Genies seem to have been ordered to stay put in their lamps this summer vacation. Even granny's goodies seem fated to remain locked up in her larder these hols. Supine story sessions, brunches extending into snack time, languorous leave spent at the cousins', incessant rounds of Scrabble with dad and mom... Things once thrown into a sumptuously lazy amalgam called summer holidays aren't the fad anymore. Instead, the two-month-long summer recess for kids has over the past few years, and more so this year, come to mean happening, hectic activity time. Spent by most young vacationers running (or being chauffeured and chaperoned) between camps, treks, workshops, programmes, projects, classes and tutorials: all designed for the urban middle-class child's summer pleasure.
For so great is the appetite among parents for such activities this summer that it has their kids zig-zagging from one skill-learning project to the other. In hot months that are supposed to be a break for them. Fun surely for the kids? "I do enjoy it all but also get tired at times," says nine-year-old Kadambari Chaturath. "I come to the communication classes in the morning, go home for lunch, then come back for the theatre workshop in the afternoon. It gets hard sometimes, but I learn a lot." Her newly-acquired 'workshop-friends' nod their empathy. They're swingers between states of "exhaustion and enjoyment" themselves, and also hop in and out of the host of summer workshops organised by Delhi's upmarket club, India Habitat Centre. Air-conditioned environs astir with children between ages two and 16, their mothers, sundry drivers and maids-in-waiting. And hordes of instructors, with teams of helpers teaching skills so vast and varied, some might even have escaped the curricula of the best Swiss finishing schools!
Leadership to cartooning, theatre workshops to cookery, rock-climbing to etiquette, math to disco dancing, creative writing to environmental sensitivity and much, much more - it's possible to tutor your child into any skill this summer. At costs varying from Rs 100 to Rs 10,000 for the lessons. Just skim the newsdailies to find advertisements cramped in abundance on summer activities for children. Look into the letter-box and discover it stuffed with tacky pamphlets about lessons on toy-making to computer coaching. Pick up one of those tastefully-printed brochures in the exclusive club you visit, listen in on the FM and the same announcements echo. Find sites on Net pasted with news of summer jaunts for kids.
The range of activities might stun you. But they're only a consequence of a demand that's spiralling each day. Having started with no more than one summer workshop in Delhi 10 years ago, this vacation has the National School of Drama running eight such workshops. "This even as tens of other theatre groups and culture centres too are conducting workshops this summer," says an nsd instructor at their workshop in Delhi's Sardar Patel School. "The rush is unbelievable."
And not just in the megapolises. This year, for instance, Chandigarh has seen the summer menu for children's activities stretch like never before: from collage crafting to horse riding to sherbet-making summer classes. A Chandigarh resident, Prem Puneeta was overwhelmed when over 20 children enrolled into her summer classes for semi-classical, classical and folk dances. "This even before the vacations had started!" she says. And though she makes it clear to all parents that three weeks is too short a time to master the art of dancing, Puneeta's class is overflowing. Asif Naqvi, Delhi-based museuologist at the National Museum of National History, isn't surprised. The first day of summer programmes at the museum saw many a frustrated parent venting their anger on him because their wards weren't being enrolled. Some pleaded, and some others even dropped names of 'contacts' to get their children admitted! "The craze for summer camps is taking on ridiculous proportions, turning away parents is becoming difficult. There was such a deluge of applications that we had to draw lots to take in the final applicants," says Naqvi.
Clinical psychologist Sujata Sharma attempts to explain this summer madness. The intense pressure to raise a Complete Child and the desperation to be a Perfect Parent, the expert feels, are the strongest reasons for parents going overboard in trying to schedule and supervise their children's spare time. "The competition to have the most-accomplished-child of them all, and using this child's achievements to assess one's own success as a parent," she says, "is the reason which sends most parents panicking. To just let the children be is a luxury of the past. And with both parents often working, long family vacations, a norm till a few years ago, are no longer possible even though money's become a lot easier. Thus, the surrogate sometimes are these workshops and camps."
An explanation that seems to be playing itself out in Bangalore. Folks here still remember how holidays for school children meant a walk through Cubbon Park and Lalbagh or a ride in the giant wheel at the "Congress Exhibition". But with the city turning into a hub of corporate honchos and geeks, the range of activities has expanded like never before. This year, besides sports and adventure activities in idyllic surroundings, an array of courses like sketching, calligraphy, pottery, computers and multimedia usage, Internet surfing and animation, even meditation are being offered to children during the summer camps.
