1 July 2016
Hot Fun in the City
Most city kids have limited opportunities to dig in the dirt, get up close and personal with wildlife, or challenge their physical limits in the great outdoors.
Fortunately in Hong Kong, nature is right on the doorstep, with green countryside areas making up about 70 per cent of the landmass. From the mountains to the sea that, together, define its stunning natural landscape, there are myriad choices in outdoor activities on offer for children during the summer school holidays.
Jenny Quinton, a British-born school teacher, passionate environmentalist and long-time Lantau Island resident, left the teaching profession to share Hong Kong’s natural wonders with the wider community. In 2006, she founded Ark Eden, a business that runs environmental programmes for schools, community groups and corporate clients, as well as summer camps.
According to Ms Quinton, city kids today have such a disconnect with nature that when they first come to Ark Eden’s day camps, which are run three times a week throughout the long summer break, some of them have trouble walking in the bush.
| Making Magic Happen|
|Apart from outdoor camps, there’s a huge range of summer programmes on offer to keep Hong Kong kids entertained during the long holiday break. One of the more unusual is the creative arts summer camp schedule offered by entertainment company Rumple and Friends.|
English entertainer Matthew Coombes set up the business as an events company (Main Stage Events) in 2012, spinning it off to include children’s entertainment after seeing a market opportunity. He later added a mobile disco business aimed at teenagers (RF Discos).
At the summer camps held in the company’s Sheung Wan studio, participants learn everything from magic and circus tricks, to drama, puppetry, musical theatre and craft-making. A different theme is scheduled each week.
“The summer camps we are running this year will be our biggest and best yet – [it’s] only our second year and we already have a lot of our courses filled up,” said Mr Coombes.
Connecting with Nature
“We get them planting trees; we go ‘on safari’,” she said. “We take them to waterfalls. We let them explore – spotting the wildlife, learning how to play without electronic devices, and generally connecting with nature.”
In school, children learn about global issues such as deforestation and endangered animals, but the references are usually faraway countries. The outdoor education at Ark Eden brings this awareness to a local level, by focusing on issues facing Hong Kong.
After participating in the camps, Ms Quinton said, children become more confident outdoors, even more agile.
“They learn many life skills,” she said. “They’re braver; more coordinated, and feel more connected to their world. They’re also smarter, in my opinion, as they are able to see things better.”
A Treasure Discovered
With summer now in full swing, the surf camps run by Treasure Island Group, a leading provider of outdoor education in Hong Kong since 1996, are in hot demand. Its summer camp programme is tailored to suit various age groups and abilities, from ages five to 15.
Canadian Adrienne Ng founded the company on Lantau Island after discovering the beauty of Pui O beach. The landscape inspired the business, she said.
“I came to Hong Kong to run recreation programmes, working in the city. I didn’t know about Lantau. When I realised what a beautiful environment it was, I started Treasure Island and never left,” she said.
The surf and adventure camps continue for nine weeks throughout the summer. Kids are collected at the Central ferry pier each weekday, take the hour-long ferry ride to Lantau Island, where they can surf and learn about the marine environment, before returning to the city later in the day. Overnight camps are offered to older students. “It’s quite a unique programme for Hong Kong,” said Ms Ng.
She says that while swimming lessons are widely offered at pools across Hong Kong, it’s not the same as being capable and confident in the open water.
“Camp exposes kids to the ocean, teaching them to be self-reliant. Parents want kids to build confidence outside their comfort zone, and they trust our international team to help them,” she said.
Sports for All
Expatriates David Azar, from Australia, and William Murray, from Ireland, set up their business, Sport4Kids, with a similar view to get urban youngsters exercising outdoors. Established in 2011, the company has expanded to Singapore.
Its programmes run year-round, but ramp up in summer with a series of camps held at various locations, with programmes on gymnastics, tennis, rugby, track and field, basketball and volleyball.
Adam Hunsley, Operations Manager, said the camps are designed to break away from the structured sports classes Hong Kong kids usually engage in. “They’re not designed specifically on building [athletic] skills, but more to present sport in a fun environment, so that sport becomes part of their life,” said Mr Hunsley, who added that kids learn teamwork and become physically stronger, while having fun.