Courses for children range from playing the keyboard to learning financial management, handwriting improvement, phonetics and even making a torch

The other morning I heard a four-year-old girl ask her mother, “Why was I born into this world? To go to nursery school?” Naturally her mother could not honestly say, “Yes, that's right, so off you go.” And yet, you could say that people these days are born to go to nursery school, wrote Masanobu Fukuoka in his simple yet ingenious book One straw revolution.

When nursery schools in the city decide to call it a day, they hand over the mantle to the city's many summer camps and activity workshops. Summer vacations are no longer about children rightfully getting to do what they can do in no other part of the year — nothing.

Pranav Adithya who will go to U.K.G next year, may be just four and half years old, but he has already attended his second summer camp, learning not just how to play the keyboard but also phonetics. “I wanted him to learn phonetics and he wanted to learn to play the keyboard, so we struck a deal, and he goes to both classes. I am also going to put him in swimming classes, and he seems pretty excited,” says his mother K.B. Sujatha. Wanting her son to get the exposure she could not, Sujatha says that when they were children, theirs was a small world. “He is lucky that he is able to try his hand at so many things. Only if we put him in four or five classes, we will know where his interest lies.”

Prema Daniel, a consultant on early childhood education issues says that while children willingly attend adventure camps, and art classes for instance, may be a good thing, enrolling them in courses that supplement subjects that are taught in school will have quite an adverse effect. “Through the year, the child is taxed and vacations are given so that children recoup. Otherwise, you might as well have school round the year. By doing this, you kill the child's wanting to learn more,” she says.

After a year of school, children too need their space. Earlier children went to their grandparents' houses and played with their cousins. But these things have become very rare now, she adds. “I too have conducted summer camps and have noticed that it is more of an adult's desire and not necessarily always the child's wish,” she added.

Courses for children range from arts, crafts, and playing the keyboard to learning financial management, handwriting improvement and learning to make a torch, and no child is too young for a camp. Enrolments for most summer camps in the city have already started, and some are even full for the next month.

For most parents, enrolling their children in educational classes is a way of ensuring that their children will not while away time in front of the television or computer.

Deepa Balasubramaniam, mother of five-year-old Stuthi Lakshman says that she would prefer that her daughter join courses such as phonetics and handwriting improvement, which will help her in life.

Jayashree Chinne, Head, Kalaa Manjari, an after-school activity centre, says that both their educational as well as activity-based courses find an equal number of takers. “Some parents want to put their children in courses that supplement what is taught in school. Parents understand that they cannot force children to take up courses that they do not like. So they strike a balance by letting the child choose a module of his/her choice while they choose the other.”

Vacations, she says, are the time when parents get to find out what the child is really good at and interested in. “Most parents who come to us say that when left by themselves, children mostly watch television, or sit in front of the computer. In that context parents prefer sending their children to camps where they not only make new friends but also learn something that they couldn't have learnt at home.”

The problem, however, arises when parents go overboard and enrol their children in multiple classes against the child's wishes. This trend, says N. Nagalakshmi, Co-founder, Curiokidz, a summer camp, has a lot to do with how society has changed.

“Summer camps are the effect rather than the cause. From our end we make the module extremely engaging and informative for the child.”

Deepa says that these are the only two months of the year when she can have her child join extra-curricular classes because the rest of the year, children have just enough time to attend school, play for a while, do their homework and sleep. But if you subscribe to Prema's view, summer is a time when children should lie down, relax, and play and not necessarily be ‘occupied'.

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