It’s the school holidays! For some children nowadays, it’s about “fun” enrichment classes, indoor parks and playgrounds, and overseas holidays. Is it possible to plan activities that are fun and enriching for your children without spending too much?
The possibilities are endless! It’s not what you do, it’s doing things together. It’s about being present in their lives.
Most kids like hands-on activities, so cook and bake with them, show them how to pick ingredients – how to measure them, clean them, chop them – then show them how to wash up afterwards.
Holidays were when we had the smell of cupcakes and cookies baking in the oven. And when the oven was occupied, we improvised by steaming the cakes! Be the one that teaches them to ride bikes, running alongside them to coach them or catch them if they fall. Don’t outsource what you can do with them. They will remember the fun you had together for years to come.
What did your children get up to typically? Where did you get your ideas for activities from?
When my girls were little – they are 18 and 21 now – holidays were about playdates. They liked having friends over and going over to their friends’ and the neighbours’. I actually didn’t have to think so hard about how to occupy them. The girls and their friends were pretty creative at play. Mundane everyday household objects are full of potential in the eyes of little children.
One thing they loved was to re-arrange the furniture and drape bedsheets over them to create a maze of caves and tunnels to crawl around and hide in. They spent endless hours making up adventures with their friends or playing hide and seek. Going to the zoo and museums, splash playgrounds, and reading books at the library were also things we did regularly.
Are there any advantages to minimising spending on activities for your children? Wouldn’t they feel like they’re missing out?
For me, yes, there are advantages – I save more! Okay, seriously, I never asked how they felt, but they have never complained about missing out – well, at least not when they were younger. As they got older, they learnt about tradeoffs and that it simply wasn’t possible to have everything they wanted – especially when they were old enough to work legally.
The thing is, it’s possible to have fun for less. And it’s fun to see how little kids imagine and explore the world through their made-up games.
There is no better way to understand the value of a dollar than if you earn it yourself. It is also a sure way to learn about getting on with others. Of the holiday jobs I have done, I remember my days as a waitress best with equal measures of cringing and pride about earning my own money. So it’s all about balance. There are, of course, things you have to pay for – entrance fees to museums, Gardens by the Bay, indoor playgrounds, laser tag. And there were things the kids knew we were saving up for, like an education at university or an overseas holiday.
Was this approach something you discussed with your husband very early on? What were your considerations at that time?
My husband and I are quite similar in that we have always been budget-conscious. We had simple childhoods: He played basketball at school; I liked books and exploring nearby building sites, climbing up and down half-built homes. Back then, we didn’t have the choices our kids have today and we made the most of whatever was around, including hand-me downs.
Can you share with other parents out there how to communicate this idea to their children?
It’s easier if you start shaping expectations young. Explain that money is a limited resource – something that we work hard to earn, so we don’t want to spend it frivolously. Make use of one or two opportunities to demonstrate delayed gratification, trade-offs and shopping for value. Our kids also watch and mirror what we do. And we shouldn’t have double standards. If you walk around picking up little toiletries, beauty products and treats for yourself, you can’t really turn around and say “no” when they pick something up for themselves too. Kids don’t miss anything, so be consistent in your spending behaviour.
Hooi Min is a mother of two girls, 18 and 21. She and her husband believe that baking a cake together as a family during birthdays is better than buying gifts for one another.