It’s been a harsh winter. Spring is taking its time getting here. It may seem like summer is forever away but it really is time to start planning. Summer vacation for the kids is anything but a vacation for us working parents if we don’t feel the children are well cared for and safe. It’s April. It’s time to plan.

Make a grid. Kids’ names go across the top. Weeks go down the side. Your job is to fill in every slot, preferably before mid May. It’s a chore. It’s often not easy. But once it is done, you and the kids can relax, knowing that you’ve got the summer covered.

Child 1Child 2Child 4
Week 1
Week 2
Week 3
Week 4
Week 5
Week 6
Week 7
Week 8

Here’s a reminder of options for safe, supervised summertime fun:

  • Sitters. School is out for older teens and college students too. Work is hard to find. Contact the high school guidance department. Ask them to contact students they can recommend about your available job. If there is a college nearby, contact the Early Childhood, Education, and Leisure Services departments. Interview carefully. Set clear expectations. Provide clear information about options for summer fun. Sit the kids down with the sitter to establish clear ground rules. Make sure to stock the fridge. Pay decently and you’ll buy quality. Always be considerate and on time and you’ll win loyalty.
  • Parent-to-parent swaps. If you have a friend with same-aged kids, consider using some of your vacation time to provide a parent-run “camp.” You take your friend’s kids for a week or two. She or he takes yours for a week or two. The adults can relax knowing the kids are in good care. Both families save quite a bit of cash. You can enjoy time at the park or at the beach and playing backyard games and doing crafts with your favorite kids. Make sure that you and the other parent have similar expectations about how the days will go, beginning and end times, what you expect each other to provide in the way of meals and snacks, and how you will set limits.
  • Day camps. The Scouts, the YMCA, 4-H, your local recreation program, and some private camps offer day camp opportunities of anywhere from a week to all summer. For children too young or who don’t want to be away from family and friends, day camp provides the camp experience without the separation. They cost much less than overnight camp. Many have “campership” programs for those who are low income and qualify.
  • Recreation Department/Leisure Services activities. Many communities have a local recreation department that offers sports camps, arts and crafts camps, or a day camp kind of model. Most are affordable. Many offer a sliding scale fee structure. Many have a scholarship program.
  • Overnight camps. For some families, overnight came is the best option. These camps run from one week to all summer. Some are run by organizations like the Girl and Boy Scouts. Some are private. Some focus on one major activity (such as computers, theater, or wilderness) while others offer a smorgasbord of activities every day. Like day camps, many offer camperships to help low-income families. Talk to other parents to get ideas. Take care to make sure your child is ready to spend time away from home.
  • Summer school. Many school systems offer summer programs that include some academics and a lot of fun. Especially consider this if your child is struggling with school or is at risk to lose skills over the summer. Summer school can give your child the extra academic support her or she needs. Done well, summer school also includes crafts, sports, and the arts so it isn’t all work and no play.
  • Daycare. If you have a young child in daycare, explore whether the program is open during the summer months. Most are. Continuing what is familiar is comforting to many children. See if there is the flexibility to continue daycare for some of the weeks and to take time off as well.
  • Volunteer work. Kids who are between 12 and 16 are the hardest to occupy in the summer. Many consider themselves too old for many of the other options and yet they are too young for paid employment. Give them a head start on paid work in the future. Help them build a resume and a work ethic by doing some volunteer work. Many camps have a “counselor in training” program for middle teens. Nonprofits are often delighted to have another set of hands to do work. Just make sure there is enough supervision and enough to do every day to keep your child engaged.

Here’s a sample grid from when my kids were young. My husband and I each had two vacation weeks. We each planned to use one to cover the kids and saved the other for a family camping trip. We then met with the kids to talk about their interests and what we could afford.

We spread out the recreation department catalogs, the brochures from camps, and the two-page spread from the local newspaper that featured summer fun opportunities and worked on it as a team. We talked about what they would like to do on the weeks that were parent-run. We talked about where to go for the family vacation. It took a few weeks but by mid-May the grid was filled and we were all looking forward to what summer would bring.

Daughter (age 14)Son (age 12)Son (age 9)Daughter (age 3)
Week 1College student the kids liked as a “sitter” for the week. Swimming lessons for the three older kids each morning.Day care
Week 2Week with Mom
Week 3Girl Scout day camp CIT programComputer day camp (at local college)Recreation department Baseball campDay care
Week 4Girl Scout CIT programTrip with friend’s familyRec departmentComic book illustration campDay care
Week 5Week with Dad
Week 6Theatre day campBoy Scout troopOvernight campBoy Scout TroopOvernight campDay care
Week 7Invited to go camping with friend’s familyRec department Soccer campRec department Soccer campDay care
Week 8Family vacation

Related article: What’s So Great about Summer Camp?

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Juhan Sonin.