Although it can seem challenging to manage work and childcare when your children are little, the problems only becomes more complex once they start school.Long daycare makes it somewhat easier for parents to maintain regular working hours. But the school day starts later and ends at least two hours earlier than the average working day.
That doesn’t even account for school holidays; there are four of those a year and they last for at least two weeks each. Even if you and your partner take annual leave separately to cover the holidays (meaning you don’t get to have holidays together), there will still be several weeks unaccounted for.
What are your options?
- Out of school hours care
One of the most popular choices for working parents with school-aged kids is before- and after-school care.
Out of school hours care (OOSH) is supervised care for infants and primary school children, generally operated by community or private organisations. The government also runs a similar program known as outside school hours care (OSHC) or vacation care (VC).
For some kids, this is an enjoyable option because it gives them time to hang out with their friends after school and there is a range of activities on offer. There is often homework help and food included too, which is invaluable to many parents.
While these programs have a lot to offer, places are not always available and, as children get older, they may be less keen to attend.
- Hire a student
A local university student who can pick up your child from school and stay with them at home until you return can be an option for some families. The hours can be a bit more flexible and the student may also be able to become a regular babysitter for the odd evening out too.
Being in their own home can suit some kids more because it’s more comfortable than staying at school or at a daycare facility. It also means you could consider an arrangement where they make dinner or do a few little other odd jobs, which can ease the evening load when you get home.
You could also consider sharing a nanny or babysitter with another family. That way, you share the cost and your kids have someone to hang out with.
It would be wise to consider a working-with-children check for anyone looking after your children as well as checking their references from previous employers.
- Work flexibly
Another option is to adjust your working hours. For example: instead of working from 9am to 5pm you might work from 7am to 2.30pm and forgo half an hour of your lunch break. This could free you up to do the school pick-up while your partner, if you have one, could start later and do the drop-off.
- Share the load with other parents
Many parents struggle navigating school hours and school holidays, so it might be possible to arrange a shared roster with someone you know in the same situation. This approach can dramatically reduce the amount of time you have to take off work.
During school holidays, working from home or splitting time taken as leave could be helpful.
- Grandparent care
Many parents are lucky enough to have their own parents nearby, as well as available and willing to help out with childcare during the holidays.
There’s no doubt that managing school-aged kids is a lot more challenging logistically than managing kids at daycare. It takes a lot of juggling, particularly when you add in after school activities, homework and assignments. The last year of primary and early years of high school are particularly interesting as you navigate the fact that they’re no longer eligible for formal after hours school programs, or they no longer want to attend, and determine when they are old enough to be home alone.