The ultimate guide to a great summer holiday

Summer is upon us here in Australia! Which, if you have school-aged children, means the summer holidays are almost here. Read on to to find out how to have a great summer holiday and enjoy the extra time with your kids.

When my eldest first started school, I found the summer holidays quite intimidating. I’d gotten into a good routine during the school term, and I found it hard to know what to do with the kids for such a long period of time. While I enjoyed the slower pace of life and the memories we made, I always struggled to know how to fill the time with fun, and also keep up with managing the home and my work-from-home business.

But I can happily say that I love the summer holidays now. I’ve got a good system going for planning and managing our time, as well as making sure we all get some rest and enjoy each others’ company.

Planning for a great summer holiday

Looking at the big picture

When I’m planning out our summer holidays, I always like to start by printing out some calendars covering December, January, and (a little bit of) February. Then I mark out the fixed dates and events like end and start of term, Christmas, New Years’ Day, any dates we are travelling, visitors’ travel dates, my husband’s work leave dates, and vacation care.

Once I’ve marked those on the calendar, I have a good, clear visual indication of how many days we have “free”. Some years, we don’t go away during the holidays, which means we have more time available for other activities.

Once I’ve got this holiday overview calendar done, I stick it up on the pantry cupboards in the kitchen. I like being able to see this day-to-day, and the kids also enjoy knowing what’s coming up and how long they have left before school goes back.

Bucket list activities

The next step I take in preparing for the summer holidays is to make our “bucket list” of activities we want to do. I ask the kids for their input here, and we all get to add things we’d like to do in the holidays (without making any promises).

So, for our family, we like to write things like playgrounds we want to visit, bush walking trails we want to do, and other outdoorsy type activities. I prefer not to visit places that are going to be overly crowded or cost a lot of money. We do occasionally enjoy going to one of those big, indoor playgrounds as a treat. They cost a bit of money, but they are air-conditioned and the kids really enjoy them.

For more ideas, try looking up things you can do in your city during school holidays. There are usually lots of free activities you can do with the kids, especially if you don’t mind the crowds!

Our holiday bucket list gets put on the pantry next to the calendar. You can be spontaneous and pick an activity each morning if you like. But I prefer to look at the weather forecast for the week ahead and schedule in the activities based on that.

Summer holiday routine

Now this is just my personality, but I like to keep a loose structure to our days throughout the summer. I find that without this structure, the days can kind of drag on and I find it more exhausting.

When I stick to our basic holiday routine, it means we always have something fun to look forward to each day, set eating times, and planned down time.

We like to eat breakfast, do some basic chores, and then go out. When I say “go out”, sometimes that means going out to one of the places on our bucket list, but sometimes it simply means going for a bike ride or a walk around the block. Then we come back home in time for lunch, and after lunch, all the kids have mandatory “quiet time”.

We’ve made a habit of this when each child has dropped their nap. Quiet time means being alone in their room playing with a quiet activity or reading. I usually use this time to have a nap and/or do some work.

After quiet time, I make some afternoon tea and send the kids outside to play. Then we do afternoon chores, baths and showers, and then TV time while I make dinner. It’s a routine that we mostly follow on the weekends as well, so the kids are familiar with it.

Holiday fun at home

Depending on how much you travel during the summer, you’ll probably have a good amount of time at home. So it’s useful to think of some things you can do locally. I’ve split the ideas into four categories – Indoor activities out in public, outdoor activities out in public, rainy day activities at home, and sunny day activities at home.