Back from one such jaunt organised by spark or the Society for Propagation and Activation of Rock Klimbing at Kemmanagundi (near Chikmagalur) and Savanadurga, 15-year-old Kushal and his younger brother Dheeraj gush: "What wonderful breaks after our exams! They told us a lot about birds, animals and insects we never get to see in Bangalore. We've learnt to manage rock climbing and rafting on our own at Savanadurga and made friends with many children." Adds mother Sujatha: "It's nice to see the kids come back and give us lectures on nature and the need to be environment-conscious. These kids have turned into avid animal lovers."
Which is a refreshing change from the glued-to-the-television kids most parents fear their children will turn into during vacations. Waiting patiently for her little one outside a workshop for two- to six-year-olds that's called 'Miles to Go', Swapna Liddle admits the sessions do little other than keep the child occupied. "Otherwise, kids just refuse to move away from the TV." Inside, toddlers do aerobics, dance, sing and "learn to be creative". Three days a week, for one summer month, at Rs 1,000.
Price tags don't matter if the kids can keep busy. Even if it's to cull recipes over four days at Mumbai's Cook n' Dine summer classes for Rs 900: "Changeable to a daily option at Rs 300 if a kid doesn't want to sit through the four days." Or, sending the children to another part of the city to Brain Storm, a summer camp being run by one Vidhya Patvardhan, for "Kids between five to 25". There's choice galore here: cartoon drawing, sculpture, folk dancing, casio playing, even a quick-fix bout of journalism and theatre! Or, like 200 kids in Chennai went parasailing this summer, others learnt snorkelling and scuba diving. Says S.R. Roy of Adventure Zone, who organised these summer programmes: "Parents are truly worried that their children might become couch potatoes. The alternative activity needs to be attractive enough for the kids to come out of their drawing rooms and throw away the remote and the video game player."
"The idea is to look for something which keeps my children gainfully occupied without letting them feel they didn't have a vacation," avers Chandigarh-based Bipasha Thukral, a working mother. She sends both her boys to Cyber Kids, an innovative learning centre where children use computers to access information for their educational projects. "At Rs 100 per hour per child it's affordable." Bipasha is already on the lookout for swimming, cricket and other outdoor activities for her sons during the break.
Busy Delhi-based corporate lawyer couple Mukta and Rajan Thakur have likewise enrolled daughter Naina, 10, into three summer programmes. Classes in theatre, glass painting and creative writing have cost them Rs 6,500 already, not accounting for the petrol, chauffeur and the maid. Defending what others might perceive as overindulgence, mother Mukta says: "It was eerie how many times Naina kept saying she was bored. Had it not been for these activities, the vacations would've bored her out of her skull, and ours!"
Dr Aushim Gupta, lecturer in Delhi University's psychology department, says 'boredom' is a word that enters the vocabulary of today's children even if they don't understand what the term means. They pick it up from the adults, hearing them utter it as often as they do: "And without thrashing matters out with their kids, frazzled parents run to anyone who promises to keep their child occupied."
Obviously then, summer study shops proliferate, selling just about anything. Mumbai-based Aroona Reejh Sinhani, who has "written about 150 books", runs a camp which teaches 5-12-year-olds "cooking, table manners, etiquette and beauty". The rationale behind the tutorials, according to her, being: "Beauty is very important for children. With Indians becoming Miss World and Miss Universe, the kids want to look beautiful. So we teach them how to look good. We also give tips on how to improve speech and articulation." Held in various restaurants in the city suburbs, Sinhani's summer classes are spread over three to four days. Each batch has about 25 kids. The fee is steep at Rs 1,000 per day per kid.
Delhi's Radisson hotel advertised the launch of its 'summer school' this year for children between the ages four and 12. "Don't forget to bring your art kit," said the advert and, anticipating a rush of applications for the course, warned not more than 30 children would be registered. This at Rs 590 per day.
Running a pottery summer workshop for the third year, Sujata Sadr has reason to believe that these short stints at skill-learning do "allow many children to learn things they'd love to but can't manage through the academically stuffed year". Many of her students from last summer are back again with her this time. Others have come in either to hone their natural skills at the craft or practice what they already learn in school. But Sadr does qualify: "Some parents though are going overboard with these summer workshops. Sending toddlers in to while away time at sky-high costs. Perhaps to do away with the guilt of not being able to spend time with their children, and in some cases, even to preen about how well and how exclusively they are managing their children's summer breaks."
But beyond all the gimmicks and guilt that might be boosting the summer study shop businesses, there surely lies a parental desire that wants the best for one's children. "The problem arises when this need for the 'best' becomes a competitive and overriding factor in how one schedules the children's time," says Dr Gupta. "Not caring that a summer break should be a break, not a time to cramp in alternate learning." Making workshops designed for summer pleasure become sources of summer pressure!