Summer camp doesn’t have to cost a lot

A jar of Annemarie as an ‘ice breaker’ on this hot day; upon arrival at the summer camp in Rotterdam, children immediately run towards each other to play a round, even before they have waved goodbye to their parents.

Hanneke Helmers sees her son Len (7) disappear into the group of children. “He’s shy, so I think it’s exciting,” she says. It is not felt with Len, who already stands very seriously like a statue among the rest of the children. “I have a three-year-old at home. It was a reason to give Len up for the camp, now I can focus on the youngest for the next few days.”

Some kids say they don’t go on vacation abroad and YMCA summer camp is their only vacation. People used to talk about ‘pale noses’, children from underprivileged families who never left the city. At summer camp in nature, they were able to recover and develop.

Self-development is still central to the camps, although they have become wildly popular with all walks of life, including busy parents who need to fill in the school holidays, like Helmers. For parents, it is often a solution for the long summer holidays; without the children or at least one of the children. Game camp, pony camp, survival camp, language camp, it’s all there. Prices can be high, often hundreds of euros for a week away.


The YMCA day camp is more accessible. For 25 euros, the children can be entertained for three days, thanks in part to the enthusiastic volunteers. Parents can also ask for a financial contribution to the camp, which takes place at YMCA Blijdorp for around 10 percent of the participating children.

“We often already have the families who can use the contribution on the radar through other organisations. They are, for example, forwarded to us by the food bank,’ says Rosanne Verhoeven (30), organizer of the three-day summer camp. We also have a registration form on our website. Once this is completed, we always call one of the parents to check everything.”

This YMCA camp takes place around a scout building with lawn.
In the afternoon there is room for something creative, such as make a rocket out of a plastic bottle.
Pictures Walter Autumn

Non-profit organization YMCA is engaged in youth work in local associations and organizes summer camps in eighteen locations throughout the Netherlands. The Light and Air Foundation in Amsterdam and the Leiden camping organization LCKV are also well-known names for this type of summer camp. The camp in Blijdorp is located at the foot of the zoo, next to a classic scout building: a brown wooden cabin, drawings on the walls everywhere and a big green lawn next to the house.

On the first day, organizer Verhoeven is supported by eight volunteers – there are 37 children at the camp, the youngest 6, the oldest 12. “We also have two English-speaking volunteers,” says Verhoeven, when all the children have arrived.

Volunteers Sean Ives (31) and Manel Drareni (27) are a couple. He works as an English teacher nearby, she is an illustrator of children’s books. They took time off to help today. “Working with children is relaxation for us. It’s actually our holiday too”, says Ives with a broad smile. He comes from Missouri in the US, where he also participated in YMCA activities in his youth.

Also read: Nice old-fashioned at the camp

The YMCA summer camps have an international character, especially in the Rotterdam Blijdorp district. Although most children speak Dutch, there is also a lot of English: “The children often speak one of the two languages, and we can cope with that. A possible language barrier is more likely to be with the parents,’ says Verhoeven.

According to her, it is important to visit the schools in the neighborhood in order to be able to address the parents there directly. “Otherwise the threshold is quite high. The exchange of data in schools is much smoother than online.”

Philosophical questions

Today’s program is full. Running games in the morning, then pancakes for lunch. In the afternoon there is a creative activity: making a rocket from a plastic bottle or stringing a piece of jewelry together. The children are entertained with few materials.

Meanwhile, they have become more accustomed to each other and the standard questions are – “How old are you?” – over. It is now time for more philosophical questions. “What would you do if this was your last hour on earth?” asks a child between tinkering. “I think just relaxing a bit,” says the other.

Volunteer Amber Ruijzing (22), a painter in everyday life, was allowed to go to the international conference in Denmark for YMCA to represent the Netherlands. “In the UK there are camps full of children of unemployed parents,” she explains on the steps to the entrance to the scout club. “In the Netherlands, everyone lives together. It is not so noticeable whose parent is a lawyer and whose parent may not work. It does not mean anything. This camp is for everyone.”

This is also evident from the composition of the group. Research from the municipality shows that 13 percent of residents in the Rotterdam-Nord district, where Blijdorp is located, have a low household income. Although many parents with higher incomes also reach summer camp quickly.

The heat is now starting to take its toll, but the nearby pool is great for cooling off. After some mud fights, many parents are already waiting at the scout building. One child proudly displays the work of art that has been made, the other, satisfied with the dirty clothes, rushes over to mom or dad. A fun day doesn’t have to cost anyone a lot.

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