Childcare strategies for the school holidays |

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With most working parents limited to the standard four week holiday per year, vacation care is a necessity but one which can sometimes be hard to come by.

The key to organising a happy holiday for your kids and a stress free time for you is to start your planning early.

Vacation Care at Out Of School Hour Care Centres

For school aged kids use our Vacation Care Search to find local services that offer OSHC care and vacation programs.

If your child attends a school that has OSHC facilities on site count yourself lucky as many of these services also offer vacation care. Vacation care is a varied program of age appropriate supervised activities and excursions which aim to keep children happy and occupied within a safe and nurturing environment.

Vacation care programs run within schools are open to children from everywhere not just children who attend a particular school in term time, so if you can't get into the program in your school it's worth making enquiries with programs in surrounding suburbs.

Vacation care programs are run by profit making agencies as well as not-for-profit organisations such as local council, church organisations, the YMCA and PCYCs. They typically operate from 7am-6pm and are eligible for the child care bonus and the child care rebate.

Vacation care providers often publish a timetable of programmed activities ahead of time so you can book your child into the days you think would be of most interest. A typical day may involve a trip to a zoo, cinema or local park or a day of activities planned around a certain theme back at the centre.

Prices for vacation care may vary on a daily basis depending on the organisation running the program and the type of excursion your child participates in. Expensive trips to the zoo will obviously incur a higher daily rate than a trip to the local park to play soccer.

You will probably be required to provide food and beverages for your child and many programs also request you buy a special coloured t-shirt for your child to wear during excursions to make them easily identifiable.

Since January 2012 OSHC services including vacation care have been included in the National Education and Care Services Regulation and are required to implement a program based on 'My Time Our Place' - the Framework for School Age Care.

Where required by state and territory legislation vacation care providers must hold relevant working with children check clearances in order to be able to operate.

Vacation care programs are usually well organised and good value and offer a fabulous option for working parents. However, it's important to note that they are generally only available to children who are at school (five year olds not enrolled at school may not be eligible to attend so make sure you check!).

Options for Preschoolers

If your child is too young to attend vacation care you may like to consider approaching your local family day care services coordinator. FDC is usually open all year and some places have extra capacity during the holidays if currently enrolled families go away. Many FDC centres close for the two weeks over Christmas and the New Year so be sure to confirm the dates you need with the provider.

Many childcare centres are also able to take extra children over the holidays if currently enrolled families take their children away. Be mindful that spots in these centres are very popular particularly with siblings of existing children.

Occasional, Flexible or Casual Care is another option which you could use to fill gaps in your schedule when your usual care arrangements fall through or if you are left a few days short. Many Occasional, Flexible or Casual Care programs operate all year around and offer licensed programs of education and care for children aged zero-six years old.

All Occasional, Flexible or Casual Care programs vary slightly according to the needs of the surrounding community and you'll need to contact the services in your area to find out whether they can help.

Sharing The Load These Holidays

Many working parents don't have family to fall back on, and if vacation care is hard to come by in your area, budgets are tight, or your job doesn't allow the flexibility you need then a great alternative can be to share child care responsibilities with other parents.

Quite often children are happy and easier to keep entertained when they have company and many parents are happy to child care swap to alleviate the need for unpaid leave or paid vacation care activities.

It's win-win, as long as you follow some key rules. Here are the seven steps to harmonious vacation care sharing:

  • Ensure your children like each other and can get on for long periods of time.
  • Try to match up ages and keep numbers even to avoid bickering and odd ones out.
  • Set time boundaries in advance with the other parents so you all know how far you can or cannot push the friendship.
  • Agree on daily or weekly allowance costs of activities or treats.
  • Try to share with parents who have the same parenting style as you and agree on any disciplinary measures.
  • Make sure you have adequate booster seats. Sounds obvious, but so easy to forget and you will be liable for prosecution if you're caught making that quick trip to the supermarket with any child without the correct car restraints.
  • Have a daily or weekly list of activities or a vague schedule and some emergency 'pull it out of the bag' ideas in times of need.

DIY Holiday Activities

If you find yourself at home with the kids or a house full of kids don't worry about spending a fortune on entertaining them. There are loads of things you can do over the holidays to keep them busy.

Try to remember all the things you used to do as a kid to occupy your time. The web is a great source of ideas and there are plenty of inspirational books available to keep your creative juices flowing and to keep the kids free from boredom!

Simple activities can be things like:

  • Cinema days: at home or at the local cinema
  • It's a knockout: run sports day type competitions
  • Arts and crafts: making boats, painting, finger knitting, volcanoes, and puppet theatres
  • Country themed day: kids have to pick a country to dress as and learn about, bringing some facts about their choice
  • Disco day: play music, design your own disco ball and dance
  • Dress up days: make your own costume and stage a performance
  • Nature trails: great for an all day learning and fun experience in a local nature reserve
  • Outdoor pool days: visit the local outdoor pool with goggles and diving toys
  • Park and picnic outings: visit a new park and take in the sites
  • Rock pool excursions to the local beach
  • Science experiments: try making sherbet or slime
  • Treasure hunts: either things you've hidden or simply a list of things to find like a dead bug, a pink flower etc.

Whatever arrangements you decide on for the school holidays try and make them early. Many popular vacation care programs book up early and there is nothing more frustrating than missing out!

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