Indoor activities

  • Indoor play centre
  • Visit the shopping centre
  • Cinema
  • Visit a friend’s house
  • Ice skating
  • Museum
  • Art gallery
  • Rock climbing

Outdoor activities

  • Bush-walking
  • Playgrounds
  • Swimming in the river
  • Swimming at a public pool
  • Splash park
  • Bike riding
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Visit the zoo
  • Climb a hill
  • Go for a walk around the lake

Rainy days at home

  • Cushion forts
  • Indoor obstacle course
  • 10 minute tidy
  • Dance party
  • Baking
  • Movie marathon
  • Painting
  • Playdough
  • Box construction with the recycling
  • Making musical instruments
  • Hide and seek
  • Make mud pies in the backyard
  • Go for a walk in the rain
  • Bake some cookies for a neighbour

Sunny days at home

  • Water fight with spray bottles
  • Wash the car
  • Collect different leaves and draw them
  • Make icypoles with blended up fruit
  • Create a backyard obstacle course
  • Make a hanging backyard bird feeder
  • Collect rocks and paint them
  • Have a friend over for a playdate
  • Climb a tree
  • Have an insect scavenger hunt
  • Make a bird nest out of sticks, leaves and mud
  • Wash the outside of the windows

Road tripping with kids

Planning your road trip

Someone once told me that the key to road trips with kids is making sure they get their energy out when you have stops. Don’t waste that stop time getting them to sit down and eat, when they already have to do lots of sitting in the car. You obviously have to figure out what works best for your family, but we’ve found that to be generally a good principle.

So, think of your road trip in two parts – the driving part and the stopping part. Driving is for road trip activities, eating, and sleeping/rest time (and also driving, haha!). Stopping is for toilet breaks, refueling, breast or bottle feeding the baby, and running around to burn off energy. For this reason, you might like to look out for rest stops that have a big, open grassy area or some bushland you can explore.

Road trip activity ideas for babies, toddlers and kids

When our family is getting ready for a road trip, one of the most important things I do is preparing some activities and games for the kids to play with while my husband drives. And while I’m not even the one doing the activities, it gives me so much joy to see them enjoying what I’ve prepared.

Kids at preschool age and up can usually be happily entertained with a range of activities and games in their laps (ideas below!). We’re currently working on teaching our kids the simple pleasure of Looking Out the Window, so we like to start our car trips off with some chilled out music and encourage the kids to look out the window and enjoy the scenery.

Babies can be a bit harder to plan for because they don’t understand that they need to be quiet and if they’re not happy, everyone knows about it! However, they (usually!) have some regular sleeps through the day, so that makes it a bit easier.

Road trip activities for older babies and toddlers:

When we were travelling with babies, I would go to the op shop to find some cheap, exciting toys and then save them for the trip, so they were brand new. For babies, you want to find things that will capture their attention for as long as possible – think bright, interesting toys that have lots of bits they can touch and interact with.

  • Sparkly “I-spy” bottle
  • Tactile board books
  • Mini bead maze
  • Lamaze-style sensory toys
  • Musical instruments (consult the driver first!)
  • Light up toys

Road trip activities for kids:

Once kids get past that toddler age, I find they self-entertain better in the car, but you still need to provide the stimulus for them. I recommend not getting them to do a lot of reading, as this can cause car sickness.

Our kids enjoy doing some paper craft and activity sheet type things in the car (ideas below). I found some cheap clip boards at the shop and bought one for each child. Then I pre-loaded them with printable activities, a few markers each, and some sticker sheets. That makes it easy to pass out the activities (and get the back) when it’s time.

  • Road trip scavenger hunt
  • Road trip bingo
  • Mazes
  • Scratch art
  • Magnetic toy trays
  • Suction cup toy books (this was something I found at Aldi a couple of years ago)
  • Rubiks cube
  • Container with craft supplies – give them a plastic container with things like paddle-pop sticks, blu-tac, pipe cleaners, paper straws, ribbons and some cheap washi tape, then tell to make something!
  • Stickers and a notebook
  • I spy (you can play this based on colours for young kids, and the first letter of the word for older kids)
  • Audio books
  • New music CDs

We also have a DVD player with 2 screens which we got pretty cheap from a second-hand place. However, we always try to hold off on using this as long as possible, preferably until the last leg of the trip. If you go to the DVD player first, the kids will probably end up getting bored more quickly.

