When it comes to stringing together wonderful experiences for your children this summer, imagine the beads that would go on a charm bracelet for each of your kids. Which beads best represent your child’s interests: A soccer ball, a book, and a pair of hiking boots? Or perhaps a fairy wand, ballet slippers, and a teacup? No matter what the collection of interests, gather up some regional guides, hop online and conduct searches, and ask friends what they have planned for their kids. You are going on a summer activity hunt.
Who says summer can’t be fun and educational? Customizing a summer schedule for each child in the family is an eye-opening adventure in and of itself. If you want a peaceful summer, help your kids stretch their wings beyond the usual school-year routine. Turn your child’s summer into weeks of entertaining growth by thoughtfully scheduling activities each year.
Ink year-round commitments. You may already have school-year activities that extend into summer, like scouting or 4-H. Be sure to get these commitments on your child’s schedule first, so you don’t inadvertently overbook. If your child participates in a sport or another competitive activity, training camps are often required during the summer. When I was a kid, I often envied teammates who rejoined the team playing on a higher level than the season before thanks to attending summer training camp.
Ask for referrals. Chances are good that parents who have lived in your area for several years have the 411 on the best day camps and summer classes. Poll your friends individually or post a poll on social media to gather information. Be sure to specify all your kids’ interests to attract the most relevant recommendations. The whole point of customizing schedules is to come up with a summer plan to delight each child. Don’t send the fun-loving child who longs for improv classes to the same activities as the serious child who adores long games of chess. They can share the car ride, but make their activities reflect their individual passions.
Don’t overlook summer school. Since the summer before high school, we sign our daughter up to take a wellness course in the summer. Getting a jump on these pre-requisites allows her to take an extra art elective during the school year, which provides a welcome break during her school day. Ask your child’s school counselor if taking summer school courses might benefit your child’s schedule next year. Some districts even allow online learning or swapping summer athletic training for physical education requirements.
Check local resources. Schools, libraries, community centres, and the Summer Camp & Program Guide and the Tweens & Teens Guide on this website (click on the 'Resources' tab on the homepage) are great resources for finding summer activities! Be sure to ask for any printed or online guides offered. Also check towns near where you live to see if they offer additional programs that may interest your child. By driving one town over, at the beginning of each summer, we found a community theatre production our daughter can participate in inexpensively (now that’s worth a 10-minute drive!).
Consider your child’s needs. Be mindful of how much structure and supervision each offering includes. Some kids are more self-motivated than others. Sometimes a kid-centric focus is part of an activity’s allure. But if you know your child flourishes in a structured environment with adult leadership, trust your instincts. Consider scaffolding more leadership into your child’s summer experiences over time. If your child is reticent about trying new activities or making new friends, see if any school friends wish to try a new activity together. This can also allow for carpooling.
Go your own way. You may want your child to benefit from the experience of trying a new experience without school friends. If so, enroll in activities where enthusiasm for the topic will trump any first-day butterflies. Do not bend to social pressure if all of the other kids are doing an activity that is not a good match for your child. If the program focus isn’t a fit, the experience isn’t going to be enriching, no matter how many friends are in attendance. Make timely, age-appropriate choices for your children, and if religion is the focus, make sure it suits your family’s values.
Don’t overlook a summer reading challenge. If your child has a busy summer schedule, you might be concerned about not enough downtime. Signing your child up for a summer reading challenge at the beginning of summer is a great way to build downtime into any type of schedule. On busy days, reading will provide a welcome reprieve from social activity. And on lazy days, having a daily book-reading commitment can get an unscheduled day off to a good start.
Budget now for sleep-away camp. As you are putting your children through the paces of overcoming fears about new experiences with fresh faces, you may be thinking that this is all great preparation for sleep-away camp in the future. And that’s true. Why not start a conversation now about the possibility of sleep-away camp down the road? Consider opening a savings account to make overnight camp as positive an experience as possible when the time comes. Encourage your child to pitch in and help save money with you. Then, when the time to register arrives, you’ll both have buy-in and the flexibility of choice you crave.
Christina is an author, journalist, and writing coach who loves adventure. She never runs out of interesting things to see and do in her area, and hopes to pass this proclivity down to her daughter.
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