Summer Survival Strategies

Filed under: Holidays

Summer months are ripe with opportunity to help your kids grow in important ways and make positive memories that will last a lifetime, but there's also plenty of potential for overspending and aggravation. You can make this your family's best summer ever -- and keep expenses and frustration to a minimum -- but you've got to do your homework.

Think of it like this: Before you begin a trip, you need to determine your destination and create a plan to get there. The same goes for your children's vacation. As the mother of three boys, I learned that three components were key to a successful summer and my own sanity: 1) setting goals for how I wanted each of my sons to develop over the summer; 2) having a plan that moved them toward those goals; and 3), keeping a ready list of boredom-busting (but not budget-busting) ideas on hand. Here are the strategies I used to make this happen.

Aim high. Think about how you would like to see your kids develop this summer. What activities could help them go back to school smarter, happier, and more confident? What character qualities could you enhance? What new skills could they learn? (Include toddlers and pre-schoolers as you consider summer goals and activities.)

Ask the experts. Let your kids share what they would most like to do and learn, and what special abilities or interests they would like to develop over the summer. (Download and print a list of Summer Fun and Learning Ideas to launch this discussion.)

Put a pencil to it. Find some time when you and your spouse can make a list of potential summer activities that are in harmony with your kids' desires and interests, as well as your goals for their growth, your budget and resources, and your schedules and availability.

Start out on the right foot. Be sensitive to the fact that kids need time to decompress after the stress and structure of nine months of school. Give them time for extra rest and adjustment the first couple of days after school's out, then convene a family meeting to talk about summer plans. Discuss adjustments to bedtimes, curfews, and household responsibilities. Set specific ground rules for "screen time" to regulate their intake of television, video games, and the Internet.

Plan your weeks and days. Use a Weekly Planner and Summer Daily Hit List to organize ideas and activities, and plan each day with your children's developmental goals in mind. Include free time every day so your kids (and you) don't feel schedule-bound, and make sure to schedule time for yourself.

Organize for summer fun. Store swimming gear -- life jackets, floating toys, goggles, beach towels and sun screen -- in one convenient place; gather yard-game equipment -- Frisbees, horseshoes, badminton and croquet gear -- into one storage area; stock your picnic basket with unbreakable dishes and utensils for impromptu picnics and park outings.

Be flexible. Don't be rigid about your summer schedule or expect perfection. A good idea at the beginning of the week may not be right when Friday arrives. When an activity has to be changed suddenly, quell disappointment by explaining why the plans had to change and be prepared with Plan B.

Network and resource. Trade out lessons with parents with different abilities and gifts from yours. If you enjoy baking, schedule a time to show your child and theirs how to bake a great cake. If you've got a green thumb, host a session with the kids about gardening or plant care. Another parent could hold a sewing or woodworking class, or teach pre-teen girls about skincare and makeup.

Swap and barter. Find a few moms who want to participate in a bartering club. Trade toys that your kids don't mind living without for a couple of weeks. Your children will enjoy having different toys often, and you'll save money not buying new ones. You can also host a neighborhood swap party for books, DVDs, children's clothing, or most anything. You all go home with new items without money changing hands.

Visit Kathy Peel's web site to learn about becoming a Certified Family Manager® Coach. Peel has authored 20 books including The Busy Mom's Guide to a Happy, Organized Home (2009 Mom's Choice Winner).

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.