A Family Summer to Remember on a Budget

By mid April I’m already panicking. Not about taxes, my daughter’s 4th grade history report, my son’s birthday party plans, or the many other world issues that often consume my thoughts… I’m panicking about summer. April is the time to book the kids’ first-come-first-serve spots before all the summer workshops and camps get filled up — quickly. By the time summer comes around, parents have already planned, budgeted, and organized all the events their child(ren) will be participating in to make for an active and successful two-to-three month summer break.

As a stay-at-home mother of school-aged kids, I know busy. Homework, quizzes, weekly vocab words, spelling tests, projects, the morning struggle to get everyone out the door on time, as well as all the extracurricular activities and seasonal sports during the school year keeps our family going nonstop.

During the school year my husband and I adapt and thrive on routine — sometimes even craving it — to make the most of our time and exert the endless energies of three kids. So, as summer break approaches, there is great fear in losing these well-trained habits and daily expectations.

I’ve experienced first-hand what many parents go through with stir-crazed kids at home: whining, dissatisfied digital zombies, complaining about boredom, having no one to play with, and, worse, feeling like they are missing out on what their friends are up to. When parenting professionals explain that kids need routines to give them a sense of security and help them develop self-discipline, you can’t help but agree with the benefits of a summer routine.

In one report, the researchers conclude that kids who participate in summer learning programs are more likely to improve in their overall student achievement, especially in mathematics and language arts. For my oldest daughter with autism, this was crucial for her, so she wouldn’t regress in newly acquired skills. At the same time, her being in summer school (ie: not at home) kept my husband and me sane and more consistent with her home routines. This seems unique, however, since her disability allowed us to qualify for this extended school year program through our school district at zero cost to us and were even offered transportation if we chose.

Despite our individual situation, the reality is that many families do not have such options available to them because of the cost of such programs — especially those with single income households and multiple kids, or those who lack transportation or restraints on time commitments. Sadly, these families cannot afford any break in summer at all, and will find themselves feeling disappointed when answering the inevitable “What are your kids up to this summer?” question without a filled itinerary.

While summer camps are a blast, the best memories of my childhood were not about how many things I did, but rather who I was with and how much fun we had in those moments.

Ultimately, a mind of contentment will help parents and kids to stop comparing themselves to others.

So whether or not you want to have an uneventful (or very eventful) summer is up to you. Here are some tips of things to do as a family — summer camp or not — that are sure to have you and your kids looking back on these special times with nostalgia.

1 | Keep physically active —

Go outside! Ride bikes, play in sprinklers, visit a local park, take a nature hike or create a scavenger hunt. If inside, utilize those YouTube obsessions with some online workout videos or a kid dance party!

2 | Maintain mental acuity —

No STEM Camp? No Problem. There are plenty of online resources to keep your kids’ brains active and not wasting away in front of digital devices. You can also check the local library in your city for any free summer reading programs (often times they’ll even come with incentives that make reading fun and game-like for the kids).

3 | Create a family summer to-do list chart —

Think BINGO but more like a check list of all the things you can do, and then at the end once you’ve done them all, throw a party! This was a fun activity for our family last summer, and my kids were thrilled every time we crossed out an activity. We included visits to the local splash pads (free), watching fireworks (free), playing in sprinklers (free), and having a campout in the backyard (also free).

Easing unnecessary expectations in place of more simple ones can help parents and kids have a successful — and fun — summer break. While our summer days may be a little longer and more chaotic, these years will certainly pass us by in a flash.

Ashley Stephenson is a quasi-holistic mother of three (with two home births to boast!), an autism parent and advocate, wife, cervical cancer survivor, Hyster-Sister, and lover of espresso, literature, running, and folk-influenced music. After getting her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from California State University San Bernardino and taking a seven year break from academia to be fully immersed in autism therapies and motherhood, Ashley has recently re-discovered her passion for all things creative.

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