Mon, Dec 28, 2009
The Straits Times
When camps can actually be fun

By Jennani Durai

THIS school holiday, the children at Camp Invention built a communication tower to talk with aliens, analysed crime scenes, and invented contraptions to break an egg into a bowl.

Never mind maths or Chinese language camps. There is a new type of holiday camp where kids learn about anything from the stock market to robotics and chocolate logcake-making - and the academic drills are forgotten.

Some holiday camps and workshops, once an extension of the school year, are now catering to parents who just want their children to have fun during the holidays, and do not mind paying for it.

'I wanted my son to do something more fun, and to learn life skills he wouldn't otherwise learn in school,' said Mrs Jenny Wong, whose nine-year-old son attended Camp Invention at St Hilda's Primary School's campus last week.

The 37-year-old housewife felt that the benefits of play and relaxation were worth the camp's price tag of $630 a week.

Among the varied experiences offered by camps this year were baking lessons, creative and critical thinking, science and invention, digital movie and game creation, and financial literacy.

Fees can be as low as $20 for a half-day session at the Thinking Loft, which runs about 80 workshops a month during the school holidays.

Five holiday camps told The Straits Times that demand is growing for new experiences over the traditional holiday preparations for school.

Ms Cheah Sin Wei, one of the founders of the Thinking Loft, said demand has more than doubled from last year, to close to 1,000 children enrolling this year.

'Parents now understand that kids are under a lot of pressure in the school system, from as early as kindergarten,' said Ms Cheah. 'Most children already have tuition during the school term. During the holidays, what's popular with parents and kids are things like robotics or baking, stuff kids enjoy.'

The Thinking Loft focuses on teaching children critical and creative thinking, and demonstrating scientific principles using items like hula hoops, bubbles and cupcakes. 'Our aim is to make kids feel like they are just playing, but assure parents that all this play is learning,' said Ms Cheah.

Ms Violet Khoo, who runs the Genius R Us holiday workshops, agrees that parents are more open now to activities that have only an indirect benefit to academic learning.

Her most popular holiday workshops are in baking, with children learning to create Christmas cookies and chocolate log cakes, among other treats. 'Different types of activities create balanced, happy kids who will have more confidence in their abilities,' she added.

Ms Jenna Wong, who runs the Children's Technology Workshop at Forum Galleria, said there were now more varied and creative holiday camps compared with when she started out in 2006 running camps offering Lego building, fashion design and animation.

And the children ultimately do give the biggest thumbs-up to the new courses.

St Hilda's Primary pupil Isaac Tay, 10, said he typically had tuition classes during the holidays, but his parents had given him a reprieve this year by letting him attend Camp Invention instead.

'It's very interesting, and it helps me relax,' he said. And what of the price? 'My mum says it doesn't matter how much it costs as long as it's good for me,' he said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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