How to curb the cost of the summer break
With schools finishing up in two weeks' time, get your plan in place quick
Schools around the country start to finish up for the summer holidays in a couple of weeks time - and I have been in a state of panic for the last few weeks.
This will be my first summer juggling working from home with looking after three young children. Two of these would typically be in school during weekday mornings - which gives me an opportunity to get some work done. That 'window' will be gone come the end of June. Hence my alarm.
As any parent knows, it is impossible to get any work done when young children are at home. They need to be entertained and looked after. They don't understand work deadlines. Bosses, on the other hand, just want the job done.
However, I have found that it is possible to keep the children entertained over the summer - without breaking the bank. Here's how.
Book summer camps
Summer camps can work out cheaper than childcare - and they should also keep your children happy and entertained. Expect to pay between €55 and €100 a week to send one child to a summer camp, though the fees vary. You often get a discount for siblings (typically around 10pc) or if your children attend a camp for a few weeks.
Camps typically run in the mornings (from 9.30am or 10am) and finish up at, or shortly after, lunchtime. Such hours can pose a problem for parents who work full-time - though should you find a camp that mirrors your children's previous school hours, chances are you already have care arrangements in place to cover the late afternoon anyway.
"If you need a place for your kid to go while you are in work, you'll need a camp that facilitates early morning drop-offs and after-camp care up to 6pm," says Laura Haugh, mum-in-residence with MummyPages.ie.
"This can be hard to find, so enlisting the help of grandparents or hiring an au pair can help cover after-camp hours of care. Under law, you must now pay an au pair the minimum wage, so the au pair route will only be cost-effective if you have more than one child."
For parents who work part-time, one of the drawbacks of summer camps is that you must usually book in for the full week. "You might find it tricky to find a camp that allows you to enrol for selected days of the week - it's usually all or nothing," says Haugh.
Choose a summer camp that is near you - as well as one that all of your children can attend, as this will save you on the ferrying around. It can be difficult to find a camp for all your school-going children if your youngest child is four or five years old. Many camps won't take children as young as four - and some will only take children from the age of six. Having a four-year-old and a six-year-old myself, I was faced with this conundrum.
It's worth asking if there is any flexibility on age. Should your child be a 'late' four or five, the camp may agree to take him. Bear in mind though that should the activities at the camp be too advanced for your younger child, he may not enjoy it. Find out what the upper age limit is if you have older teenage children. Many camps won't take teenagers but some will cater for children up to the age of 17 or 18.
Choose a camp where your children will be safe. "Make sure you know the first aid and emergency procedures at the camp and that all of the staff are fully trained and vetted childcare workers," says Haugh.
Most camps run for July and August.
The Kellogg's GAA's Cul Camps are among the best value summer camps around. The weekly cost is €55 for the first child in a family, €45 for the second child, and €40 for the third or subsequent child. Should your child go to the camp for two or more weeks, the weekly cost for the second and subsequent weeks is €35. (Prices are slightly cheaper in Northern Ireland). The camps, which run from 10am until 2.30pm, are open to children between the ages of six and 13.
Starcamp - a singing, acting and dancing camp - takes children between the ages of four and 12. The weekly fees are €90 for one child, €160 for two siblings, €220 for three siblings and €280 for four siblings. There are discounts for multiple camp bookings.
Let's Go summer camps, which run nationwide, take children between the ages of five and 13. As the camps run from 9.30am to 3.30pm, they're open for a bit longer than most. The cost is typically between €80 and €100 a week per child (depending on the location of the camp) - with lower rates for second and subsequent children.
Gaeltacht summer schools can be a good option for teenagers - though many charge around €1,000 for three-week courses. Fees cover bed, board and activities. Prices vary, particularly if the activities covered include water or adventure sports. You could pay €900 to send your child to a Gaeltacht for two weeks if it offers water or adventure sports activities.
Should your teen have no interest in the Irish language, there are a raft of summer camps that specialise in outdoor and adventure activities.
A good website to check for summer camps for children of all ages is scamps.ie.
Grab the freebies
There are plenty of family-friendly festivals running all over Ireland all summer long that could be worth a day trip - or even a few days away. These include (but are not restricted to) the Maritime Festival in Wexford (from June 25 to 26), Feile Brian Boru in Clare (June 30 to July 3), the Promenade Festival in Waterford (July 1 to 3), the Ennis Street Festival in Clare (from July 4 to 10), the Festival of Curiosity in Dublin (from July 21 to 24), the Durrow Scarecrow Festival in Laois (July 21 to August 1), the Puck Fair in Kerry (August 10 to 12) and the Loughrea Medieval Festival in Galway (from August 26 to 28).
Such festivals often have free children's activities and entertainment - though there may be charges for some events. Visit www.discoverireland.ie to find out more.
Should you want to visit your local castle, abbey or fort, leave it until the first Wednesday of the month as you will usually get free entry - if the site is managed by the Office of Public Works (OPW).
Some of the sites that are free to visit under this arrangement include Charles Fort in Cork, Dun Aonghasa in Galway and the Bru na Boinne Visitor Centre (where you can see Newgrange and Knowth) in Meath.
Check that it's an OPW-managed site before you visit. (It is no longer free into the OPW's Kilmainham Gaol on the first Wednesday of every month).
Many parents take parental leave - and make careful use of annual leave - so they can look after their children when the schools close for the summer. Doing so avoids having to pay for childcare.
However, parental leave is unpaid, so budget ahead. This was one topic researched by Clare O'Hagan, gender equality specialist at the University of Limerick, for her book Complex Inequality and Working Mothers.
"Many of the women in my research took parental leave during the summer. Mums and dads took [parental] leave separately and many also took holidays separately in order to ensure childcare over the full summer," says O'Hagan.
"This meant that they did not have holidays as families together. Parental leave gets used up very quickly and it is at employers' discretion, so this is not even an option for many families."
Plan it well
Having children under your feet for the entire summer can be stressful if you're a stay-at-home parent - while working parents have the challenge and expense of organising care for the hours their children would typically be in school. Having a good plan in place can help to reduce any stress.
"Anticipate and plan the summer break," says John Sharry, founder of solutiontalk.ie. "When children are in school, they have their own routine. For stay-at-home parents, school allows you to have time away from them - and they from you. Sit down with your children and plan out what you will do for the weeks they're not away on holidays or in summer camp. Plan some gardening and crafts projects together, as that will help motivate them."
And of course, amidst all of your planning and budgeting, be sure to enjoy the time with your children this summer - they won't be children forever.
Sunday Indo Business