THE AGE Newspaper article of Monday November 28th 2005.
Question: I have two children/ one finishing preschool and the other in grade 2. Can you help with suggestions for summer holiday activities?
Everyone looks forward to the January school holidays but it can be a challenge to know what to do to keep families happy.
With so many options, families could be tempted to enrol children in something almost every day. Finding a balance between going on outings, staying home and attending programs is often not as easy as it might appear.
A useful starting point is to think about practical arrangements. Who is working; what days do parents have with their children; which days will the children be with someone else? Often, if children are booked into particular classes or programs, they can become quite tired by the end of each day. It is a good idea not to plan other functions or activities at the end of these days. Children in younger age groups still require a careful and slow pace to most of their days.
It is important to find a balance between going out and staying at home. Providing experiences at home where children can share time with family and friends, but also organise their own play and activities, is important. For example, stock up on materials and resources: cardboard boxes to make cubby houses or transport, old blankets for tents and caves, old pots and pans. Provide small buckets with water and a brush so they can - safely - paint the fence or house. Have modelling dough, clay, paints and things to paste and create and draw with.
Often a magic box of treats and treasures, such as paper and crayons, will inspire children to create their own play. Print and framing shops may have off cuts of backing for prints that are great for pasting. Visit a timber yard and get some off cuts for woodwork or pasting with PVA glue. Dress-ups are another idea. Add new treasures occasionally to sustain a child's interest.
There are many outside activities and places to visit that are low-cost or free. Children in the early years do not need state-of-the-art, expensive programs all the time, if at all. Picnics in parks with play equipment or adventure equipment designed for children with a range of abilities are a good idea. Going to the beach for walks, and bike rides on the many bike paths around town, are free.
You can add to the fun with children drawing designs or maps of where they want to go in the park or the bike ride, extending the interest or play by taking photos and making it into a holiday journal. Such activities can occupy children on rainy days or when you think everyone needs a slightly slower pace.
Don't be too worried if and when your child says they are "bored". It often means they simply need some encouragement to find something to do for themselves, to not expect to be taken out and occupied all of the time.
Be careful to limit electronic games, TV and videos. Ensure you have a rule that suits your children's age and stage and try to avoid screen entertainments. Perhaps make holiday rules or set limits that the children can negotiate with your guidance so everyone knows how much TV and so on is allowed.
Don't feel pressured to have friends over every day. Children may request it but at this young age they often become overwhelmed and overexcited. Limit it to a few times or once a week so children have some relaxed time at home.
Remember that holidays are designed for children to relax, to enjoy and to have some down time before the next rigorous year of school. Try to avoid filling every day with so much that children end up as tired and busy as during term. It is a useful lesson in life that keeping yourself occupied - to be at home playing and to enjoying a slow pace - helps to avoid stress and burnout.
Holidays should not be at the rushed pace of everyday life. Taking it slowly, providing lots of interesting props and materials at home and making the most of the wonderful and free experiences around is rewarding and enjoyable for children during the holidays.
If, as a parent, you are lucky enough to have holidays too, you also need to relax and enjoy. Doing this together as a family and with friends is a great opportunity - so make the most of it if you can.
Copyright © Kathy Walker 2005
Kathy Walker is an education consultant specialising in early childhood and primary years and a former lecturer at RMIT University.