How to cut childcare costs and survive the eight weeks of the summer school break
The secret to getting through the holidays is having a good plan - and a positive attitude
It's day four of my children's school summer break and while I'm not pulling my hair out just yet, give it time. Yes I am privileged to have three beautiful children but as any parent will tell you, they can be hard work at times - particularly when they're bored and out of their routine, as often happens in summer.
Sadly I don't have the magical powers or endless cheery disposition of Mary Poppins, though come summertime, I wish I did.
The summer school holidays can be a challenging time for parents. For working parents who can't take much time off, alternative childcare must be arranged to cover the hours that their children had previously been in school. For stay-at-home parents with children at home full-time, children need to be entertained and kept busy.
Having a plan can help keep you sane - and the children happy. Here are some things you could try which won't break the bank.
Book a summer camp
As it could cost as little as €50 to €60 a week to send a child to a summer camp, should you need to arrange childcare this summer, camps can work out cheaper than creches or childminders.
One of the best-value summer camps I've come across are the Kellogg's GAA Cul Camps. I sent two of my children to this camp last year and they really enjoyed it. The camps, which are open to children between the ages of six and 13, run weekdays throughout the summer (mainly July and August) from 10am until 2.30pm. The camps cost €60 a week for the first child in your family, €50 for the second child and €40 for the third or subsequent child.(Rates are slightly cheaper for camps in Northern Ireland). To get the discounted rates for siblings, you must book all of their places at the same time. Should you send your child to more than one Cul Camp, the weekly cost for the second or subsequent camp is €35 (or €30 for Northern Ireland camps).
Athletics Ireland is running summer camps for children between the ages of six and 12. The camps run from 10am to 2pm weekdays, and cost €50 a week - with discounts for siblings. However, the camps don't run in every county.
The FAI also has summer camps which cost €65 a week, with discounts for siblings or for those who do the camp for more than one week.
Let's Go summer camps (letsgo.ie), which run nationwide, take children between the ages of five and 12. The cost is typically between €90 and €105 a week per child (depending on the location) - with lower rates for second and subsequent children. These camps are popular and are booked up quickly so book soon. They run from 9.30am to 3.30pm.
Gaeltacht summer camps are an option for teenage children, though these camps can be pricey. You could pay almost €1,000 for two weeks in a Gaeltacht camp, depending on the types of activities provided. Full board is included in your Gaeltacht fee, as well as activities and tuition. Acting, computer code, adventure and dance camps can also be good options for teenagers.
Should you be opting for camps, choose ones which your child will be interested in, which has activities suitable for their age, and which is well-run and safe. The main drawback of summer camps is that they typically only run until around lunchtime and often start about an hour (or more) later than school so you may still have some childcare gaps to fill in.
Check in with creche
Should you already be using a creche for after-school care, you're unlikely to need to arrange alternative childcare for summer. Creches usually have places over the summer for children who are already getting after-school care there throughout the year. In such cases, the cost of the care to cover traditional school-going hours over the summer is often already built into the creche's monthly fee - though this will depend on the creche, according to Natalie Collier, managing director of the National Childcare Agency and childcare expert with the parenting website, eumom.ie.
"Some creches charge a summer premium of up to €80 extra per week per child - on top of what you would normally pay," said Collier. "Some already include this premium in the price you normally pay each month."
It can be hard to get a summer place in a creche for your child if you don't already use it - though this will depend on how busy the creche is, and whether or not they put on extra places over the summer."For children who are just attending a creche for the summer, you can expect to pay anything from €80 to €200 per week per child," said Collier. "Each creche has different price points, so parents should ring as many creches as they can in their area. Many creches don't offer extra places over the summer unless your child is already using the facilities for after-school care. Also, creches usually offer any extra places they have first to families who may have younger children already attending the creche full time."
Working parents could take the summer off to look after their children by combining annual leave with parental leave. This would cut out the need to arrange - and pay for - childcare, though parental leave is unpaid so budget ahead.
Each parent is entitled to 18 weeks parental leave per child. Once your child reaches the age of eight, you usually cannot get parental leave for that child. There are rules around how and when parental leave can be taken so get up to speed on these before your eldest child turns eight - otherwise, you could lose out on the chance to take all the parental leave you're entitled to.
It is probably too late to arrange parental leave for this summer, unless you wish to take some of it in the last two weeks of August. You must give your employer at least six weeks written notice of your intention to take parental leave. Your employer may not agree to your request for parental leave - particularly if other employees are already on parental leave or it is a busy time in the company. In such cases, your boss can postpone your parental leave for up to six months.
Keep it in the home
Should you have time off to look after your children, do up a map of the summer months and have activities and events planned, advises John Sharry, a child psychotherapist and founder of parenting website, solutiontalk.ie.
"Don't underestimate the importance of doing things in the home," said Sharry. "It's good to have a few home-based activities - parents often overdo the rushing around. Home-based activities are more durable and can also boost your confidence as a parent."
Some of the home-based activities suggested by Sharry include encouraging your children to learn a musical instrument over the summer or to help out with DIY and gardening. "Teaching your children to cook is enormously beneficial for them as it helps to boost their self-esteem and is also a good way to encourage healthy eating," said Sharry. "Tune into each child and see what they're ready to do and are passionate about."
The other advantage of home-based activities is that they won't cost that much. It's also worth checking if there are any family-friendly festivals on as they can be free, or cheap. This month's offerings include Donegal's Earagail Arts Festival and the Galway International Art Festival.
"Try to see any time you have off with your children over the summer as an opportunity, rather than a chore," said Sharry. "Time is short with your children. You may have a keen and interested primary school child who wants to spend time with you this summer - roll on a few years and they might have no interest in spending time with you at all!"
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