As Alice Cooper famously sang: “School’s out for summer!” And the next line of the glam metal classic? “School’s out FOREVER!” When you’re a busy dad staring down the barrel of six weeks of summer child care during the school holidays, forever can be what it feels like.
But it shouldn’t. The school holidays should be embraced as a perfect opportunity to get to know our children better, create memories that will last a lifetime, and do something different.
Yes, I know that sounds a bit Hallmark-ey, but the point stands. Summer holidays are one of the very few chances in an average year for everyone to break out of routine and be a bit spontaneous, at least some of the time.
There’s no definitive guide to surviving and thriving in the school summer holidays, because so much depends on your family circumstances and preferences. But here are a few tips to help you along.
Making the summer holidays special
Making the summer special does not mean blowing six months’ budget in six weeks, and nor does it mean succumbing to panic and stress as you organise one spectacular entertainment after another.
Very basically, a special summer is about spending time with your kids. Not every minute of every day you have away from work – that way madness lies. But more than usual. And the time you do spend with children should be focused and as free from distractions as you can make it. Yes, I’m afraid that might mean turning your phone off, or at least turning off email updates.
What you do with that time is up to you, and there are plenty of free options in every area of the country, from parks and playgrounds to museums and galleries. Many alternative options cost but, if you dig around, often not too much.
Be present with your children, join in their games, and try and do a few different things, even if some of them are nothing more adventurous than (for instance) a chocolate treasure hunt around the house on a rainy afternoon.
But when the sun is out, get outside. At Daddilife we can give you chapter and verse on why outside play is a winner for everyone concerned. Scroll to the bottom of this piece for some great ideas for rewarding outdoor play.
Of course, you may have planned a week or two away to help break up the summer. That’s great, but the same rules apply. Let the children help plan your daily activities on holiday, don’t stress yourself out by throwing money around that you don’t have, and – most importantly – join in the fun.
- The ten best Urban Parks (Independant)
- Free museums and art galleries (Money Saving Expert)
- Summer Camp for kids (The Guardian)
Summer child care – find a work/life balance that works
Many dads feel guilty about the amount of time they spend away from their children already, and the summer holidays can exacerbate feelings of being too absent, too much of the time.
When the kids are off, dads want to be too. But as we all know, that’s not always possible.
So the first step on the journey to a healthy work/life balance this summer is to accept the inevitable. If you’re working, you’re working.
Of course, you may have booked off a couple of weeks of annual leave to spend with the children. If you have lots of holiday left over, or your company allows you to buy extra days off, think about using a couple to make mini-breaks out of long weekends.
Actually, the long weekend can be a working dad’s best friend during the summer holidays, especially if you don’t have much holiday to take or work in the ‘gig economy’ (which means that – for the moment at least – you might not get any paid holiday at all).
Even if you can only take three or four days off this summer, add in the August Bank Holiday and you have two or three decent long weekends to look forward to. For yourself and the kids, that means the next extended daddy time is never far away.
If you and your partner both work, the school holidays inevitably represent the year’s biggest childcare issue. Studies suggest that nearly half of working parents have problems arranging childcare over the summer.
It’s a conundrum, but most parents muddle through by combining paid leave, the support of friends and family, council or charity run holiday play schemes, and private childcare or summer activities.
If you’re in a fix, it’s worth asking your employer about flexible working. They are obliged by law to consider it.
However long you have with your children, remember that what will make their holiday special is simply time with you. My 11-year-old son has been to Italy with us and Paris with his grandmother, but the best holiday memory he has is of a caravan in Wales and the sea wall that we climbed, just him and I, for half an hour every morning.
The Dad View: Tom Briggs of Diaryofthedad
“I find that the summer holidays are both the best and worst time to work from home. It’s great to get more time with the kids but, if I don’t work, then we have no money coming in. To try and balance things out, we have a pinboard with activity planners for the each of the six weeks.
We make sure there are at least two family days out every week as well as something to keep kids entertained and exercised every day. It’s especially important for everything to be affordable too, so we’ve lined up as many free activities as possible – including geocaching, trips to the beach and the summer reading challenge.”
- How to buy additional holiday back
- Almost half of all parents have childcare issues over the holidays
- Before and After School Clubs (Gov.UK)
Don’t break the bank
It’s tempting to throw money at the summer holidays in the forlorn quest for the perfect time. Dads can be particularly guilty of this, convinced that the limited time they have with their children justifies all manner of bank breaking expense, especially in the summer holidays.
Don’t fall into that trap. Busting the budget will just leave you stressed, and the last thing your children want is an anxious dad.
Instead, create a sensible financial plan for the holidays, which allows for treats and special days without creating a black hole in your current account. The key thing, says Sean MacNicol, one of the team behind personal finance app Money Dashboard, is to track all your household bills and expenses over a period of time to identify trends in your spending and areas where savings could be made (to free up cash for holiday treats):
“This can be automated with apps like Money Dashboard which help you view all of your current accounts, credit card and savings accounts in one place, and then categorises all of your spending so you know where your money goes.”
When you have a detailed overview of your finances, you’ll know what you can safely spend over the holidays, factoring in a few extravagances that you know you can pay off without too much trouble. The result: a worry free break and, for the kids, a relaxed dad.
The Dad View: Nigel Higgins of DIY Daddy has three top tips for a great Summer Holiday:
1. I believe it’s all in the planning. Organising what you’re going to do through week and decide what and where you are going to go, and check the weather forecast. Especially if you decide to go to the beach which is a fantastic place to go to behave like your children! There’s nothing better than being a big kid yourself.
2. Nowadays there are so many places to visit such museums and castles. They’re great because not only do you have a fun day out, it’s also educational and that can only be a good thing. Many museums have children’s workshops which are great fun for both children and adults.
3. On those rainy days which sadly the UK has far too many of, if you are inside my five year old twins love nothing more than doing crafts which is hours of fun.
- Why Dads love to splash the cash (Huffington Post)
- Free Summer Holiday Ideas (Diary of the dad)
- Find your nearest kids club – Club Hub
Over to you…what are your top tips for surviving and thriving this summer?