Six ways of having a fabulous summer on a tight budget

As the summer months edge into September, I cannot help but feel a tinge of regret. I always do, because summers had always been magical for me ever since my children were born. We were financially not well-off in those days, given that I was a University student and my children’s young father did not have a highly paid job. But we had something infinitely more precious than cold hard cash, and that was time plus the mindset to enjoy that time with our children. OK, I must confess here that in the beginning, we used to fight over this: I would rather we worked during the summer months to ease our tight financial situation, but he resolutely would not work at all from July to September. Oh, how we fought over our ideals, but I am glad he won hands down in this instance, because we have had close to 30 magical summers in our lifetime together.

Here are our trialled and tested ways of having a fabulous summer on a tight budget:

  1. Home exchange

This sounds unbelievable, but we exchanged our humble council house in a rough estate in Manchester with a couple from Italy who wanted two weeks of ‘hard culture and party’. Welcome to the Barlow Hall estate, folks, where most of our unemployed neighbours stayed up late drinking cheap beer and watching football on television (you could hear the swearing though the thin walls). The couple from Italy was quite tight-lipped about what they had to offer (they posted photographs that gave very little clues), but we thought we had nothing to lose anyway because no house could be crappier than ours. Imagine our surprise when we arrived at a small palazzo in Venice. Apart from the stress of our children wrecking priceless carpets and falling into the canal, I must say it was one heck of a fabulous summer.

Websites for home exchange:

https://www.homebase-hols.com

http://www.homelink.org.uk

  1. Camping

Over the years, I have visited some really amazing places, but when it comes to sheer magic, nothing could ever beat waking up in a tent in the morning, stepping outside and seeing hundreds of wild New Forest ponies streaming past within feet of me. My children were completely blown away.

Thus, investing in a tent was the best investment we ever made. If you are a camping newbie, you could try ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) or camp in specialised campsites where you could find help on hand, running water and loo.

Though for me, nothing beats hitting the road with the children in the backseat of our old Land Rover, pitching up our tent wherever fancy took us. We camped in a cornfield in Luxembourg one summer (which must surely be the weirdest place ever) and had such a beautiful time in the fields of gold, feasting on corn, making corn dollies and going on long walks. Sometimes we ventured into the town for showers, to buy provisions and visit the sights. We waited every morning for the farmer to evict us, but he never came. We left a bottle of wine and a heartfelt Thank You note thanking him for one of the most magical holidays we have ever had.

  1. Visit hospitable friends

My eternal gratitude always to my dear friend Ruedi Achermann who very kindly loaned us his sumptuous apartment in front of the Rhine when we couldn’t afford holiday lets. We would chug to Basel on our trusty old beast of a Land Rover and live like lords for weeks on end. Look earnestly into your address book – you will have friends like Ruedi Achermann somewhere in there.

  1. Pack up with similar friends

Exploit economies of scale. Go on holiday with like-minded friends with children of the same age group. Not only do the children entertain themselves, adults can trade babysitting duties too.

  1. Collect coupons

We painstakingly collected coupons from The Times for free ferry crossing to France in low-season February, sailed to France for Valentine’s Day and made our magical third daughter there, all on a shoestring budget.

  1. Work for your board

My daughter’s martial arts coach from the UK will be running a three-month martial arts training camp on the beautiful tropical paradise Phuket. His wife and daughter will be accompanying him for this experience of a lifetime. And you guess it, free board and lodging for the whole family, an opportunity to visit somewhere amazing and start something …. all on a shoestring (airfares covered as part of the deal).

An evocative article on autumn: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3220331/Crackling-bonfires-new-books-school-Yes-end-summer-saddest-time-year-adore-it.html

A positive parenting/teaching style

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 10.51.52 PMA few days ago, I posted about G’s father trying to help her with her homework, and although her father has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, had worked as a research engineer at the National Maritime Institute, and had taught A level Electronics in some of the best schools in England, she wasn’t just going to accept his word unquestioningly.

“I disagree with why you have to convert everything out of Newtons, Dad,” she said sullenly. “Seems a dumb way of doing things.”

My post brought in several messages from Asian mothers along the lines of “Aiyoh, you allowed her to challenge her father?” and “Your daughter must learn some humility.”

I agree, in part. Being a secret Tiger Mum myself, I could not have taught this child. And I am glad she has a father who has the patience of a saint, and a school that supports her learning style.

Today, I sat through a presentation by the Head of her school, the British International School, Phuket. Mr. Neil Richards spoke passionately about his vision. A couple of the things that resonated deeply with me were the following words of his:

 “I am committed to giving your children as many opportunities as possible to express themselves” and “Taking them beyond examinations.”

Yes!

Too often, schools and education systems (and by extension, teachers) are focused solely on getting their students to pass exams through memorising and rote-learning, thereby robbing the next generation of the opportunity to use their brains productively and richly. Learning to score top marks in exams without understanding the rationale behind the subject constitutes a narrow band of learning how to solve specific problems only, which given enough time, even apes can do. You don’t grow your brain by drilling for hours on past exam papers or memorising things that make no sense to you, just because some long-dead Professors said so.

“Teenagers are messy, they are control freaks. It is part of their DNA to want to take control back from the parents. We allow them to do so, but not too much too soon.” Wise words, Mr Richards, and the questioning, challenging and debating are all part of the process of making sense of the world around them, which they will be custodians of. We want to raise thinking leaders, not meek sheep.

My Richards spoke of his belief that Success = Attitude + Teacher + Ability. And surprisingly, Ability is only 20%, according to his 20 years’ experience as an educator. He believes strongly that all learning is emotional. How a child feels inside relates to how he will learn for the rest of the day. A child who is comfortable and happy in school will learn better throughout the day. And perhaps even influence his life’s choices.  Mr Richards himself was influenced by Mrs Griffiths, the history teacher who taught him when he was eight, and the positive influence she has on his life. And all Mrs Griffiths did was made the eight year old Neil Richards feel confident in himself academically.

The British International School in Phuket has succeeded in implementing its Head’s vision of creating a happy, comfortable place. The environment is indeed collegiate, non-threatening, sunny and relaxed. G, in her second week at the school, was not too intimidated by her new environment, and dared to put her hand up in class to correct her teacher. I give full kudos to that particular teacher, who was gracious enough to check the answer on the Internet, and concede that G was indeed correct.

G feels good in the school and I am confident that she will achieve great things, though she comes home and says that her teachers goof around in class. Today, I will tell her what her Head said, that this is all part of the grand plan.

 

Footnote: I am working on an article about teaching children how to think.  Follow this blog and read it, if you believe in raising thinking leaders, not meek sheep. And get ready for the questioning, the challenging, the debate. 🙂