Here in my little corner of north-east Scotland, we're hurtling towards the school holidays at a breathtaking rate.
Some of my friends regard the school holidays with delight, others with despair. I think I'm somewhere in the middle. One thing I have learned over the years, however, is that pretending they're not just around the corner, or deciding to 'wing it', does not make for a stress-free six weeks.
And so we (groan) come to one of my familiar topics: Planning. Notebooks at the ready people, I feel some lists coming on....
The escape from it all
I tend to start with the nice bit. Block off that precious two weeks when the whole family is going to be together - hopefully somewhere different from home. (Not that I don't love my home but a change of scene works wonders for all of us.) This year we're holidaying in the East Neuk of bonny Scotland and hoping fervently for the same sunshine that blessed us last year in Arran.
The tag team
The next thing I do is work out how Mr Average and myself can juggle the childcare during the remaining weeks of the holidays. As he often works weekends with days off during the week - and I'm self-employed - there's a certain flexibility to our schedules that means we can cover most, but not all, of the childcare between us. Which brings me to....
The supporting cast
It might be grandparents. It might be friends with whom you can exchange favours. Or it might be a formal childcare scheme. Regardless, with just a few weeks to go until school's out for summer, these are the people you need to speak to now. For my little family, it'll be a combination of all three. (Our local out of school club summer holiday programme is sitting reproachfully on the top of my filing *system* as I type. I really, really need to fill that in. Today if possible.)
The fill-in fun
I'm a great believer that children need some free time to amuse themselves, however there is a balance to be struck. Summer holidays present a great opportunity for them to try new activities, catch up with friends and relatives and visit local places of interest (I love being a tourist in my own area!).
Here's what I'll be doing to prepare for some of the days that I'm in charge of the little 'uns but we're not officially 'away':
Grab a guide - My nearest city - Aberdeen - produces a wonderful guide to events for children and young people over the Summer. It includes sporting and creative ideas galore, including many free workshops and play sessions at art galleries and parks. Publications such as Raring2Go! magazine are usually stuffed with ideas and I try to follow useful Facebook pages too. (Local peeps should try Aberdeen for Kids and Aberdeen Inspired. I've mentioned the Aberdeen for Kids page before but it's worth another shout-out here.)
Swap schedules - Now's the time for swapping mobile numbers with the parents of your kids' best friends - and for checking who's free for catch-ups when. Of course you might not remember everyone's exact schedule but plant the seed now and others will feel comfortable contacting you when they're at a loose end too.
Whatever the weather - Here's where my control freak tendencies come into play. Given our location, I usually draft up two lists (there's that word again) of potential activities - a wet weather list and a dry weather list. I like to think that I'll remember all those brilliant places that people have recommended to me. In reality, if it's not written down, I probably won't.
Ask them - As in the kids. It sounds risky but go ahead and ask them what they'd really like to do during the school holidays. You might just find they surprise you. We spent a happy (if messy) half hour with an A3 sheet of paper and some coloured pens having a wee brainstorm about all the things the kids want to try - or repeat - but don't have much time for during the school term. My eldest used the aforementioned Aberdeen guide for inspiration. They both understand that we can't do everything but I have a clearer idea of their interests instead of choosing what I *think* they'd like to do.
And guess what? Turns out that mum doesn't always know best (shhhhh)...
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