copies of Hong Kong is a Truly Magical Place. Copies will also be donated to Bring Me A Book.