As a parent you dream of low cost or free childcare - but once you’ve made the most of childcare vouchers and any extra tax credits you’re entitled to, you may think you’ve received all the help with childcare costs that you can get.
In fact, there are lots of other ways you can get help with childcare expenses – and yes, even free childcare – during the school holidays. With February half-term may be upon us, but if you're canny you can really reduce your costs. Here are six top tips to get you started.
Most people love spending time with their grandchildren – and many are happy to provide free childcare during the school holidays.
However, constant holiday childcare can become tiring or even stressful. To come to a good-natured, well-organised agreement that suits you all, put together a family childcare agreement checklist.
Grandparents and students can be a great source of free childcare
According to the Grandparents’ Association charity, this will allow you to make the most of the free childcare your parents can provide, while ensuring they don’t end up feeling put-upon or out of pocket.
Students are also on long breaks over the summer, and many are keen to earn a bit on the side.
If you choose carefully, you can find someone who is both affordable and responsible. For example, find a local college which teaches childcare, and ask if you can place an advert to be seen by the students on that course.
They’ll be keen to build up their references and improve their long-term career prospects. So you should get someone conscientious and trustworthy, without having to fork out for a fully-qualified professional.
3. Other schools
If your child’s own school doesn’t run any summer holiday play schemes, it’s worth asking around others in your area. That’s because places on these schemes aren’t only open to children at the same school.
School play schemes can provide cheap holiday childcare within a safe, well-supervised environment. Ask the school if you can get further help with childcare costs by paying for the scheme with childcare vouchers.
4. National Citizenship Service
If your child is 16 or 17 years old, see if you can get him or her involved in National Citizenship Service. This is a part-residential scheme that runs for two to three weeks, with various programmes taking place throughout the year outside term time.
During the course, there are lots of opportunities to have outdoor adventures. Children spend two weeks away from home, followed by a week working as part of a team on a project to improve their local community.
There are currently just under 30 organisations providing the government-led initiatives. Around 50% of these run the schemes for free, with the others charging no more than £80.
So, children can learn new skills, have fun, and improve their CV - while you don’t have to pay much to keep them occupied for three weeks!
5. Free nursery education
Remember that if your children are three or four years old, they are legally entitled to 15 hours per week of free childcare in nurseries.
This is for up to 38 weeks every year, so if you haven’t claimed all that free childcare yet, see if you can organise some during the summer holidays. The free childcare is available from playgroups, nurseries, children’s centres and childminders as well as pre-schools.
You can find out more about the free nursery education in your area by contacting your local Family Information Service.
6. Free sports coaching
Even the shortest break from the kids will allow you to get a few things done. If your children are into football, check out the free football coaching on offer through FA Tesco Skills.
For 5-11 year-olds, the coaching runs during the school holidays at 36 locations across England. Each session lasts two hours, with a maximum of one session per day.
It's fun, helps keep the kids fit and healthy, and also acts as free childcare!
Find out more about how to cut the cost of children's after-school activities.