Page last updated at 22:23 GMT, Tuesday, 11 August 2009 23:23 UK

Mummy, can't I go to summer camp?

By Gabriela Torres
Business Reporter, BBC News, Barcelona

children sitting in front of a teacher at school
Some summer classes have so few pupils they have been cancelled

The current financial crisis has forced many Spanish families to do without summer camps for their children.

Yolanda Manzanera, the summer activities coordinator for state schoolchildren in Barcelona's seven town councils, has had to ring up families who had booked the September summer camp to tell them it has been cancelled.

There were simply not enough clients.

She has spent many years offering leisure activities to the children of working parents, who simply cannot afford to take three months off for their children's school holidays.

This year is different, however. Parents think twice now about paying out for summer camp.

On average, these summer schools cost around 455 euros ($650; £390) per month per child, which is just over half the minimum wage in Spain.

It's not just the summer camps, all after-school activities have been affected by the crisis
Milagros Ponte

Parents of Schoolchildren Association

Yolanda told BBC Mundo: "It's because of the economic situation that families are looking at other ways to entertain their children."

In July there are very few children, the bare minimum to make the course viable.

Most of them do not stay for the full day. This year, many parents have opted to pay for just a half day.

"They change their holidays and organise themselves amongst the family, so they don't need the summer camp service," she added.

Taking turns

Ester Sanz did not even contemplate the idea of enrolling her five-year-old daughter, not even for a couple of weeks, in one of these centres.

The BBC is Taking the Pulse of the Global Economy, looking at a range of subjects this summer
Consumer behaviour - how have lifestyles changed over the year
Food prices - which remain a concern particularly in many developing economies
Highly volatile energy prices - which have been a major issue in the past year
The plight of migrant workers - as the global recession takes hold in many economies
Housing markets - which have turned from boom to bust in many countries
Rising unemployment levels - as firms cut back because of falling orders

"Parents are now taking their holidays separately," she says.

This means while one parent is at work, the other one stays at home with the children and that way they don't have to pay out for leisure activities such as those provided by summer camp.

"It all depends on where you work, not everyone gets a month's holiday and the children get much longer," she adds.

When the parents run out of holidays, they turn to the grandparents and aunts and uncles.

In times of crises, the role of grandparents comes into its own.

They are the ones who help with childcare. They pick the children up from school and entertain them afterwards.

Yolanda explains that it is often the parents who do not have family nearby to help them, who use the summer schools.

Other savings

Milagros Ponte, spokesperson for the Parents of Schoolchildren Association in Catalonia says that this did not just start in the summer, it started before that.

"It's not just the summer camps, all after-school activities have been affected by the crisis," she says.

She says there has also been a slump in the use of after school dining rooms.

This is an extra service which not only means the children get fed, but it also allows the parents to pick up their children from school at a later time.

My niece is 12, what she really wants is to go to summer camp with her school friends
Ester Sanz

During the school year this can cost the parents up to 90 euros per month.

"There have also been problems in some of these centres when it comes to collecting the money," she says.


According to Yolanda Manzanera, families who are curbing their spending on after school activities are not doing their children any harm.

"I think children want to be with their families, especially the little ones between three and five years old. They prefer to be with their parents and grandparents."

Ester Sanz does not agree totally, saying it all depends on the child and how old he is.

"My niece is 12 and doesn't want to spend time with her grandparents, what she wants is to go to summer camp with her school friends."

"Grandparents are great for feeding them and looking after them well, but they can't play with them in the same way a child of a similar age can. That's what children need."

Grandfather with a granddaughter walking on a pavement
Grandparents play an important role in looking after children during holidays

Elena Alcala has her eight year old daughter in one of the summer camps and doesn't think the child would have suffered whether she had gone to camp or not, if they had had to cancel for lack of finances.

"Maybe I would have had to make more of a sacrifice, do things in a rush or organise myself differently," she explains.

"The camps are a great source of summer leisure activities for children."

Apart from various creative activities within the camp grounds, the children also have the opportunity to do physical exercise and go on organised outings to the zoo, recreation parks and outdoor excursions.

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