Oh No! I Missed Summer Camp Registration Deadlines!

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Creative, thrifty alternatives for a summer of learning and fun

In many places, there's a gap between the time kids are off school in the summer and the annual leave working parents are able to take. How to bridge it while keeping your job?  Summer camps are popular, but sometimes expensive, or with too few spots available. The good news is that it's possible to have a productive and fun summer with everyone being flexible and keeping an open mind. Many parents are working from home these days or able to by request. 

The first step is setting expectations. Let kids know that they may be home all day, but it doesn't mean they can play all day or that you can play with them. But it doesn't mean that no play will occur, either. The best summer days include a mix of activities. I set expectations by sketching out a schedule with hour blocks that we can all see: Breakfast and dress, tidy time, learning time, free play, lunch, screen time, and outside time. If you're tied to your desk from 8 to 4, make sure your kids see on the schedule that you'll be able to go to the neighbourhood pool from 4 to 6. The day is not a slog: their favourite block is yet to come.

Keeping a focus on learning will ensure a smooth transition back to school in the fall. This doesn’t mean you need to set up a day’s worth of home school. Promote engagement by letting your children focus on the parts of learning they love best. Science fans can read books about animal facts, math whizzes can drill with flash cards, budding writers can get a special notebook where they journal about their day. 

Outschool and other virtual platforms

The engaging and affordable virtual learning sessions offered at this site give kids a bit of structure while learning new things and having fun. Good especially for social kids, or only children, they’re a great way to give them some real-time interaction. And a number of the sessions meet regularly, so attendees can get to know one another. 

Building independence

With the right attitude, kids will not lament your busy-ness, but embrace their freedom. This can be a valuable time for them to explore. Let them be in charge of lunch: even at a young age, when I kept the pantry stocked, my son enjoyed making a mandala-like plate of snacks with things like crackers, nuts, cheese cubes, and dried fruit (and making plates for me to eat at my desk).  You can oversee breakfast and dinner and know that, as long as their bellies are filled, it’s ok if lunch doesn’t include every single food group.

Set up a “job jar”

When I was a kid, nothing motivated me to do chores more than having a specific goal in mind. While my kids aren't saving up for Nirvana cassettes as I was, they're still thrilled by the idea of pocket money. My mom had a great idea of filling an empty jar with bits of paper, each representing a small task that could be completed for a fee: Sweep floors – 50 cents. Unload the dishwasher – 50 cents. Let your kids do a few jobs and then collect their day’s pay, just in time for the ice cream truck.

Mail call

I set up a card organizer with cards, postcards, kid-friendly postage stamp designs, address labels and a list of our family members' addresses and birthdays. My kids love sending quick notes and drawings to family and friends – and it will bring excitement to a future day if they get something in return! 

Don't forget about libraries

Why are other people's toys more interesting than our own? Almost all libraries have children's areas that it's impossible to tear my children away from. Work while they play and read: a number of the libraries in my town also have Zoom booths, for those who need a quiet space to hop onto a call.

For parents whose work requires them to be out of the home, there are options, too:

Trade time with neighbours

Drop your kids off down the street in exchange for doing the same with the neighbours.  I admit that I was wary of trying this – isn't twice the number of kids only going to make life harder?  But the other side of the coin – total silence, and the amount of things I'm able to do with no distractions – makes this worth it. You can even set up a co-op with four other families so that everyone takes a day in a workweek, but you only need to take one day off or work from home. 

Take a week of half-days

Instead of taking a week off, use 2.5 vacation days to front-load your day with work tasks and then spend the afternoons together. Swap places with your co-parent if your village is small. Many camps, especially those for smaller children, operate from 9-12, for example. Live in a warmer climate or have busier afternoons? Do it the other way around – donuts and park in the morning, and then tired kids can engage in low-impact activities while you work.

Some days, it may be a juggling act, but with a little creativity, you can not only survive the summer, but thrive as a family.


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