In Australia, the summer holidays will soon be upon us. I love the holidays for adventures, backyard cricket test matches, board games that go for days, and having extra kids over while we all juggle work and holidays! At the same time, holidays can be a time of more sibling arguments, backlashes about requests to help out around the house and extra family members in the home with different expectations of behaviour. For our children in care holidays can be extra unsettling - the lack of routine, longer days, extra people in the house, more ‘treat’ foods, regular appointments not happening, and even change in visits with birth families.
How can we navigate the holidays so we can all enjoy the time together, have great adventures, create fun holiday traditions and welcome family and friends in with joy and not fear? Here are some ideas from Fostering Hope, let us know what else works for you?
1. Plan in advance
Write up a calendar of the holidays and put in everything that is happening – work days, vacation holiday/childcare days, ‘friend days’, family visits, and plan home days or home times within days. This will also help see any busy weeks and plan some quite days leading into them.
2. Balance activity and rest
My house is full of active boys, but each of them have different energy levels, so plan activity and rest that works for everyone. A rest day for some kids can still mean a cricket game out the back for the more active boys!
3. Involve your child in planning
After you have put the non-negotiable events in the calendar, involve the kids in the calendar and summer holiday plans. What works for us is each child to pick:
a friend they want to have over
a place they want to visit
someone they want to bless
something they want to make
a new skill they want to develop
a meal they want to cook and treat they want to cook
something they are going clean or help fix around the house.
Holidays can be a great time to hone a new skill or build something that goes over days as well as time to clean out their cupboards and toys. As you plan these things you will also see what extra support/skills you may need or how the kids can commit to helping each other. We’ve had older siblings help with teaching skills, organised music lessons, needed to download a typing or coding program, or look at what holiday programs are on offer to support the child. We also find it a great time for cleaning out, not just the kids drawers, but also the kitchen, the art supplies, and book shelves!
This means we can put playdates and adventure days on the calendar, so everyone gets their turn and we don’t squeeze everything into a couple of days, but can plan them out.
4. Schedule in one-on-one time with each child
Our children thrive on one-on-one time with either my husband or I. Or having time with just one other sibling instead of everyone together, so with your planning schedule that in.
5. Keep some structure
We keep the same before school and after school structure during the holidays – the boys still need to do the same things every morning, but instead of needing to be ready by 8:15am, this is a bit more flexible based on the planned day. We talk about this the night before so everyone knows the expectations going to bed.
6. Utilise camps/activity days/workshops
There are lots of great Christian camps that support fostering/kinship families. If you are interested in knowing about these contact Fostering Hope.
There are also great sports, drama, and art camps that may fit in with a ‘skill’ your child wants to develop and can be more affordable than vacation care.
7. Coordinate childcare with other people on the journey with you
Chat to other people in your journey, other carers, other church families, or school families that know your kids and their journeys. Coordinate ‘playdates’ so you can give each other respite or one-on-one time with some children so that you can all enjoy the holidays.
8. Be wise with holidays and guests
Summer is the time when many of us go away, especially if our children are in school, and it is often the time when others make plans to come and visit us.
Be aware of how your child reacts to travelling elsewhere, or to others coming to stay. Take notes, and spot patterns, then be prepared to act on them. Don't be afraid to suggest that friends or family stay elsewhere if you know it upsets your child's routine to have others constantly in the house.
If you are going away, make sure you talk to your children about the ‘coming home’ part too. For many kids they fear not returning when they leave, so ensure they know this will happen.
9. Plan for birth family visits in the calendar
Visits with birth families may still happen over the summer and look different just because it is holidays. My children struggle with these visits as their siblings aren’t going, so they feel ‘different’ and separated. Their emotions can also be heightened leading into and after visits. So, plan for these in your calendar and ensure you have some quiet time or fun family time organised around them.
10. Make a boredom jar
There are heaps of ideas online for how to do this! We have done sticks with different activities on, pegs around the house, a jar! Do it with the kids before the holidays, they can write things to include and you can add others.
11. Plan in self-care time for yourself
In order to be who our children need us to be, it is hugely important that we rest and look after ourselves.
12. Plan to get fresh air as much as possible
Growing up in Perth, Western Australia, this wasn’t a problem, but in Hobart the weather is unpredictable. So make the most of the sun, warm days and get out for fresh air!
13. Plan talking about school resuming and preparation
Try not to start talking about the new school year until it is almost happening. Children can start worrying about returning to school, new classroom etc, so just avoid the subject until you know you need to start preparing them.
Many families report that having a school or teacher who will get in touch with your child through the holidays really helps to ease the transition to a new year group.
14. Accept the mess and chaos
I am terrible with this! So am definitely saying this as a person who does it badly. Try and accept the mess during the day and keep the routines at the beginning and the end of the day to ensure everything ends tidy. Have some expectations too – we have that an activity has to be packed up before a new one started.
For us the different age groups also means the older siblings get upset when the younger children get into their games, so ensure the older siblings are prepared for this and make appropriate choices about where they set up their activities etc.
Plan a tidy up day into the calendar, especially at the end of the holidays. It can be a celebration of the fun holidays too!
15. Monitor sugar intake
I find this really hard over the holidays, all the treats at Christmas and then constant ice creams and other sweet treats. We try to have no extra treats at home, so they can enjoy them outside the home. We also have some non-negotiable treats and the boys just know these and stick to them.
Throughout the holidays I have a plate of chopped up vegetable sticks and fruit on the bench, so the boys can nibble on these throughout the day. Pack plenty of ‘good food’ and water for every trip out the house too.
Depending on the age of your child, it is also important they start learning about food and how their body works.
It may sound obvious, but start praying now for a healthy, happy and productive summer for your family. Why not get others praying too? This is something that distant family, godparents and friends will love to do, if they're not near enough to provide practical care.
17. Celebrate your summer
At the end of the holidays, celebrate the memories as a family – their favourite things, the skills they learnt, the people they blessed, and what they’d like to do again or more of. This can be after the end of holiday tidy up, the school bag pack ready for the new year, or whatever works for you.
This will also help you evaluate the holidays and how things may need to change for future years.