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How to enjoy the summer holidays without going bankrupt

From government schemes to eating free across the country, keeping children entertained during the long summer months doesn’t have to cost a fortune

Rebecca Goodman
Wednesday 11 August 2021 07:00
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Let’s be honest. For parents with school-age children, the reality of this six-week summer break can be anything but breezy, especially when costs and work demands start ramping up.

Nearly two-thirds of working parents with primary school-age children say they did do have sufficient childcare for the six-week school holidays, according to research from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and campaigner Anna Whitehouse.

The pandemic means many summer clubs are shut, with many family members not able to provide childcare. At least 60 per cent of working mothers say this year would be harder because of these limitations.

While the cost of school holidays will depend on how many children you have, and what kind of activities you are planning, parents face an average of £1,400 in costs, according to research from Comparethemarket.

If you are entitled to help with childcare costs it is important to make sure you are claiming it. The tax-free childcare scheme can be used to pay for accredited holiday clubs, child minders, or sports activities for children up to the age of 11.

The childcare voucher scheme, which closed to new applicants in October 2018, can also be used by those who signed up before the cut-off date.

The vouchers can be used for some clubs, including Fit for Sport and PGL, for example, which run in the school holidays as long as they are registered with Ofsted.

The Childcare and Family Trust website will have a full list of what is available in your area.

If you’re able to, arranging a childcare share with a fellow parent is a good way to manage some of the holidays. Local councils also often run free or discounted summer clubs for school children.

Across the UK there are hundreds of opportunities for days out, and you can usually find a discount on tickets.

If you travel with National Rail, there’s a 2 for 1 discount on days out including the Cutty Sark in London, Alton Towers, the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, and Warwick Castle.

Many museums and art galleries are free to visit including Tate Modern in London, the National Museum of Cardiff, and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

You can also use Tesco Clubcard points at locations including Blackpool Zoo, the Eden Project, and Hever Castle.

You can redeem every Tesco point you have for 1p to spend in a shop, or you can boost the value of points by three if you redeem them with one of the supermarket’s reward partners. Restaurants such as Pizza Express, Bella Italian, and Cafe Rouge are also included.

Many restaurants and pubs offer free kids meals or meals for £1 at certain times of the day.

There are usually rules on the age of the child, the amount of food on offer, and the amount spent by an accompanying adult but they can be a good way to knock down the cost of a family meal.

They include the cafes in M&S, Morrisons, and Tesco; a free breakfast at Brewers Fayre and Beefeater venues; and kids eat free at any of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants.

Cheap family tickets for the cinema are also back. At Vue cinemas, tickets for selected films are £2.49 for adults and children, while at the Odeon’s family showings, parent tickets are the same price as children. Meanwhile, children and parents pay £2.50 at Cineworld’s junior events.

Activities don’t need to cost money either or take ages to plan and prepare.

Claire Russell, author of The PlayHOORAY! Handbook, suggests using visual timetables to keep children in a routine. She uses rough drawings or plans of what the day will look like, including snack and screen time breaks, to help children to know what is happening.

Six weeks can seem like a lifetime, but Claire suggests setting weekly themes: “Add a theme to your week, something simple like ‘under the sea’ or ‘growing’ can be really useful. Look at what you already have at home to link to this theme; books, toys, and films and see where it takes you.”

Reading a book, water play, getting out into the fresh air for a walk, and roleplay activities such as setting up a grocery shop are all easy ways to entertain kids at home.

“The best ‘go to’ activity for me is water play. The opportunities within a simple washing up bowl of water are endless if you add toys, plastic plates and bowls, hang a washing line nearby or even add colour to the water.”

If all else fails she says it’s important to be realistic with your time, and to avoid comparing yourself to others on social media.

Claire said: “It’s ok if the kids get bored, they need to learn to entertain themselves. When children are bored it encourages them to be more creative with what they do have so encourage them to make up new games or act out that TV programme you just watched together.”

Taking advantage of outdoor space is one of the best ways to entertain children for free. Setting treasure hunts or heading out foraging can be great, just as long as you check what you’re picking is safe to eat.

But if you’re lacking inspiration, after too many lockdown walks, Walking Britain has a list of free local walking routes and the Woodland Trust has free activities to download from its website.

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