School summer holidays: Keep kids active and stay in pocket

School holidays can be an expensive time for parents, but Chiara Cavaglieri has some ideas to keep costs down

School will be breaking up for summer and with the holidays stretching out for a mammoth six weeks, household budgets are likely to be under the cosh. Indeed, parents will spend a whopping £460 entertaining their children this summer, according to a new report, pumping a further £119 of petrol as the “mum and dad taxi service”.

The Post Office’s annual Parents’ Summer Spending Report also revealed that some doting mothers and fathers  (17 per cent) plan on working overtime, or taking on a part-time job in order to pay for keeping the kids busy.

Others plan to cut back on their weekly shop and some are even considering taking a “mortgage holiday” or ignoring the household bills to cover costs.

“Parents’ finances are becoming more and more stretched so it’s not surprising so many are worried about the amount spent on entertaining this summer.

“Six weeks can seem like a long time to keep your kids entertained and pay for it, but there are ways to keep costs down,” says Henk Van Hulle from the Post Office.

Professional childcare is usually the biggest hit, so check whether there are free or subsidised places at local schools, libraries, community centres and youth groups. Your local Family Information Service will hold up-to-date details of local childcare in your area, but you should also call your local council to find out if they offer anything of interest.

You may even bag a freebie. For example, Kent County Council is giving away free Young Explorers packs (containing a Frisbee, yo-yo, the Kids Trails magazine and activity sheet, colouring-in sheets, etc).

Corporate companies also try to win favour offering family discounts and freebies. The FA Tesco Skills (http://tescoskills.thefa.com) offers free football coaching during the school holidays at Skills Centres throughout England, open to boys and girls aged 5-11 years of all abilities. There are even free tennis coaching sessions up for grabs (see www.tennisforfree.com), perfect for a budding Andy Murray.

Camps are another great way for the kids to gain some independence and give parents some time off. In England, National Citizen Service (www.thencsnetwork.org.uk) offers three-week, residential courses for 16-17 year olds, with two of those weeks away from home, capped at only £50 per person.

If you missed out this year, there are still ways to save on other camps – Co-operative members can save  15 per cent at Super Camps (offering holiday day camps for four to  16 year olds throughout the UK) and the Youth Hostels Association is awarding 200 bursaries to children in receipt of free school meals for  40 per cent off their summer camps. Most camps offers discounts for group bookings and siblings too.

Never pay full price for attractions. Track down special offers online as you can usually find two-for-one deals on theme parks, zoos, restaurants and other family days out. Encourage your kids to get their hands on a Blue Peter badge for free access to 200 UK attractions. The badges are awarded to children aged six to 15 years old, awarded for competition winners, interesting letters, stories, poems and pictures.

If you’re a Tesco Clubcard holder, you can also convert your vouchers and get four times the face value on selected theme parks, so that £5 of vouchers is worth £20.

“Don’t forget to use up points on your Tesco Clubcard which can be spent in Legoland and other family parks. If you have Avios points they can also be exchanged on trains and in theme parks if you’re not saving up for flights,” says Jasmine Birtles of Moneymagpie.com.

Check your local cinemas for deals. Cineworld, Odeon and Vue show special screenings on weekend mornings with discounted tickets for kids club members. Vue also offers family tickets (a group of four people, with a minimum of two children all pay the child price), 20 per cent off for teens and discounts for using your Nectar points (500 points knocks £2.50 off).  

Many museums have free entry throughout the year so make the most of this during the summer break and bring a packed lunch to save even more money.

Most people live within 40 minutes of a National Trust place and if you buy an adult ticket, up to two children go free at selected properties. There is also a family section full of ideas and details of any special events taking place this summer. It may be worth paying for National Trust family membership which costs from £45 for a family with one adult (children under five go free) and gives you all entry to more than 300 historic houses and gardens.

“For younger children, it’s worth stuffing your bag full of snacks, baby wipes and a packed lunch, and jumping on a bus to try out a different playground across town rather than your usual trip to the swings. For older children, an annual membership to a local farm or adventure playground means you can save money long-term by making multiple trips to a favourite venue,” says Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet.

Extra-special treats don’t need to cost the earth either, so take the time to hunt down the best prices for theatre tickets. Throughout August, a full-paying adult can claim one free child’s ticket plus 50 per cent off for up to two more children, at one of  34 London theatre shows including Wicked, Billy Elliot and War Horse (book via www.kidsweek.co.uk).  You can keep travel costs down with a Family & Friends Railcard costing £30 per year and saving you a third on adults’ off-peak travel fares and 60 per cent on kids’ fares.

Finally, do check that you are getting all the financial help that you’re entitled to, whether it’s the 15 hours a week of free, early-learning classes for all three or four year olds, childcare tax credits, or childcare vouchers which may be offered by  your employer.

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