I know for a lot of people, March Madness means basketballs and brackets. For me, March Madness means summer camp sign-ups and logistical planning that could rival any big-city transportation schedule. Summer camps? But it’s only March, you say. To which I respond with an eye twitch and a hysterical giggle, followed by an offer to share graph paper with you…you poor lost soul.
Ok, so maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but March is when I get down to business for planning summer camps for my kids. It’s when schools and rec centers start sending home flyers about this camp that will make your kid care about science, or that camp that will give your kid the soccer skills she needs to nab a college scholarship ten years from now. (Don’t start me on this.)
And, of course, there are sign-up deadlines. So, if I want my kids to go to any of these camps, I need to have my proverbial ducks in a row. Which is easy for some, but my ducks tend to wander, get lost under couches, or suffocate under piles of papers. March means I’ve got to get my summer game-face on!
When I worked full-time, I didn’t have to worry about much about juggling camps. All of the pressure was on finding THE camp. The perfect camp that would open by 7:30 and stay open until at least 5:15. The camp that offered structure and fun plans…but also enough down-time for my kid to feel like he was actually on break from school – instead of just another school cleverly disguised in beach themes and “water fun” days.
I’m a SAHM right now, which means we can save money by not having to do all day childcare for three kids. Theoretically. But if I jam-pack the summer with camps that cost $60 here and $100 there…for three kids…well, that adds up fast. There’s a delicate balance of maintaining my sanity and maintaining the checkbook. You’ve got to figure out what’s going to work for your family. I’ve erred on the side of sanity most summers, but this summer I’m looking for more of that “middle ground.” Just enough camps to keep them busy and just enough downtime as to not drain the bank account. (I may regret this come mid-July – I’ll let you know.)
A Game Plan
After you’ve gathered all the brochures and your eyes are going a little crossed at the camp costs and the amount of money you may be spending on gas…STOP. This is where you get out your mental beach bag. It’s empty, right? Now, the first thing we toss in that mental beach bag are our towels because they take up a lot of space and we don’t want to forget them…because that’s uncomfortable. Your beach towels are important! Now think of your beach towels as your summer must-do’s. For example, a family camping trip. That’s your first beach towel. Shove it in. Now mark it on the calendar. Maybe your next beach towel is an affordable basketball camp conveniently located down the street that your kid is dying to go to. Stuff it in, mark the calendar. Perhaps your third beach towel is a one-day road trip to a dinosaur museum everyone will love. Stuff it in and mark the calendar. Our mental beach bag fills up quickly, but if we put the most important stuff in first, you won’t get to August 15th and regret letting less important trips and camps get in the way of what you really wanted to do.
Now you can toss in the other trips and camps as they fit…and you have to decide for yourself when the beach bag is full. I know I’m trying to leave more space in our summer this year. Picture me with a manageable beach bag! A bag where sunscreen bottles aren’t falling out and breaking on the cement, creating Jackson Pollack knock-offs. A bag that isn’t so heavy that it’s digging into my sunburned shoulders as I scream at children to watch for cars in the parking lot because they’re going to get run over for crying out loud!
You get the idea. Get your important stuff onto that calendar first while you’re still thinking clearly…before everything starts seeming like important/can’t miss summer fun.
I have three boys who have the audacity to be their own people with their own interests. If only I could sign them up for all the same camps at the exact same time! Alas, this is where my planning tables come in. Here’s a sample:
Each kid, each week, all available camps. It’s like a horrible word-problem from high school math class: If Son #1 goes to this camp at 8am, and I drive like a woman with her hair on fire to get Sons #2 and #3 to a camp at 8:30am in another town…What are the chances all three of them will wake up in a good mood, cooperatively eat breakfast, gather all their own gear, and get into the minivan without a physical altercation? By 7:30am? Um, that would be zero percent chance. ZERO PERCENT. Perhaps Sons #2 and #3 don’t go to that 8:30 camp. Maybe, for sanity sake, this is where we have some open time.
I’m trying to vet each camp decision by:
- How much does my darling really want to go to this camp?
- How much does this incredible opportunity cost?
- How much time will I have to spend driving? Is there potential for carpooling?
- Do they have friends interested in this camp?
- Do I need to stay on site for this camp? Or would I be able to run to the grocery store in peace?
Then, it’s time to make some cuts. I need to leave big, open spaces for playing in the backyard, riding bikes, and general mischief-making.
I also pencil in lots of free stuff, like special programs at the planetarium or library, even if I doubt we’ll get to them. If you are looking for low-cost, low-commitment summer fun, these are a few of my faves:
- Library summer reading programs (Read books! Get prizes! Keep their brains from going to mush!)
- Self-made tours. One year, we did a “Library Tour.” Each week, I schlepped them to a different library. It was fun to check out the toys and displays in the different kids’ sections. I know a friend who did an “Ice Cream Shop” tour one summer in search of their fave, which I thought was brilliant.
- Berry picking…we live in Ohio, so there are a lot of farms within a short drive that offer times for the public to come pick fruit. The kids love it!
- Museums…we have a lot around here. We usually head over to a museum right when it opens in the morning. Spend maybe two hours and then head home for lunch.
For a few years, when Son #2 and Son #3 were very small, I was big on themes. Each week of the summer had a theme and all of our activities – and sometimes even our snacks – revolved around the week’s theme. (This is when I was much younger and less jaded.) You can find ideas for this type of planning on Pinterest and on some homeschooling websites. Here’s a photo from my days of themed summer planning. I look at it now as a cry for help, but in the moment, the structure made all the difference. And the kiddos loved it.
One last note: I try to impress upon my little knuckleheads just how fortunate we are. I like to point out that we live in an area where there are safe, affordable, and fun camps. How lucky is that? Even as I complain about scheduling and costs, I know these are pretty amazing “problems” to have! Happy Summer Planning!
This is my first year having to jump into the camp fray, and once I was done wiping away the tears of laughter that Julie’s post produced, I got on my knees and said a little Thank You that I’ve only got one child to schedule. Even then – the brochures are piling up, and just last night I realized that the ‘early bird’ discounts expire on some as early as April! So thank you, Julie, for this much needed call to get organized and the practical tips to get me moving in the right direction! Here’s to a summer full of ice cream shop tours, theme weeks, and hopefully even some campy fun!
One more note: Since we are all about planning this week, we are going to do our first giveaway – a planner! Just head over to the right-hand side of this blog, enter your email, hit “subscribe”, and poof! You’re registered to win! The lucky winner will be announced next Sunday, April 1st. Have a great week!