5 vacation care strategies for working parents

Published on Wednesday, 26 June 2019
Last updated on Tuesday, 31 December 2019

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It's hard to believe, but the July school holidays aren't too far away. While children are counting down the days, parents are wondering how to fill up all that leisure time.

Working parents get far less leave than school children, but with some forward-planning and a flexible approach, holidays don't need to be a hassle.

Here are five ways to keep your child entertained over the break.

1. Enrol them in a holiday programme

OSCAR, or Out of School Care and Recreation, provides before and after school care as well as fun school holiday programmes, usually for primary and intermediate school ages.

According to the Out of School Care Network, holiday programmes often operate out of schools and community centres and they offer a whole range of structured activities and opportunities for free-play. Educators are responsive to the interests and needs of your child, and activities like craft, music, sport and special excursions are on offer.

Holiday programmes usually run from 7am to 6pm on weekdays and fees vary between services. Some programmes have variable fees depending on how long your child is there, such as an extra fee if they're dropped off before 9am or picked up after 3pm.

The good news is that the OSCAR Subsidy helps eligible families to pay for up to 50 hours of school holiday programme, and you can read more about the subsidy here.

To find a holiday programme near you, search the Family Services Directory, and keep in mind that holiday programmes are in hot demand, so it's best to book your child's spot now and expect to join a waiting list at some services.

2. Share the load with other parents

If you're able to take some days off work, but not the entire holidays, then it might be possible to share the vacation care with other parents in the same situation.

To make this work it's advisable to:

  • Ensure your children and their children will get on well for long stretches of time
  • Try to match up children's ages and keep numbers even to reduce in-fighting
  • Set time boundaries in advance, so that every parent knows what to expect and offer
  • Agree on a daily or weekly allowance to cover the cost of activities, meals and special treats
  • Try to share with parents who have the same parenting style and disciplinary approach as you
  • Think about practical measures, like ease of pick-up/drop-off and whether you have enough booster seats for all the children
  • Put together a daily or weekly list of activities, plan a rough schedule or have some 'emergency activities' on hand

There is also the option of sharing some holiday care with your partner. It might work to take a few days of paid or unpaid leave each, then fill in the remaining days with formal child care.

3. Call on other child carers

If you're lucky enough to have grandparent care available, then juniors and seniors can have a lot of fun together over the holidays, visiting the museum, picnicking in the park, and so on.

If you don't have family to fall back on for child care, then there is the option of organising a school holiday nanny to care for your child at home and take them on excursions or booking a babysitter.

4. Book a school holiday workshop

If you can share the drop-off and pick-up with your partner or another parent, then special school holiday workshops, like circus school or tennis coaching camps, are fantastic. Although they can be a bit pricey, these workshops make for great memories, build new skills and break up day-after-day of vacation care.

5. Research low-cost activities and events

Whether you have some time off, or are sharing ideas with a child carer, there are lots of free or low-cost things to do during the school holidays. Governments and councils offer special school holiday programs and DIY activities are always fun.

To get you started, here are some simple ideas:

  • A home cinema, with popcorn and blankies
  • A DIY sports day in the park or backyard
  • Arts and craft sessions
  • Board game or card game tournaments
  • A home disco, with YouTube music clips, dancing and cool costumes
  • Nature trail exploration
  • Science experiments, like slime-making
  • A scavenger hunt for hidden items at home or natural wonders outdoors
  • A picnic next to an adventure playground
  • A visit to a local library, museum, art gallery or other place offering a free or low-cost school holiday program

Overall, happy holidays are all about the planning. You can mix and match different care options and activities; and whether you're booking child care, taking time off work, liaising with other parents or all of the above, it's a good idea to settle on your strategies well before the holidays start.

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