As a working mom, I can handle a lot: sick kids, school projects, two guinea pigs, a fish, a very busy French bulldog, tight work deadlines, business trips, an aging mother, groceries, laundry. But June rolls around and the thought that my kids will soon be out of school just breaks me. I haven’t quite managed the ability to work from home with kids around and get anything done yet. And if I was in an office setting, things might be even more difficult. Many camps are half-days or end at 4 p.m.—impossible for a nine-to-fiver. It practically takes a flight controller to organize their schedules.
So what do I do when the school bell rings and my kids are out for the summer? I used to panic. But over time, I’ve created a plan that ends up saving my bacon every year. Here are a few tips to keep everyone happy.
Budget for summer camp
Why your kids need to get bored this summer Planning for summer starts in the fall for us. Camps are fantastic—my girls are rarely bored, go on new adventures and meet new friends, and my oldest learned to swim at camp. But all-day summer camps are expensive. Most of the ones we’ve looked at are hundreds of dollars a week per child, and sleep-away camps are even pricier. To be able to afford a few weeks of summer camp for two kids, we have to save thousands of dollars. Here’s how we do that.
- We only eat out as a family once a month. Check out these great recipes for all the other nights. Consider doubling some of these recipes and freezing them for easy meals on busy summer nights.
- I try to keep my family grocery bills as low as I can. I cut coupons and buy in bulk whenever I can.
- We sprayed insulation in our attic, keep our home temperature lower in winter and a little higher in summer and follow other energy-saving tips all year long. Every little bit helps.
- I set up an automatic withdrawal from my checking account that goes into our “slush” fund: our savings account for summer vacations and summer camps. Over the years, I try not to zero it out, so I’ve built up a little nest egg that we can rely on.
Find an affordable summer camp or program
For me, finding one camp that runs all summer long is important. It keeps my schedule simple (one location, one drop-off and one pickup all summer long), and I find one with a variety of activities so that my kids won’t get bored. But, depending on where you live, finding a day camp that runs all summer can be challenging. Here is a great list of day camps in Canada that you can filter by location and type. For camps in the United States, this database will let you search for type of camp (day or overnight) and filter by location.
We choose a camp that offers scholarships for families with limited income. Be sure to inquire about financial aid—most camps don’t advertise its availability, but if you apply and get even a small discount, it’s worth it.
As parents, we all learn to be resourceful, and it’s important to look for help wherever you can. For some, this may not mean summer camp; it may mean that the grandparents spend quality time with their grandkids once a week or a high-school student takes them every Friday. You can even work with other parents to schedule times where you can trade off on having each other’s kids. The kids will love being with their friends, even though it can get pretty taxing on the parents. It’s a great option for creative, available and very patient parents.
You could also alternate between this “co-op” summer schedule and several day camps that have week-long courses. This option takes a lot of planning, but it can create a wonderful and exciting variety for your kids.
Plan it all out
What I struggle with most is coordinating and planning an entire summer’s worth of activities months in advance. Dates have to be locked in, vacations have to be planned and fees have to be paid. And if you have more than one child, this struggle can eat you alive. It helps to plot it out, either on paper or digitally—pick one that works best with your organizational style.
- Physical calendar This works best if you’re a visual person like I am. It’s also nice for young children to be able to reference their calendars so they know what’s going on. You might still want to plan your summer out on paper before writing it in your calendar to make sure all your dates are covered.
- Wipe-off calendar Buy three large, blank, laminated calendars—one for June, July and August. Plan your summers using colour-coded, erasable markers. Put them up on a wall in your home so everyone can see the plan.
- Digital calendar If you work best with everything on your computer and phone, this is a great option. You can set reminders and share your calendar with your partner or kids who are old enough to have phones.
- Google Calendar You can organize your summer schedule on Google Calendar. It works with both iPhones and Androids and several Internet browsers. It’s the most user-friendly app I’ve found for handling multiple calendars.
Either way you approach it, you’ll want to double- and triple-check all your dates. Paying for camp the week that Grandma and Grandpa are visiting isn’t something you want to do.
Stay organized and be prepared
One of my biggest chores during the summer is packing lunches and keeping track of water bottles, sunscreen, sun hats and so on. Here are some helpful tips.
- Pack lunches the night before and stick them in the fridge. You can buy small ice packs that keep things cool in insulated lunch bags. Freezing juice boxes and water bottles helps lunches stay cold, and they’re ready to drink by lunchtime.
- Buy in bulk. I buy a huge box of squeezable applesauce packets, boxed juices, string cheese and a variety of potato chips to assemble lunches at night.
- Make lunches special. My girls get hot lunches at school, so these lunches are special for them. I try to give them some variety, and I send a quick little note in their boxes with them every day. It can be a quick sentence, like “Have the best day—I miss you!” My girls love it, and I feel like they miss me just a little bit less when I’m “there.”
- Pay attention to camp restrictions. Certain allergies and religious customs may mean dietary restrictions for sack lunches. One year, my daughters’ camp was both nut-free and kosher and to say that it posed a challenge is an understatement.
- Check backpacks every morning to make sure that sunscreen comes home with your camper (I buy several bottles at a time and always 70 SPF).
- Fill water bottles every night after rinsing them with hot, soapy water and fill them with ice in the morning.
- Hang swimsuits (if applicable) to dry every day when they come home from camp.
- When the kids come home from camp every day, they’re pretty tired. They’re usually content to read or play quietly, and occasionally we watch movies as a family. But I schedule play dates for the weekends, like trips to the park and the pool. I add them to the calendar, along with camps. It makes it handy to keep everything in one place.
Your summers should be enjoyable! And with a little planning, even for a working mom, they can be. Have fun!