I’ve seen a lot of articles around about ‘staying sane during school holidays at home’ and I get it, I really, truly do. The holidays at home are hard work because they force us away from the everyday family routine that makes life easier for us. Holidays then have the added stress of demanding to be fun and interesting and sunny (aren’t holidays always sunny?). Add the threat of COVID lockdown to the mix and things are looking very stressful indeed.
I know lots of mums feel panic rising as January approaches and the ‘holiday feels’ of the Christmas period fade. You realise you’re basically stuck at home for the school holidays and it just feels like… well, more home than holiday.
The structure that I have in place to keep my family of five ticking along is like life’s scaffolding and when I kick it away, the whole building feels like it might come down. The good news is, I’ve found out that the life we’ve built is nice and solid without the supporting structure and I’m pretty sure yours is too. So rather than angst about the holidays, I choose to take them for what they are: goodbye routine, hello good times!
When you think about it, school holidays at home are actually kind of awesome.
That said, I’ve pulled together 10 ideas to help turn them into the carefree time that families need at this time of year. A fun break from the everyday where everyone gets some downtime to rest and revive ready for another school year ahead. Happy holidays indeed.
How to make the most of holidays at home
1. Have some general rules
You don’t need to go crazy with loads of rules, but a few rules will keep you from going crazy. Here are our ground rules for holidays at home:
- Take care of each other and your things
- No one gets left out if they want to join in
- Clean up one game before starting on another
- Make your bed each morning
- Tidy your bedroom each evening
- Stop when you’re asked to stop
- Listen when you’re asked to listen
That’s it. It seems to work for us most days.
2. Roughly plan it out
It’s hard enough to keep track of the family during school days, let alone when everyone is making their own plans in the holidays. If the kids make arrangements with their friends, I’m usually involved as the uber driver, so I need to know.
Print out a planner and get everyone to write down what they’re up to. To get my kids to start using the planner in the first place, I had to add some consequences when something came up that wasn’t added. Each kid missed an activity or two before they started making it a priority.
3. Keep some structure in your days
Older kids thrive on routine, but they don’t need to have the same routine day in day out. We have a separate routine for holidays that is loose and flexible, but keeps things moving just the same. Some days we will have an outing, friends visiting or other activity planned, but on the days we are at home for the day (most days), it’s important to add some structure.
My daughter came up with the idea of the holiday challenge earlier this year, and we’ve been using this to add structure to the school holidays. It means the kids have about 3 hours out of their day dedicated to something that’s NOT SCREENS, which is important to me – and hopefully to them, too.
You can find out more about the holiday challenge here.
4. Have a list of activities
Here’s a list of things tweenies will love.
Some of the activities may need your input, depending on how your kid goes. Most are things you can set up and leave the kids to it.
Plenty of ideas here: 100+ engaging, non-cringe things for teens to do at home
7. Don’t overschedule
You want them to get a little bit bored (see below) so they remember that they have an imagination. Plus, when you schedule something in every day of the holidays, it’s bloody stressful. Every day becomes somewhere you have to be, so the holidays turn out to be quite similar to the school term with rushed mornings and a general scent of overwhelm. Reeeeelaaaaaax.
Let the kids have a few friends over every other day, plan one ‘big’ activity each week and the rest of the time let them decide what they want to do. They don’t have to be ‘on’ all the time to have fun.
6. It’s okay to be bored
When kids say “I’m bored” it means you are doing a good job. It’s not our job as a mum to entertain our grown kids 24/7 – that’s their job. I always answer, “only boring people are bored” and it annoys them so much every time (very satisfying).
We used to have a “boredom buster” jar when they were a bit younger and that is certainly a good way to keep them looking for something to do rather than flopping around whinging about their sorry lot in life (that’s so annoying when they do that, isn’t it?).
Getting them to make a list of things they can turn to would be the ‘older kid’ equivalent. Either way, boredom makes kids creative and resourceful and that’s a very good thing indeed.
7. Spend plenty of time apart
School holidays are a great time to up sticks and go out with your man. It’s okay for the kids to have a late night during the school hols (let’s face it, they’re not going to sleep while the cats are away). You’ll definitely benefit from the time away from each other.
Go see a movie on cheap night Tuesday followed by a late dinner. Go see a band at a pub. Go out with a bunch of other escapee parents. Just go.
8. Do it with a friend
If your kids are younger, you’ll most likely need the support of someone to look after them while you either work or catch a break. This was certainly the case for me until I felt my kids were old enough to be left to their own devices for the day. Of course, leaving them to their ‘own devices’ generally meant just that! Screens!
How do you know? What’s the right age to leave kids home alone?
With three kids it was always so difficult getting them a play date at another friend’s house all on the same day, so mostly I didn’t bother. What I did instead was team up with another mum for the day and do something together.
So, my friend Dee would bring her boys over and we’ll go for a bushwalk together. Or Mich and her girls would come over for a crafting session and I’d send Max off to a mate’s. It was great to have my own friend’s company and the kids got their buddy for the day too.
We still like to go out for dinner with a family or two a couple of times during the holidays. It doesn’t need to be expensive – one holidays we all went to Subway because budgets were tight – but it’s nice to spend some time.
9. Clean little and often, but not too much
I’ve made my peace with the fact that the house always looks rough around the edges during the holidays. It’s just too hard for kids to keep everything clean in the way I’d like, so we compromise.
They make their beds each morning and do a general tidy of their rooms each night (this is a new thing at our place and I like it). I also expect them to pick up one game before they start on another.
But all the little bits of kid that gets dropped about the place without them even realising it – well, that stays where it is and we do one big clear up at the end of each day. Otherwise I find that I’m just constantly haranguing them to stop making a mess and that’s not a very nice way to spend the holidays for anyone. Live and let live.
10. Put your money into big days out
Rather than drip, drip, drip my cash into little things like the movies or a treat at the shops, I prefer to spend it on a workshop or two that the kids really want to do.
We might still have money left over to see the latest film together, but that comes after we plan an ‘away’ day each week where they get to choose what they do.
I guess this is a hangover from my working-away days, when I had to book the kids into care each day and finding activities they all wanted to do was a bit of a nightmare. Instead, I booked them into a fairly standard care each day except one day of their own choosing. I was happy to schlep across town that one day to pick them all up separately because the other days they were all together and it was an easy day for me. It worked then and it works now.
Are you home for the holidays?