Sliding in mud, splashing in water and playing with chicks, they’re all sure-fire ingredients of a great school holiday program, according to those who know – children.
But besides mud, water and fluff (not necessarily all at once!), what goes into creating a school holiday program that keeps children eagerly coming back for more?
According to Nicole Andrews, who plans the school holiday programs at Communities@Work, success lies in creating a safe and welcoming community, incorporating feedback, involving children in the planning, and having a team of quality educators who can bring it all to life.
“School holiday programs should provide children with a fun, engaging environment where they can enjoy a break from school and relax,” she said.
“Children need a safe, welcoming space where they can try new things and experiences, enjoy friendships and feel a sense of belonging. With us, they also feel a sense of ownership because we encourage their involvement in the planning.”
While conceding that holidays are a time to relax and have fun, Nicole looks for engaging activities that also sneak in a bit of learning.
“Ideally, you want to develop programs that are fun but enriching at the same time, through hands-on play and engagement.
“It’s also important to balance the program activities with excursions, incursions (where external providers come to the school), in-service days (where educators organise activities) and spontaneous play.”
To check if the balance was right, Nicole gathers feedback at the end of each program.
“Knowing what were the most popular activities and what could have worked better helps me make every school holiday program better than the one before it,” she says.
So what are the most popular activities?
Usually, the ones where children get active, outdoors and messy, laughs Michelle Evans, Program Coordinator at Communities@Work Mount Rogers Out of School Hours Care (OSHC).
“Children love excursions! Especially ones like the muddy Battle Games and the inflatable Aqua Park,” she says.
Yet incursions can be just as fun as excursions. Booking engaging service providers to visit means you can deliver exciting and diverse experiences without going out.
“Some favourite incursions have been looking after tiny chicks, playing with real sheepdogs, developing artificial intelligence software, creating films and learning magic tricks. And the dance, karaoke and talent shows are always popular. The key is to make sure there’s something for everyone.”
Once the excursions and incursions are finalised, a calendar is created.
“Once we see what’s on the calendar, the program coordinators at each service plan some themes,” explains Michelle. “For instance, if we’re going to a mud obstacle course, we’ll plan a mud theme for that day and make mud cakes or mud masks.”
Olivia Symmons, Senior Program Coordinator at Communities@Work’s Maribyrnong OSHC, finds holiday programs are more successful when children are encouraged to generate ideas for activities.
Olivia also ensures there are activities throughout the day to facilitate spontaneous play, such as STEM, arts and crafts, sport, cooking and messy sensory activities.
“Families tell us they’re incredibly grateful we provide such an engaging environment for their children,” Olivia says. “They love that the educators participate in the activities with them and often have so much fun that they don’t want to go home!
“You know you’ve got it right,” reflects Olivia, “when children say to you that your program feels like their ‘home away from home’. That they love coming here and feeling part of a great community. And that’s really the aim, isn’t it? That’s when you know they’ll have a really fun time!”
Communities@Work has been delivering School Holiday Programs across Canberra and the surrounding ACT region since the 1980s and are the largest local provider of children’s services. For more information about their School Holiday Programs, visit Communities@Work.