What is holiday care and how to find free activities for children?

Children playing a game with a colourful Parachute Source: E+

School holidays can be challenging for many parents. However, there are holiday care programs and free activities to keep your little ones occupied.

Since it can be challenging to keep children entertained during school holidays, we asked a mother of four for her best ideas of free activities.

What to do with children during the holidays?

For mother and family blogger Seana Smith, the first option is always to take her children outdoors.

“Beaches, rivers, lakes and water holes, and you may have to pay to get there if you are driving or on the bus but once you’re there, you’ve got the most beautiful environments where your kids can run around. You need to keep an eye on them, of course, and especially teach them to swim as quickly as possible and follow all the safe swimming guidelines, but these are marvellous places where you can spend whole days outside that really don’t cost anything,” she says.

Children Listening to a Story

On rainy days, turn to local museums, galleries, community centres, libraries, and even shopping centres for free activities to engage your children.

“Even quite small shopping centres will often put on entertainment for children. The little shopping centre near where I live often has a kindy farm where farm animals come to meet children over school holidays, and other ones can have art and craft for children or even little shows for children. These are free and they’re local so they are pretty easy to get to. Also, most museums, art galleries will often have free activities,” says Smith.

She also recommends checking out your local tourist attractions: “Some of the larger tourist attractions have free things. So, for example, the Sydney Opera House has a creative play area where children can go and do arts and craft with teachers there. It’s a drop-in, drop-out sort of arrangement. You just turn up and there are activities to do and things to play with, which is really good.”

What if you’re working?

Not everybody can take time off work. Holiday care programs ranging from traditional vacation care to tennis, swimming and arts could be the answer.

Tom Dusseldorp, from Camp Australia, explains the difference between before and after school care to holiday care: “The difference is it’s far more activity-based. It’s obviously a longer period of time so we operate our hours equal to what we would provide at a school. So, at school, sometimes the sessions can start at 7 am and can finish at around 6 pm so it can be quite a long day that we provide the cover for families but also far more activities, because it is the holidays after all. Kids should be enjoying a break from school and that’s really what we try and create for the holiday period.”

Happy kids playing underwater

These kinds of holiday care programs cater to children from prep to year six with activities like arts and craft or excursions. Holiday care usually costs between $50 to $90 a day.

Financial support for holiday care

The level of government support for vacation care is determined by the combined family income, the number of hours the parents work and the type of services they use.

While families earning up to $66,958 a year can receive 85 per cent of childcare costs, the subsidy rate for families with an income between $66,958 to $171,958 gradually reduces to 50 per cent. The subsidy level drops further for families with a higher income. You can check with Centrelink to assess your eligibility.

Kid playing tennis

Smith says she’s benefited from vacation care in the past. Her older boys have enjoyed attending weeklong cricket camps during previous holidays.

“Lots of parents have got to work and they need to find care for their children and most councils will offer a long day care vacation care for children and that will usually go from 8 till 5:30 or so. So the first port of call is your local council they also tend to be cheaper and you can get child care subsidy through them but other good places are your local tennis courts and I don’t know why but tennis courts seem to offer lots and lots of vacation care and it’s not as expensive as some other ones.”

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