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The Informed Parent

Preparing For Summer Fun

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Jul. 07, 2004

By June most children are eager for school to be over. They look forward to the lazy days of summer. They fantasize about the places they will go and the fun they will have playing every day.

Parents, on the other hand, often rue the day that school finishes for the year. They know that their work schedule doesn’t change and that day care will need to be found. They want their children to have free, unscheduled time but also know that there needs to be a plan so that children don’t complain that there is nothing to do.

A successful summer requires preparation. Plans need to be made so that when school is over, everyone knows what to expect. This month we will talk about two basics that make summer work well--day care and quiet time. We will also talk about special activities that children enjoy and that require planning to be successful.

Day Care

Most families need to find summer care for the children. If the person or program that provides after school care for your family is available, it’s wise to continue during the summer. The children are familiar with the staff and have peers that they know. They are accustomed to the setting, the routine, and the standards. Spending more hours in day care than they do during the school year is an adjustment. If they do not also need to adjust to a new program, it is easier.

When you need to look for day care there are a number of alternatives. Teachers may be available to provide care in their homes. Many day care workers extend their hours over the summer months. Older teens are often eager to come to your home and care for the children. The YMCA has summer programs that usually include field trips and swimming as well as art, crafts, and other sports. Some school districts receive grants to provide summer day care on the district campuses. If there is a university in your community, the school often has daylong summer camp. University programs usually have a particular focus such as sports or music.

If you do not need full-time care but want to schedule the children into a summer activity for a week or two, most churches have Vacation Bible School. Day camps can be found under scouting programs, the YMCA and some community recreation departments.

Reliable day care relieves anxiety about what the children are doing and how they will be cared for and supervised during your workday. Your energy can be focused on what you need to be doing--your job.

Quiet Time

While the children may be less tired at the end of a day than they are during the school year, your energy level is no different since your schedule hasn’t changed. You still need to unwind after a day at work, fix the dinner, tidy up, and help everyone get ready for bed. Even though the children don’t have homework to do, it’s important to have a quiet time before dinner where each child reads or does a learning task. This helps keep up academic skills while providing you some space.

Many libraries have summer reading programs. They are fun because prizes are earned for reading. Stores that carry children’s toys and books have workbooks for reading, spelling, and math. Activity books with puzzles, mazes, follow-the-dots, and other games can be used during quiet time. Children can learn a typing, math, or spelling procedure on the computer. Some libraries have computer programs that can be checked out.

The activities that you offer the children should be at a level where they can do them without your assistance. This provides independence for them and an opportunity for you to relax into the evening. Instituting a quiet time at the end of the day gives you the ability to transition from work time to family time. Although children may initially complain, soon they recognize that you have more to give to them when you have some space to prepare for family functions.

While there are many activities that families engage in during the summer months, three that nearly all children enjoy are sleepovers, gardening, and cooking. To be successful these activities need to be given thought. While each seems easy, without planning they have the potential of bringing disappointment to you and your children.


Children love sleepovers. They enjoy both being the guest and the host or hostess. Sometimes children push the limits during these times, thinking that parents will overlook certain behaviors when there is a guest in the house. Generally it’s a good idea to keep the sleepover standards very similar to what is expected everyday in your family. Nonetheless, because it’s a special event, there will be changes.

So that a sleepover is fun for everyone, discuss any changes before the guest arrives. Decide on the dinner menu together letting your child choose from a number of alternatives. Keep it simple. Let your child know what time you will say, “Lights out.” Have snacks available and indicate whether they can be eaten in places different from where you usually eat. Some parents allow eating in front of the TV during a sleepover but not as a regular practice. Sometimes parents say that during a sleepover food can be eaten in the bedroom when this is not commonly done. Decide whether you will keep the same limitations on TV watching or whether more will be allowed. If movies are rented, plan beforehand how many and what kind. While sleepovers are fun, children are usually tired and cranky the next morning. Having the pick-up time for the guest shortly after breakfast works well. Intend to have a quiet day following a sleepover.

Planting a garden

Planting a summer garden is fun. It’s exciting watching the plants grow and flower or produce. While gardening with children doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, it does require some forethought. Think small and simple. Choose a space that is highly visible. A spot by the back door, a small planter on a porch, or a window box works well. If the child can’t easily see the garden, it is soon forgotten.

Make sure the soil is prepared. If it’s a spot of earth, amend the soil with some peat moss or planter mix. In pots or a window box, use planting mix. The results are quicker if young plants are used instead of seeds. Talk to a nursery person and buy ones that are likely to succeed in your climate. Plants that flower quickly like cosmos or snapdragons and vegetables that have a high probability of success like cherry tomatoes or radishes are good because children want to see results soon. Be interested in the garden. When you show interest, your child will too. Look at it together each day. Talk about changes.


Most children love to cook. Parents often avoid this activity with children because it is slow and can be messy. As with gardening, think small and simple. Plan a time each week to cook together. Soup, sandwiches, peanut butter on toast, pudding, and Jell-O are simple and quick. Frosting graham crackers with ready-make frosting creates an easy dessert. It is not so much what children cook but the process that they like. They enjoy filling containers, pouring, and stirring. They love cutting and spreading. They especially relish the undivided attention you give them as they cook. For cooking experiences to be pleasurable, they need to be short. Projects that take too much time feel like a burden and diminish the likelihood that you will look forward to another cooking activity.

While summer vacation holds its challenges, it is usually a less stressful time than the hectic pace of the school year. With forethought and preparation, summer days can be fulfilling for children and adults alike.

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