Residential camps for kids

Would you send your eight-year-old off to climb mountains, kayak oceans and camp under the stars?


Residential camp season is upon us, which means thousands of primary school children across the UAE are zipping off on those big yellow buses, without so much as a backward glance, and leaving a trail of anxious parents behind them. But don’t even think of trying to follow the bus (guilty as charged) or booking into a hotel next door so you can spy on them (we’ve thought about it). This is an experience of a lifetime; their first foray into independence, and, according to the experts caring for them on their adventure, hardly anyone’s ever homesick, most don’t actually want to leave and the memories they’ll create will last a life-time.

“Outdoor education and creating positive experiences in the outdoors is fundamental for personal growth, independence and confidence,” says Hannah Shalom from the Umm Al Quwain-based UAQ Marine Club, which has been running school residential camps for the last three years. “Although camps can affect all children in a positive way, they specifically benefit shy children who don’t know what they are capable of. The skills they learn in a residential can then be transferred into the classroom to aid their personal development throughout the duration of the year.”

A typical day at a school residential camp is action-packed with group activities, such as climbing, tackling the high ropes, team games, kayaking and raft-building, which leaves little room for boredom, let alone the homesickness that so many parents are convinced their kids will suffer from.

“Children are fully engaged all day long, making friends and having fun,” explains Dean Riley from outdoor activity company Absolute Adventure, which runs school camps in the UAE and Oman. “This, unfortunately, doesn’t give children as much time to miss home as many parents would like and we often find that it’s the parents who want to get in touch with their child more than the child wants to get in touch with home!”

For many parents, this is the first time their child has been away from home, so to allay any concerns, groups such as UAQ Marine Club and Absolute Adventure visit schools well in advance of each trip to answer questions.

“The biggest fear that most parents have is that their child will be forced to do things they are scared of, or don’t want to do,” says Shalom. “We tackle this with a ‘Challenge by Choice’ module that encourages every child to set their own goals and helps them to achieve more.”

“It’s always okay not to do an activity and we’ll never force someone to do anything they don’t want to do,” Riley adds. “But the truth is that a child often really wants to – for example – leap from the giant swing, but is afraid to do so. Yet, if they conquer this fear, their self-confidence will soar as their classmates cheer them on.”

“Safety is an obvious concern,” Shalom explains. “So all of our instructors are fully qualified, as well as being first aid-trained, life guards and all hold certificates for working with children. Plus we fly an ERCA [European Ropes Course Association]
inspector out every year to sign off our ropes course, and do site-specific training with our instructors.”

Many parents worry about their kids not sleeping or wandering around in the night, but the camps report this as not being an issue. “We tire them out so much during the day, that the last thing they want to do is wander around all night,” Riley laughs. “However, we always have staff present at the camp overnight, their school teachers take an active role at bedtime and we have 24-hour security on-site.”

Which brings us to a final message for the “helicopter” mums and dads. “Having a residential experience encourages a child’s independence, develops leadership and communication skills, and lets them make new friends,” says Riley. “It also gives them an opportunity to see their school teachers in a different context, and this can improve relationships back in the classroom.”

The lesson here for parents? If we want our children to be able to fly high, we need to let them strike out solo sometimes – even if we are counting down every hour until they’re back home in the nest again.

Three top
At-home adventures

Adventure Zone

Tackle the boulder wall and scramble across the themed climbing courses. Kids must be a minimum of 140cm for the cable climb. Brilliant fun!
Dhs110 for two activities per hour. Galleria Mall, Al Wasl Road, (04 343 5110).

Mountain biking
Wadi Shawka

Prove the kids’ mountain biking skills on the shorter off-road loops near Motor City to local bike shop, The Cycle Hub, to access the wadi trails of Shawka.
Prices vary. Dubai Motor City Grandstand, (04 425 6555).

Water skiing
Jumeirah beach

Let them feel the speed as they cut through the ocean on a sleek set of water skis, with a qualified instructor, zipping across the famous waterfront.
Dhs800 for a 40-minute beginner’s lesson. Sheraton, JBR, (055 551 3991).

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