Parents aghast as kids' school holiday programme prices soar to $114 a day

Tama Marchant, 7, tucks into a pancake after reading his poem at the opening of Beyond the Page at Wellington Central ...
ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Tama Marchant, 7, tucks into a pancake after reading his poem at the opening of Beyond the Page at Wellington Central Library.

It's that time of year again. On Friday, kids poured from classrooms all over the country to enthusiastically begin their two-week winter break.

The question for many parents, of course, is what to do with them. While there are school holiday options aplenty, many come at a high price – some in excess of $100 per day.

Gone are the days of being packed off to a friend's place for the week with a ham sandwich and a licence to roam. 

Held in the arms of father Edwin Budding, 5-year-old Winifred Budding gets into the holiday spirit on the opening day of ...
ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Held in the arms of father Edwin Budding, 5-year-old Winifred Budding gets into the holiday spirit on the opening day of Wellington Central Library's Beyond the Page holiday programme.

Unitech runs a science-focused programme with 3D design, animation and robotics called the Mind Lab, for a hefty $150 for a one-day camp, or $114 per day for a five-day "immersion". That's $570 a week.

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For some, the price of the holiday programmes are excessive. Auckland mum Nicola Gordon was shocked when she calculated the cost of sending her children Neve, 7, and Cooper, 5, to a YMCA holiday program: $248 for two days.

"You look at the programmes and see they're only around $40 a day, and you think, yeah, that's not bad," she said. "But then you realise that's only from 9 to 3 and you have to factor in before and after costs. It adds up quickly."

This break, Gordon is planning to enlist the help of a high school student instead, as well as a bit of family assistance. Not only is it far cheaper, but it would also help the kids themselves get a break.

"A lot of holiday programmes are very active," she said. "That's fine for a few days, but we want to make it a mix. The idea is for the kids to have a rest – they don't want to be go, go, go all the time."

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There was also the problem of many places not offering a full 9-to-5 service covering workdays. "It often doesn't cover the needs for working parents," she said.

This weekend, Emily Clemett took her 7-year-old son Tama Marchant to the free opening day of Wellington City Library's free Beyond the Page festival. She said that while events like Beyond the Page were wonderful, they weren't necessarily available for everyone.

"This is really great, but I understand how shorter programmes aren't always as accessible for a lot of families," she said.

"For some people working 9-to-5 jobs, their kids don't necessarily have holidays. They get dropped off into creches and not much really changes. It can be very expensive, too."

Clemett said she wasn't confined to a strict workday, giving her more flexibility come holiday time.

"Because of my hours, I don't have to worry about finding an all-day option necessarily," she said. 

For their part, holiday programme providers stressed the range of options and prices available.

YMCA spokeswoman Danene Jones said YMCA holiday programmes were designed to suit most budgets. "The YMCA is very much about making sure our programmes are available for everyone," she said.

"We offer a range of prices, as well as Work and Income childcare subsidies. It's important that our programmes are affordable for all sectors of the community."

One of the more expensive options was The Mind Lab by Unitech programme.

General manager Fee McLeod said there was a reason for the steep charges.

"Basically, the way it works is during term time, when kids come with schools, they pay $6 per hour," she said. "Our school holiday programmes help subsidise what we do during term time. It boosts everything for the rest of the year."

She added the courses lasted a full day, saving having to worry about before and after care. 

"Oh, it's chocka," she said. "Demand is really high."

 - Sunday Star Times

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