Planning with Kids : Preparing for holidays - Flying with kids, Staying home with kids

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1. Flying with kids

Since growing our family to five children, we’ve only had a couple of holidays where we’ve flown to our destination. Each time, to make it easy on the finances, we flew with budget airlines. Taking the cheaper option is doable, but it requires extra planning, especially with kids. I’d like to share with you some tips I learned that make our flights easier and more enjoyable.

Be prepared for delays

Each flight we’ve taken has been delayed — one in excess of one and a half hours. The budget airlines seem to have only a small margin for error as they turn around flights so quickly. It appears that the domino effect for even small delays can become quite significant and is a routine part of flying with these airlines. For parents this means having extra food supplies and changes of clothes for babies and toddlers. Once, while waiting for a flight to Sydney, my toddler poured water over one set of clothes. Then, to my horror, while waiting in the very crowded departure lounge he had diarrhoea and dirtied his spare set of clothes. As a result, he flew to Sydney in only a nappy and a hoodie.

In-flight food and entertainment

Most budget airlines don’t supply free food or activities for the kids. They run a paid food service where you can hand over your credit card and pay ridiculous amounts of money for junk food (or alcohol). So make sure you pack your own food and water supplies even if it’s only an hour-long flight. One of our flights to Sydney took four and a half hours door to door as a result of delays. The kids were starving by the time we arrived and their behaviour was reflecting this.

I also make each child an activity pack when we fly. They were gold for passing the time while we waited for our flights in the departure lounges, as well as on board. Open-ended, low-mess activity packs containing items that allowed them to use their imagination — such as stickers, writing paper and envelopes — were a big hit with the four and six year old. I’d taught the older boys the basics of Blackjack (no gambling, of course). It’s a fantastic card game for the kids’ mental maths and can be played in a confined space.


One airline didn’t even have tags available for labelling luggage at the check-in, so make sure you have your luggage labelled. Almost all budget fares only include carry-on luggage with restrictions. At both Melbourne and Sydney they weighed the carry-on luggage and people had to remove items to get their weight down. Make sure you weigh your carry-on luggage to prevent unnecessary delays.

We purchased extra luggage and, with the tight weight restriction, I have to admit that was my best-ever packing effort.


Depending on the airline you’re flying with and the city you’re flying from, the departure lounge of a budget airline may be located away from those of other domestic airlines. The one in Melbourne resembled a big, old shed and was cold in winter. To board the plane we had to walk a considerable distance outdoors on a cold early morning. I was grateful that it wasn’t raining as part of the walkway is not under cover. On board, however, it was quite warm, so I definitely recommend layers for travelling.

Most budget airlines do expect passengers to walk on the tarmac to board and disembark their planes. It’s part of the strategy for turning the planes around quickly by having passengers board and disembark at the front and back of the plane simultaneously. Our allocated seats were at the back of the plane each time we flew, which meant walking on the tarmac and up some very steep, steel stairs.

Despite the cold, walking on the tarmac was a highlight for our younger kids. They loved seeing how big the plane was and hearing the noises coming from other planes.

Service and amenities

Even when I travelled on my own with all five kids I received no assistance from in-flight staff. Before boarding commences, there’s always an announcement calling for families and those with special needs to board first. Make sure you take advantage of this as it will give you a bit more time and space to get all the kids organised before everyone else starts to board.

2. Staying home with kids

I thoroughly enjoy school holidays. I love the break it gives us from the school routine, the opportunity it gives the younger kids to play with their older siblings and, as the school terms are so busy, I love the time it gives the kids to relax.

Just because I love school holidays doesn’t mean that we’re all happy for every moment of each day or that we’re always enjoying each other’s company! It certainly isn’t all ‘Kum ba ya’ singing, peace and serenity — that’s for sure. There can be major fights between kids, I can lose my patience and the house can end up looking like a bomb zone. However, with some forethought and planning as a family, we generally have a pretty good time over the school holidays.

Planning for the school holidays

Due to my enthusiasm for giving the kids some fun experiences and catching up with friends, I’ve often made the mistake of over scheduling our school holidays. It’s amazing how quickly you can end up with something planned every single day. The end result is that the kids and I go back to school feeling even more tired. To prevent this from happening, I created a school holiday plan with the kids.

At a family meeting in the lead-up to school holidays, I ask the kids whether there’s anything special they’d like to do during the holidays. Each child is allowed to choose one activity. We agree on the activities and then I schedule them at intervals — where possible — so we have a mix of days at home and days out. I aim to schedule in a day or two at home at the beginning of the holidays (so everyone can get some rest after the long school term) and then some days at home again towards the end of the holidays (so that the kids head back to school refreshed).

Table 1 illustrates what a plan for our September school holidays may look like. 

Table 1: school holiday plan

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It’s important for us to have time away from the house. If we stay home for too many days in a row, we tend to end up with cabin fever. The changes of scenery help make sure that we’re all still getting along harmoniously.

Tip: Preparing for the school holidays

These tips are aimed at having things organised around the house before the school holidays start. My favourite part about school holidays is that there’s less running around. I find it incredibly helpful to stock up on necessary supplies before the holidays to minimise the number of trips to the shopping centre during school holidays.

