Thursday, September 2, 2010

Planning school holidays

There are just two weeks left of the third school term now, and my mind is turning to the question of how to structure (or indeed, unstructure!) the two week break. It does require thought, because I find that by this stage of the year, the kids are getting very tired - there is a lot of busy learning and activity time behind them, they have pushed through the cold and wet (and usually illnesses) of winter, and they need time to recharge their batteries. Finding a balance between organised outings, unstructured mayhem and quiet opportunities to reconnect with each other and with me can be a little tricky.

Unlike the Easter break, in which we went away for a week to Echuca, or the winter break, where we went to Wangaratta for 4 days, we are not planning any whole-family trips this time. This gives us more scope for planning home-based activities, but also means that, with no away-time as a marker of difference, I need to be careful not to treat the time as one long, long weekend. (Weekends are great, but holidays can, and should, have a different vibe!)

I've found, for my family, that there are 10 rules of thumb useful in planning these kinds of term-breaks:

1. Don't try to catch up with everyone!
Because many of my friends and their children live a fair distance from us, term-time catch-ups are often out of the question. There is a temptation, therefore, to try to see everyone that you've spent all term thinking of and talking to on the phone. This becomes problematic when, as I foolishly did in the September break last year, you realise that you have scheduled all but one day with a playdate / activity. The kids find this exhausting and ultimately everyone enjoys the time much less when it is so harried.

I now stick to a one-playdate-per-week rule in term breaks. We also usually spend a weekend day somewhere in the holidays with a family that we're good friends with. Three playdates is plenty and it means the kids enjoy seeing their friends (and I mine) so much more.

2. Make sure the grandparent stay is locked in first, so other things can be programmed around it
My parents, who live a long way away from us, like to have the two elder girls for a visit in the term breaks. Originally this was for a single night, but as they have gotten older and more confident, they now go for two nights. I've found it's essential to lock these dates in with my Mum as early as possible, as the grandparent-trip really knocks out three whole days for doing anything else. This time, the girls will be going to my parents in the second week of the holidays, on dates that have been agreed since July!

3. Always, always, always plan to take one week as leave from my paid work
Even though I work from home, I feel it's really important that I'm able to focus on the girls in the holidays and spend undistracted time with them. This holidays, I'm taking the first week off, and will do my work in the second week when the girls are away at their grandparents.

4. Plan for husband to take at least one, and preferably two, days of leave so that we can do some family things.
The girls love the opportunity to spend more quality time with their dad in the holidays. This break he's only been able to take a single day, but it is a Friday so we will have one family long weekend.

5. Let each child pick one special activity or place to visit.
The girls take this responsibility very seriously, all the more since I do limit it to one selection apiece. A, the 7-year-old is almost decided on the Museum, while E, the 5-year-old wants to go to the Zoo.

6. Make sure that I am fully stocked up with craft supplies, craft ideas, and so on.
We nearly had a crisis in the wet, cold winter holidays when I ran out of paint, glue, sticky tape AND craft paper on the SAME DAY! And it was a day with NO CAR!! Oh, the humanity ;-) I won't get caught that way again - I am fully loaded for this break already, and have stockpiled some craft kits that A and E got for their respective birthdays to do as well.

7. Keep the first weekday of the holidays sacrosanct as a pyjama day
Oh the girls look forward to this all term ... and if truth be told, so do I ;-) We laze around, read entire books, watch a movie, play games, dance to music, and do not get dressed.

8. Make sure I plan for individual time with each girl
One of the things the kids hang out for, especially the schoolgirl, is one-on-one time with me. This holidays I am taking the 7-year-old bookshopping and out for lunch on the first Saturday of the holidays, and the 5-year-old and I are going to have manicures and lunch on the second Saturday.

9. Have a holiday project that carries through
We often do a puzzle - a 500 or 1,000 piecer - across the holidays. This holidays, though, we are thinking more in terms of a reading project. The girls want me to read them the first 10 books in the Trixie Belden series (well, really, books 3-10, as we've read book 1 before and are reading book 2 now). Of course, we might do a puzzle as well ... you never know!

10. Build in time for husband and I to spend together
School holidays should be good time, down time, for us all, and I find it to be a really good opportunity to program in some adult time as well. This time, I have arranged a babysitter for one of the nights that the big girls are at my grandparents to sit with my youngest, who'll be asleep at the time, so G and I can have a dinner out.

I'd be interested in any tips anyone else has on making holidays fun, relaxing and enjoyable. What are the key factors for your family?


  1. Advice from a seasoned expert Kathy! Great tips.

  2. Great ideas. Our school holiday preparations are a little different