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Summer is coming!

April 30, 2014

As a child, those three words thrilled me to no end. As a parent, if I’m being honest, they bring anxiety, stress and frustration. My son attends a local public school. The 2014 summer vacation stretches on from June to August for TEN WEEKS. It’s wonderful for the kids, but for me it means TEN weeks that my husband and I have to arrange to take time off of work, beg family to come babysit, and find suitable summer camp options for our son to attend. My husband and I both work full time, so neither of us are available to be home everyday. It’s not easy.

I remember the days when my son was in preschool. I didn’t fully appreciate the year-round care he received there until it was over. Nowadays, getting ready for summer becomes a whirlwind of researching different options, talking to fellow parents, and making arrangements so that all fifty days of official summer vacation are sufficiently covered.

One thing I am grateful for, however, is options. Living in Central Florida, we are lucky to have lots of camps and places to choose from. Camps at theme parks, community centers, tech camps, sports camps, and art camps are available to us, just to name a few.

Having done this a few times now, I figured I would share a few thoughts on how parents that work year round can simplify this process.

Start Early!

We start planning for summer in February and March. It seems ridiculous to start so early, but some of the options that we want fill up fast.  We have learned the hard way that if you don’t have your weeks planned out by April, you could be out of luck! Last year, we planned my son’s activities for June and July and figured we would put something together for August “when we got to it.” Big mistake. Midway through June, I called the camp he was already attending and asked if they could add him on for two weeks in August. I was told they were full for August. I asked about a waiting list. I was told there were already FORTY FIVE kids on the waiting list. Lesson learned. We won’t be waiting this year.

Check your checkbook!

The cost of camps vary widely. Our son really wanted to attend a camp that was on the pricier side last year that ran for one month of the summer. The cost was considerable, but he really wanted to go and had a close friend also attending. We compromised by enrolling him in this camp, but also enrolling him in a much more inexpensive option for the rest of the summer. Another idea to keep in mind is that many camps offer scholarships and discounts. It never hurts to ask!

Try to make it fun

I, and maybe some others of you out there, have felt tempted to choose camps geared towards areas that I feel are most beneficial for my son, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s what he wants to do. Let’s use swimming as an example. A swimming camp sounds like a great idea to a Floridian parent. We are surrounded by pools, lakes, canals, and the better swimmer someone is, the safer they are. My son can swim well, but I can’t help but feel there could be more for him to learn how to do. However, a swimming camp is the last thing he wants to do this year. I know this because I asked and was given a definite “No!” I want him to do what I think is best, but at the same time, he’s a kid and it’s his summer vacation; he should be able to have fun and do what he likes, too!

Take a break

If you can. Ten weeks of activities and camps is a lot. Our kids may be put into new situations where they have to meet all new people, make new friends, and learn new rules, maybe more than once within the course of two months. Many camps and programs pride themselves on the long lists of activities they have for the kids to do. That’s great, but also exhausting for the kids! If possible, take a few days off here and there, give the kids some time with you and some time to just breathe!

Trust your gut!

Safety is always at the top of any parent’s list of concerns. Do your homework when checking into a new (or old) place. Ask the big questions: What is the ratio of kids to adults? Are the counselors/ staff background checked? Is everyone CPR-certified and knowledgeable about First Aid? What’s the pick-up policy if someone comes to pick up a child that the staff doesn’t know? Talk to the people in charge and trust yourself- If you feel uncertain about something, talk to them about it. This is where your kids will be spending a significant amount of their time for their summer. Having fun is important, but being safe is crucial.

The summer can be a fun, but challenging time as a parent. We want our kids to enjoy themselves, hope they grow and learn new things, and have to trust in others that they will take care of our “babies.”

How do you get through the summer as a parent?  If your children attend camps and summer programs, what works for you and your family?