Stocking up on cooking supplies

This has two purposes. First, with all of the kids home and catch-ups with friends, we tend to go through a lot of food. Second, my kids love to cook for fun during the school holidays.

Stocking up on lunch and morning-tea ingredients

During the school holidays it used to feel like all I did was prepare food and tidy up afterwards! So I started getting the kids to be responsible for doing some of this themselves. Now, they alternate making morning tea among themselves and I alternate preparing lunch with them. To make this easy for the younger children I ensure I have plenty of food supplies on hand so they can prepare morning tea and lunch easily on their own.

Stocking up on craft and art supplies

These don’t need to be expensive. We keep it pretty simple by collecting boxes and cartons in the weeks leading up to the holidays (these are great materials for the kids to build things with). The craft and art supplies I like to make sure I have on hand are:

drawing paper and card

recycled boxes


paper plates and cups

masking tape


glue (glue sticks, craft glue and refills for the hot glue gun)






Some activities

There are endless possibilities in terms of how to entertain the kids at home during the holidays. I’ve found that with my kids it’s having simple activities where they’re in control that they enjoy the most. Here are a few things you might like to try doing at home:

• make lemonade

• cook the kids’ favourite treats with them

• paint a canvas together

• play musical statues

• make a bird feeder

• play indoor or outdoor hide-and-seek

• brighten up the pavement with some chalk drawing

• make a volcano

• make a giant cardboard construction

• do some gardening

• camp inside or outside at home (depending on the weather)

• have a water-bomb fight

• make your own movie

• make a cubby house

• set up a balloon volleyball net inside

• turn the kitchen into a café and let all kids take on a role to make lunch

• invite some friends for a sleepover

• make mud pies

• play board games

• put on a puppet show

• make a LEGO city together

• go through the family photo albums

• cook up some playdough with the kids

• make up your own bubble solution

• write a funny story together, taking turns to write a sentence each

• create an obstacle course in the garden.

Local school-holiday activities

Melbourne offers a wealth of entertainment options to choose from all year round, and even more during school holidays. Some of these are generic and can be found in most towns and cities. I subscribe to newsletters from places such as galleries, community houses, public gardens, libraries and community groups so that I’m notified of upcoming events. Many free or low-cost events book out quickly, so it’s great to be advised early that tickets are on sale.

Here are some low-cost ideas for having fun with the kids away from home. While some are only available during school holidays, many can also be done year round:

• visit an art gallery

• join a local tree planting session

• visit a museum

• go for a bike ride

• go bush walking

• explore new parks in the area

• visit a community farm

see some local live music (check out local pubs if you don’t have specific live-music venues as they can often have family-friendly sessions)

• go fishing

• investigate community-house holiday programs

• hire a row boat

• take a train ride to somewhere new

• go market shopping for a family feast

• go rock climbing

• visit the beach/river/lake

• attend a local sporting event

• check out the local library’s school holiday program

• attend a community festival

• visit your local botanic gardens (or similar)

• see a local drama production

• swim at the local pool

• go fruit picking.

But I’m bored!

Even with the best planning, at some point during the school holidays one of my children will come up with the ‘I’m bored’ call. As I’ve already mentioned, I think it’s good for kids to get to this point, but I have to remind myself not to jump in and give them ideas on how to occupy themselves. For our nine-year-old son, it’s deciding what he wants to do that’s the problem. Once he’s decided on something, he’ll stick at it for a long time, but it can often take him a while and a fair bit of whining to find the right activity.

Frustrated by this pattern of behaviour, during one school-holiday break I sat down with him and made him write a list of things he liked to do. A couple of his siblings sat with us and helped us build a comprehensive list. His first task was to type up his list on the computer and print it out (which kept him from being ‘bored’ for a while). He stuck it on the notice board and it became a reference point for him.

After that, I’d see him check his list regularly during the holidays and then wander off to start something new. If he needed materials he’d come to me for assistance, but he no longer came to me whining that he didn’t have anything to do! This is what his list looked like:

• wrestling

• soccer games (outside)

• kick a ball against the wall

• go for a run

play balloon games inside (balloon volleyball, keepies off)

• listen to a Harry Potter audio book

• play chess

• read a book

• ride my bike

• play in the park next door

• build some LEGO

construct something with a glue gun

play a board game (Mastermind, Scrabble, Boggle, Monopoly)

write a story/letter/email

create an experiment or a potion

listen to my iPod

• do some gardening

• do some cooking

• do a puzzle

• practise batting with the cricket wiz

• unscrew an old appliance (one no longer in use)

• climb a tree

• build a fort.

Seeing this list up on the notice board made our four year old decide he needed one too. We created a picture list together with less choice than the one for our nine year old. Too many options can be overwhelming and cause indecision for a four year old. As he wasn’t at school yet, he referred to this list all the time. This is what his list looked like:

• noughts and crosses

• puzzles


• play with hot wheels action sets

• trampoline

• pavement chalk drawing

• scooter.

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