Plan ahead. For younger children, day camps and activities are a great way to keep them occupied during the workday, but be mindful of their time. "Kids like downtime and having every moment structured is stressful for them."
Be creative. What can be a stress for parents -- lack of child care -- might be an opportunity for adolescents -- babysitting. The summer can be a time for teens to take on responsibilities and earn spending money.
Communicate. It's OK to talk about money with kids aged seven and up; it's helpful for them to know what their parents can afford, so they can request activities or funds within the family's budget.
Family meetings and getting the kids involved
Young eyes widen with anticipation as they glance over the coffee table covered in maps and brochures for summer camps, national parks and campgrounds. On top of the stack is a blank sheet of paper soon to be ï¬�lled with minutes from a family meeting – everyone's ideas on how to have a fun-ï¬�lled summer. Gary J. Meiers, a marriage, family and child therapist in Edmonton, suggests sitting down for such a meeting before the end of the school year and developing a summer plan for your family based on answers from the following questions.
"What can we afford?" Parents should determine the budget ahead of time in private. Can you afford a dream vacation or will it be a summer of fun day trips close to home and weekend camping adventures? Once you have decided what you can afford, you're ready to brainstorm with your kids about what they'd like to do.
"What ideas do you have for the summer?" Gather suggestions from each family member and write them down. Listen to their ideas without evaluating them. In the end, it's up to you, the parents, to make ï¬�nal decisions.
"What do you want to do?" Ask followup questions; if they want to go on a trip, where to, for how long and with whom? If a suggestion is unattainable, such as too expensive, offer alternatives.
"How important are the things on your list?" You're asking your family to rank their ideas. If something is especially important -- maybe spending one relaxing week at home so you and your kids can enjoy summer's lazy pace -- make the effort to direct your attention toward that goal, while drafting a summer plan that works for everyone.
"Do you mean…?" Paraphrase what your children tell you so you can be sure you have fully understood their ideas and suggestions. This also allows your children to recognize that you are listening to their suggestions and value their input.
"Between options A, B and C, which would you rather do?" After evaluating everyone's suggestions, narrow them down to manageable activities and provide options. Seek out everyone's preferences, starting with the most desired, from the choices.
Tip: Don't worry if your plan doesn't come together all at once. Meiers says it's OK to problem-solve and debate about schedules in front of the kids. "Some kids never see conï¬‚ict and resolution," he says, "and conï¬‚ict is part of life."
Page 1 of 2 -- Kids itching to go to camp? Learn how to have a do-it-yourself camp on page 2.
Start with a calendar
Before you pack a suitcase or jump on your bike, create a family calendar. Take two big pieces of paper – one for July, the other August – and have the kids create a calendar. Mark down everyone's summer commitments, such as Mom's vacation dates from work, Dad's golf tournaments, the family reunion, your swimming lessons, Aunt Mildred's 80th birthday bash, Hayden's hockey camp, Isabelle's babysitting schedule, Rover's grooming appointments…you get the idea. Post the calendar on the wall in the kitchen and let the summer begin!
Do-it yourself camps
Create your own day-camp experience for your kids (don't worry, you won't be hosting a circus troupe in your backyard for a week). Here's how.
• The key to a successful create-your-own-camp experience is to team up with like-minded family, friends and neighbours who have kids that your children enjoy spending time with.
• Create a pool of four or more families and then talk – adults and kids – about what kind of camp experience you want. Will you have a theme? Do you want to take advantage of activities and attractions around the community or stick to your homes? If the kids stay at home, whose home will they congregate in?
• Discuss what you want to spend on outings and supplies and then build a ï¬�ve-day schedule based on your collective budget and what you all plan to achieve and spend.
• If parents are willing to take one vacation day per week, for example, you can all share the supervision. If that's not an option, enlist the help of a local babysitter or two and split the cost.
Tip: While most camps you pay for are ï¬�lled with dawn-to-dusk activities, a do-it-yourself camp can offer some much-needed downtime for kids to kick back and hang out together.
Don't let rain clouds dampen your fun. Be prepared with the following rainy-day kit.
• Books for all ages. Keep a variety of books for individual reading, such as from the Choose Your Own Adventure series, and for reading aloud.
• Bits and pieces of old wrapping paper and coloured construction paper as well as old ribbons and buttons to make crafts. Be sure to include a glue stick, coloured pencils and scissors.
• A supply of origami paper and instructions.
• Balloons and instructions for making shapes out of balloons, such as animals and musical instruments.
• Board games for all ages, including adults.
• A book of card tricks and a deck of cards.
• Some traditional, no-electricity games, such as a yo-yo, marbles, pick-up sticks, scavenger hunts and dominos. Your kids will wonder about the lack of blinking lights and swirly sounds, but they'll soon be mesmerized by these old-fashioned favourites.
• Try the following verbal game. Ask the question, "Would you rather…?" and ï¬�ll in the answer. For example, would you rather eat a handful of dirt or kiss a toad? See how icky the fun can become!
Want some great summer crafts to try? Check out our kids's crafts for summer.
This story was originally titled "Ultimate Summer Planning Guide" in the June 2007 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!
Page 2 of 2