school holiday camps
Fitness and play

School holiday camps

Arlene Harris discovers why school holiday camps are great for developing a child’s mental and social skills and more importantly for having fun.

What’s so good about school holiday camps?

It only seems like yesterday that we were taking down the Christmas decorations and here we are wondering how to keep the children entertained during the long summer holidays. Living in Ireland, we all know that we are not guaranteed eight weeks of lazy, hazy days in the garden or family picnics on the beach.

So with that in mind, it is always useful to have some sort of a back-up plan. With three young children, Aishling Conway was a novice last summer when it came to keeping her twins and their younger brother amused for the long school break. But just as she was about to lose her sanity completely, she heard about an afternoon camp, which was taking place in her local school. Having first thought her five-year-old girls would be too young to attend, she quickly realised that not only would there be lots of other children the same age there, but they all had fun, made new friends and most importantly, slept soundly each night of the camp.

“My son, Liam, is still very small and last summer was beginning to walk so was always up to mischief,” says the Dublin woman. “This was fine while the girls were at school and I could keep my eye on him, but when they were off for the summer holidays, they needed constant attention as they bicker a lot, so I was stressed out from trying to watch all of them. “My sister-in-law told me she was sending her son to an activity camp in the school and encouraged me to do the same. At first I said no, as I thought they wouldn’t be able for it. But they overheard me talking and said they really wanted to go – so I thought, ‘why not’?”

school holiday camps


All round advantages

The few hours away from home was beneficial all around, as Aishling was able to spend time with her baby and get jobs done while the girls were at camp, and they, much to their mother’s surprise, had a whale of a time. “I’m so glad I found out about the camp last year – the girls had great fun and came home in much better form than if they had been around the house all day,” she says. “And even though it was just three hours each day, it did make my life easier all around.”

“I have already booked them in for the same camp this summer and I am planning on putting them into a swimming camp in August also – for peace of mind and peace in general, I have definitely become a fan of summer camps.”

Brain benefits

Child psychologist, David Carey says for the most part, summer camps can only be very beneficial for children of all ages as the long holidays loom. “Summer camps are often the only opportunity a child has to learn through play,” he says. “Play is the work of childhood and it is through play we learn about social and emotional intelligence. Through play and sport we learn to tolerate frustration, postpone impulses, follow rules and engage cooperatively with other children.”

But the expert says that some children may be too shy to attend summer camps and parents should be aware of this before deciding whether to book them onto a course or not – and to talk to the child beforehand so they feel secure about what may be their first foray into the unknown.

Encourage, don’t force

“There is no harm in sending a child to a summer camp unless the child is especially sensitive or reclusive,” he says. “Those children can be stressed and uncomfortable in the intense social interactions of summer camps. So it all depends on the temperament of the child and their willingness and interest in attending something like that. “The best solution to this problem is to encourage the child to attend but let them know there is a safety net in place should they not enjoy the experience. Encourage them to attend for three days and if they still don’t want to go back you can remove them.

Children need to be encouraged not forced. “Ultimately, I would tell parents that the best way to know if your child is ready for camp is to follow their lead. The overly shy child may benefit but on the other hand may also be too stressed. It may be useful to make contact with the camp director and tell them about your child, so they can organise a smooth entry into the life of the camp. Forcing a child to attend against their will can be distressing for all concerned – so be gentle and communicate.”

school holiday camps

Fun and friendship

Eileen Sheehy of Let’s Go Summer Schools says the emphasis of these camps is on children having fun and making new friends. “At Let’s Go! Summer Camp we offer children a week of action, fun and adventure in a safe, secure and healthy environment,” she says. “It’s a great place for children to have fun and meet new friends. “We encourage them to try new activities, which allow them to expand their interest in a wide variety of games, sometimes leading to a new hobby.”

“Our qualified teachers ensure all classes are taught to the highest standards and that all children are included and encouraged to reach their full potential. Ultimately, fun is the name of the game at a Lets’ Go! Summer camp and therefore every child who comes to camp brings home a smile.” Throughout the summer, there will be countless camps across the country – here are a few ideas below for nationwide courses

Soccer school

Soccer is always big on the agenda for some children and FAI soccer schools offer coaching, matches and expert advice. Suitable for boys and girls aged between six and 14 years, each camp runs for five days from 10.30am to 3pm. For more information visit or call 1890 653 653.

Anyone for tennis

school holiday camps

Every summer the world goes crazy for tennis and while few of us have access to courts on a regular basis, our children can learn the basics with Parks Tennis Camps which are located all over the country. The camps are suitable for children from five to 17 and times vary according to clubs so to find out about the venue nearest to you visit

CÚL Camps

An Irish childhood wouldn’t be complete without GAA activities and for those children who want extra time on the pitch, Cúl Camps offer week long sessions all over the country with a mixture of games and activities. Suitable for boys and girls between the ages of six and 13. For more information visit

Let’s go activity camps

For children with a lot of energy, the Let’s Go camps are the ideal way to let off steam. Separated into age groups, there are two programmes – one for five to six year olds and the other for seven to 13 year olds. With various venues all around the country, it is advisable to check out the website or call 021 4877111 to find out about the camp nearest to you.

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Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.

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Ask Tracey

Midwife Tracey Donegan answers your questions about pregnancy and birth

Q When should I have my first pregnancy scan? And how many scans should I get throughout my pregnancy?

Your first scan is known as your dating scan and is routine in all hospitals. Most mums will have this scan at their booking visit, which can be anywhere between 12-18 weeks. The earlier the scan the more accurate it will be. If you have experienced recurrent miscarriages some hospitals will scan you earlier. Contact your antenatal clinic for more information. In Ireland, most women will have two scans in a healthy pregnancy – a dating scan and an anomaly scan at around 20 weeks. However, some units provide a dating scan only. Private scans are also available in most cities and many parents use these services for additional reassurance and to find out the sex of their baby.