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Tips for planning summer

A well-thought-out summer can be entertaining and restorative. Photo: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

When I was growing up, summer in the suburbs meant no schedule and playing outside with the neighbor kids until dark. However, in an urban environment like San Francisco, that is not always possible, so we end up scheduling summer for our kids.

Summer camp registrations are already in full swing, and from the looks at the weekly cost of camp these days, it is also big business. If both parents work, or the thought of having your kids home every day for three months scares you, then planning is necessary. Having it all mapped out can help make the summer break run smoothly so you don’t end up counting the days until your kids go back to school. Here are my three tips for planning a successful summer for the whole family:

PLAN IT OUT

To keep track of everything, especially if you have multiple children, I suggest printing out a paper calendar for June, July, and August. Right away, you can fill in the weeks you know you may be traveling and any camps you have already signed the kids up for. Call me old school, but there is still something helpful about having everything laid out on paper in front of me. A paper calendar will give you an idea of where you need to fill in the blanks, so you can start planning how you will do that. It may mean registering for another camp, finding extra childcare, or seeing if the kids can make a trip to see Grandma and Grandpa. It is also helpful to map it out to ensure you haven’t registered for camps that are in opposite directions or start and end at different times, which can make family logistics stressful, especially during summer break.

SET GOALS AND GUIDELINES

Once you have the summer mapped out, you can start to think together as a family about some of the goals and guidelines you want to set. In our house, the goals usually revolve around setting a certain amount of time (depending on each child’s age) every day for reading and math. It is never too early to stress the importance of keeping up on those reading and math skills to avoid the summer brain drain.

The guidelines in our house usually revolve around chores and screen time — two areas that can be a constant battle — and not just during the summer months. I have found that one of the best ways to “enforce” these goals and guidelines is to sit down together as a family and come up with them together. This way it is much easier to get the kids on board if they feel they have had some “buy-in” in the process.

CREATE A BUCKET LIST

This is one of our favorite presummer things to do. Once the days start getting longer and the patience for homework starts getting shorter, then I know it is time to sit down and make our bucket list. The list can include things you do every summer that you want to give priority to — it can include new ideas depending on family members’ current interests, and the list can include simple short activities or more involved day trips.

We usually all sit down with a big piece of poster board and take turns adding items to the list. No one can veto the idea or say they don’t want to do it. The list comes in very handy on those days when you don’t have anything planned and are searching for ideas, which is when we turn to the list. The key is to be flexible and not feel like you must get to every item on the list. It is meant to ease stress, not create more of it by running around crazy trying to get everything checked off. The best part is we save our lists from year to year. It is fun to go back and see our must dos from last summer and to maybe even add to this year’s list some of the things we didn’t get to last year.

No matter how your family chooses to plan its summer, my best advice is, in all that planning, don’t forget to schedule some free time. With a busy summer of camps, trips, and activities it is key for our kids to have down time — and maybe even time to explore what it means to be bored. We may not live in the suburbs and our kids can’t stay outside until dark, but we can still give them time to explore and come up with their own fun.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. Formerly, she was a news producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco. E-mail: liz@marinatimes.com