We welcome summer vacation to our home with mixed emotions. There is a lot of joy that comes with easier mornings. No lunches to pack or kids to get dressed, but there is upheaval with childcare. By the time June rolls around, we (my three kids and my husband) have mastered the school routine. I do my best to figure out and plan summer care, but I am a bit wary of how it will pan out. There always seems to be this aura of “you never know” just lurking around the weekend corner.
My husband and I work full time. While his job is super flexible, I’ve just landed an opportunity that requires a bit more structure. This means I’m out the door early and return home for dinner time and evenings with the kids. For years we’ve cobbled together childcare and summer camps. My three kids have such different personalities. It is hard to mutually accommodate the ones that love camp and the ones that just want to be home.
Inevitably someone is unhappy and at their limit with summer childcare. Whether it is one of my kids that cries at camp, another might be bored at home, or me having spent a fortune to figure it out… summer turns out to be a beast. How do other families figure it out? Is anyone else in my boat? Juggling work demands, wanting to enjoy the downtime with the kids, or finding care that doesn’t break the bank? I constantly feel pulled in different directions. Most of our social circle has a stay-at-home parent or extended family that helps a few weeks of the summer. We aren’t in either of those camps, which means we are purely on our own to figure it out.
There are a few things I’m going to try this summer that will (hopefully) help me and our three children:
- Consistent schedule: Whatever we finally end up with, I’m going to be watchful of when I leave and come home. The kids will be happier knowing they can expect me to be available at routine times. I have also written out general guidelines for their days and what they can expect from outdoor time to workbooks.
- Identify key summer activities to look forward to: Our family loves camping. We will pitch a tent at least once this summer. Finding a family activity will give the kids something to look forward to and will make the summer more memorable.
- Make use of free and low-cost activities: Instead of paying to entertain the kids, I came up with a list of low-cost things to do. We will go to the city pool (free), take advantage of the library and their events, and work on some of our academic skills with worksheets. The kids have a lot of board games, legos, and craft activities that challenge their creativity by coming up with themes and contests.
- Introduce the kids to new concepts: During the school year, the kids are involved in sports and other activities. Finding low-cost camp alternatives now for next summer will help me budget. Introducing this idea ahead of time will gain their buy-in. Visiting with the kids to get more information will open them up to future opportunities.
Most parents start planning their summer camp and care schedule in the middle of winter. You’ll watch summer camps fill up and start to scramble if you want a full-time summer babysitter. Rushing to reserve summer care is top of mind, but making sure that you have the funds available is also key. Most work benefits include a childcare flexible spending, where you can put away pre-tax funds for your summer camp expenses. This will pay a large portion of your summer expenses. With a larger family, you’ll need to come up with a few extra dollars… or thousands in our case.
Making a goal within your budget or direct money away from your paycheck to a savings account. Put this in place to keep you on track. Mint is one of our favorite budgeting apps that have great tutorials and assistance to help you plan and keep you on track. It has been tremendously helpful knowing where our pitfalls are when looking over a previous year’s spending. We were surprised by the summer care options and costs. Budgeting has been important to prepare ourselves.
We know eventually the kids will be older. With age comes maturity and they will require less full-time summer care. Until we get there, keeping these tips in mind will help us plan for summer. We will find ways to enjoy the chaos of the season and make the costs more predictable.