Going to the beach with kids

The most important thing to know about going to the beach with little kids is that it’s not going to be relaxing. I don’t say that to put you off or make you dread the experience, just to help you get in the right frame of mind. Taking little kids and babies to the beach is a lot of fun and it’s very much worth the effort. But if you go into it expecting to get some time to relax, you will be disappointed. So approach the experience with a good attitude, knowing it’s going to take work, but that you can still have fun together.

What to take to the beach

When you’re going to the beach, the possibilities are endless for what you can bring and do! I’ll break this list into needs and wants, to help you determine what you can manage for your family.

Need:

  • Swimmers
  • Towels
  • Water bottles
  • Snacks
  • Shoes
  • Hats
  • Sunscreen

Want:

  • Bucket and spade
  • Beach tent/umbrella
  • Beach ball
  • Inflatable toys
  • Body board
  • Snorkel and goggles
  • Pool noodles
  • Esky

Logistics of going to the beach with little kids

You’ll need to figure out what works best for your kids, but generally speaking, I’ve found it’s best to fit your beach time in around naps and meals. You also don’t want to be there in the middle of the day, because that’s when the UV rays from the sun are at their most dangerous levels.

Get everyone dressed in their swimmers and apply sunscreen at home before you leave. You can bring extra sunscreen for top-ups, if you’ll be staying a long time. Pack all the towels, goggles and water bottles into a big beach bag so you can easily carry things from the car to the beach.

Make sure you take water bottles for everyone. And, unless you like a helping of sand with your snacks, I suggest bringing foods that can be eaten without actually touching the food – like a eating a muesli bar while holding the wrapper. But, if your kids do end up eating a bit of sand, it’s not the end of the world!

Safety at the beach

This is the main reason why a trip to the beach with little kids is not going to be relaxing – ensuring their safety.

Now, as a parent, I’m all about letting kids wander and explore and test out their limits. But the fact is, at the beach, it’s just not safe to do this in a hands-off way. The biggest risk is drowning, and you just can’t take your chances around water.

My husband and I have three kids, and I always feel safer when we have more adults than kids in our group. However, bear in mind that even close relatives often won’t watch your kids or be as aware of their limits as you are.

The most important part of beach safety is making sure that you know where your kids are at all times. Here are some other things to be aware of, especially if you’re not familiar with the beach:

  • Swim between the flags. Lifeguards place the flags in the best spot to help you avoid rips. (A rip is a strong undercurrent below the surface which can quickly pull you out into deep water.)
  • Don’t let kids play around steep sand cliffs because these can quickly collapse and suffocate them.
  • Similarly, don’t let kids bury their bodies in the sand because the weight of the sand can easily compress their chest and stop them from breathing properly. It’s not quick and easy to un-bury someone from the sand.

Beach activity ideas

  • Build a sandcastle with a moat, and decorate it with seaweed, sticks and shells
  • Dig a big hole
  • Collect sea shells
  • Swim in the water
  • Throw a beach ball around
  • Fly a kite
  • Make a human pyramid
  • Practice doing cartwheels and handstands
  • Have a sand sculpture competition
  • Snorkelling
  • Riding waves on a body board
  • Playing with inflatable toys or pool noodles

Make memories this Summer

Whether your summer is action-packed, or full of lazy days at home, remember that relationships are the most important thing. Don’t feel like you need to cram excitement into every hour of every day.

It’s good for kids to get bored and have to find or invent something fun to do. Sometimes all they need is a push in the right direction, and they’ll keep it going!

Embrace the moments together over the summer holidays and think of how you can make great memories, in both the mundane and the extravagant.

Have a great summer holiday!

Jessica Harvey
Creative Activities Coordinator, Tuggeranong MOPS

Jessica Harvey has three kids and lives in the bush capital of Australia. She writes about how to work, rest and play to the glory of God at www.kangaroosandkingdomwork.com

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