South Korean volunteer Choi Se-yun, 17, a student at the Shanghai United International School, teaches Korean to children at the summer camp located in Tianping subdistrict. [PHOTO BY GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY]
To ensure that their children are engaged and well cared for during the holidays, more and more Chinese moms and dads are sending them to summer camps across the city, Cao Chen reports in Shanghai.
The annual summer vacation may be a time of fun for children, but for parents, this period is usually one filled with headaches as they fret over child care matters.
While it was common for foreign parents to enroll their children in summer camps or hire nannies to provide child care, most Chinese parents usually relied on their parents for help - until now.
"It was part of Chinese culture that grandparents lend a helping hand to their offspring who are too busy to take care of their children," says Lu Yongbin, a teacher from the School of International and Public Affairs at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
An online survey by China Youth Daily in 2018 showed that 94.9 percent of the parents polled usually get their parents to help care for their kids.
"It's not safe to leave children alone at home because they might just spend all day watching television programs or playing computer games when there isn't adult supervision," says Gui Li, who has a son attending Grade 5 in Shanghai.
"It's difficult to fully focus on my work during his vacation."
But mindsets are changing. Today, an increasing number of Chinese parents are signing their children up for summer camps.
Primary school students in Shanghai learn various skills at the summer camps during the vacation. [PHOTO BY GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY]
One of these camps was initiated by the Shanghai Committee of Chinese Communist Youth League and the Shanghai Education Commission.
Organized by local governments, with volunteers playing a key part taking care of children, the program runs from July to August and is filled with learning activities that keep children occupied throughout the week.
Yu Xinlan, a 7-year-old who is currently in Grade 1, says that she is glad her parents sent her to summer camp.
"I used to spend my summer with my grandparents. All I did was draw pictures, watch cartoons and make paper origami," says Yu.
"My grandparents had their own things to do at home and barely played with me, so it was very boring.
"Now, I have friends of the same age and volunteers who will play with me every weekday. The volunteers can also help when I have questions about my homework."
According to the camp organizers, 556 child care camps are available in the metropolis this summer, a 10 percent increase from last year.
Primary school students from 100,000 families have benefited from the service over the past six years.
"We hope to relieve the pressure of child care for working parents in the summer and provide a safe, fun and supervised summertime where the children can thrive," says Li Zhuo, head of the summer vacation child care program at the Shanghai Committee of Chinese Communist Youth League.
Affordability is also a priority of the program.
The camp charges 800 yuan ($113.3) per month for each child and this fee covers meals, personal insurance and other related services.
Similar camps run by private companies would cost several times that amount.
The only thing parents need to worry about is securing a spot at a camp that is near to their home as each camp has no more than 50 slots.
Applications can be made at the camp itself or through Youth Shanghai's WeChat account.
Children play basketball during the class interval. [PHOTO BY GAO ERQIANG/CHINA DAILY]
Children taking part in this program, which runs from July 8 to Aug 23 this year, get to participate in a variety of activities related to crafts, sports and moral education.
All classes are free of charge and are the result of partnerships between government bodies and social institutions that provide lessons suitable for children.
According to the camp organizers, the municipal government has cooperated with 27 social institutions and companies this year, including the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau, the Shanghai Landscaping and City Appearance Administrative Bureau and the Shanghai Women's Federation.
"The program offers a platform for institutions, companies and citizens to participate in social responsibility, and we expect that the introduction of professional practitioners can offer children more diverse and enriching experiences," says Li, head of the program.
Teenagers at Sunqiao community, Zhangjiang county in Pudong New Area, for example, get to attend computer programming classes offered by the German science and innovation public initiative, Science Cube.
During the class, children learn how to design a game related to garbage sorting.
"We aim to pique the children's interest in science and make their vacations special and memorable," says Lin Andu, head of Science Cube.
In a child care camp located at the Shanghai Expo Youth Center, equestrianism is one of the most popular classes.
Du Liang, director-general of the Co-worker Youth Development Center in Shanghai which provides the class, says that children get to learn about the management of the stables as well as how to care for the animals.
In another child care camp at Jing'an district's Nanjing Xilu subdistrict, children are taught about environmental protection initiatives.
One of the activities at the child care camp there involves picking up roadside garbage and learning how to sort it for recycling.
Power of volunteers
Some of the volunteers at the summer camp program teach lessons as well.
Choi Se-yun, a 17-year-old from South Korea who is currently a student at the Shanghai United International School, is teaching Korean to children at the camp located in Xuhui district's Tianping subdistrict.
"It's an opportunity to learn about local culture and practice professional skills," says Choi, who aims to become a teacher in the future.
Most staff members involved in running the summer camp program are volunteers who range from high school and college students to adults with teaching experience.
"Student volunteers are full of passion and can easily communicate with children," explains Hu Ying, another volunteer who works at the summer camp in Tianping subdistrict of Xuhui.
The program also offers high schoolers a chance to participate in community service, helping them reach their quota quicker - Shanghai's high school students are required to do at least 60 hours of voluntary service over the course of three years.
This year, one in 16 students have participated in this initiative.
Since 2009 when the city began preparing for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, volunteers have been playing a significant role at major international events as well as in the daily management of the metropolis.
Statistics show there are a total of 4.13 million registered volunteers and 231 volunteer service organizations in Shanghai.
"Volunteer work can enrich people's lives and allow them to contribute to the country and society," says teacher Lu from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
Another reason why college students make good volunteers is that they are fast learners and motivated, Lu adds.
"They can be role models and help influence children and younger volunteers, which will in turn benefit the sustainable development of the whole program," says Lu.
"I would never be as happy as I am now if I didn't become a volunteer and meet these cute kids," says Zhao Weiqi, a 21-year-old student from Shanghai Normal University who has been a volunteer at the summer camp in Tianping subdistrict for the past three years.
"Many children recognize me at the start of the program every year. They will call my name, run to me and hug me," she adds.
"The experience is definitely a highlight of my university life."
Another volunteer, Wen Rou, who majors in preschool education at a vocational high school, says that volunteering work has equipped her with the necessary communication skills and abilities to deal with challenges.
"Volunteer work has helped me to forge a strong work ethic and adapt better to society," says Wen.
"This will be beneficial when I enter the workforce in the future."