Vacances Apprenantes: new educational summer camps in France

Learn about the government's new summer schemes for families who feel their children have missed out on vital schoolwork during the Coronavirus-induced lockdown.

13 July 2020
Discover the government's new summer schemes for kids in France. Pictured: Vitacolo (vitacolo.fr), a young association entering its 11th season this summer.Discover the government's new summer schemes for kids in France. Pictured: Vitacolo (vitacolo.fr), a young association entering its 11th season this summer.
By Connexion Journalist

The summer holidays start on July 4 after a term in which, for most of the time, children have been doing their lessons at home rather than in the classroom. For families who feel their children have missed out on vital schoolwork, the government has set up summer schemes for one million participants at a cost of €200million, called Vacances Apprenantes.

Vacances Apprenantes: France's new educational summer camps

Authorities hope 400,000 pupils will take part in the Ecole Ouverte initiative, in which some primary schools, collèges and lycées will hold courses with daily sessions made up of schoolwork in the morning and cultural, sporting and nature activities in the afternoon. This scheme usually operates in priority areas only but this year it has been extended across the country.

However, schools will have to find enough teachers willing to sign up for extra paid work during their own holidays. In some communes, there will be Accueils de loisirs apprenants – day centres with free access to Cned online schoolwork as well as educational, cultural and sporting activities for children. The government has promised €30million to help communes set them up. Ask at your mairie if there is one in your area.

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Help from the state for families in need

The state will give families in greatest need €400 towards the cost of a week for one child in special summer camps, Colonies de vacances apprenantes. The government hopes 250,000 children will be able to take part. Half the day will be spent on schoolwork and the rest on cultural and sporting activities.

Another option for children are colonies de vacances – or colos, as they are commonly known. They have long been part of French summer culture. They were introduced in the post-war years for children whose parents could not afford a holiday and who were living in towns destroyed by bombs. They grew in popularity and had their heyday in the 1960s up to the 1980s. Today, 1.3million young people still go on colo every year.

Numbers are likely to be lower this year. Some organisers have decided not to open and parents have been put off by the risk of children mixing in groups. However, the majority are running holidays and are confident they can give attendees a good time and keep them safe, following government health guidelines.

What types of summer camps are available?

Summer camps are available across France, including in Alsace (pictured).
Summer camps are available across France, including in Alsace (pictured).

There are many types of summer camps, including sport (canoe, mountain biking, sailing, horse riding), culture (music, circus, theatre), science and technology (astronomy, IT, photography), the environment, foreign languages, and camps for Scouts. Vitacolo (vitacolo.fr) is a comparatively young association which is entering its 11th season this summer, offering holidays for 800 children a year in Nouvelle Aquitaine, Alsace and Hautes-Alpes, with 40 themes to attract the current generation.

Attendees can create mangas, fly drones, put on a musical comedy or even learn how to be a YouTuber. Co-director Charlotte Chastagnaret said colos have changed since she used to go as a child and are now more project-based: “The children who come enjoy spending time with others who share their passion. We try to get a good balance, so they work on their project for part of the day but also have plenty of time to do normal holiday activities, like playing games, sports and camp fires, which are the more traditional summer camp activities."

She said there are lots of advantages: “When you arrive, you don’t know anyone else but after two weeks you have spent time in a kind of time bubble with new friends. You have the liberty to be yourself away from family, and when you get home you have great memories. This year, perhaps more than ever, it will be really good for children to have a change of scene and feel life is getting back to normal. We are fairly confident that the hygiene regulations will be less rigorous than we first feared, particularly as children have already been back to school.”

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Covid-19 cut-backs

They have had to cut back holidays by a third this season, as families were slower to book than normal. Vitacolo holidays cost around €800 for two weeks, which Ms Chastagnaret said was at the bottom of the price range. They have their own grants system to help children from poorer families to attend. Prices for summer camps vary, depending on whether they are run by a public body or privately. There are grants available for families on low income. Caf has an Aides Vacances Famille (AVF) benefit and you can pay with chèques vacances (ANCV). Other payment options and help are listed here: jeunes.gouv.fr/spip.php?article6442.

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Rules and regulations

Pictured: kids on a Vacances pour Tous holiday, one of the biggest associations in France. It has been running holidays for the past 60 years.
Pictured: kids on a Vacances pour Tous holiday, one of the biggest associations in France. It has been running holidays for the past 60 years.

Colonies de vacances have to follow strict regulations concerning safety and hygiene, and each holiday must include an educational project. There must be one adult for every eight children under the age of six, and one for every 12 over-sixes.

Vacances pour Tous is one of the biggest associations and has been running holidays for the past 60 years. It has places for 65,000 children, aged from four to 21, and more than 100 themes on offer all over France and abroad. Director Johann Olivier told Connexion this kind of holiday has real advantages: “It is good for children to go away without their parents and learn to be independent."

"It is a chance to discover new places, new activities and new friends. For the first time, they may be able to ride a horse, for example, or learn to sail. This year, when children have been at home for so long without opportunities to socialise with their peers, it is more important than ever for them to be able to take part in this kind of holiday. They always create unforgettable memories.”

He said staff are organising some colonies apprenantes with government financial backing, but even though the majority are not based round schoolwork, they are all educational: “There is always something new to learn – a new sport or cultural activity, and a new part of the country to discover.” The average cost of one of their holidays is around €550 a week.

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