Fighting the Summer Slide

Free photo 2244515 © Jan Kranendonk –

When Thea suggested I write a piece on planning for summer, similar to this one from last year, I was all for it until I sat down to write it and realized I had no idea what I was going to do with the kids this summer…

I want to write, I want them to have fun, and I still don’t want them to experience “summer slump”: the backward slide in academic gains from the previous school year. It’s important to me that they spend enough time using their brains over the summer so August back-to-school isn’t too painful. Things have changed, though. When they were younger, I had weekly themes and math manipulatives and stacks of picture books…I was in my element! Now that they are older, what does avoiding the summer slide look like? Here’s my first attempt at figuring that out.


Yes, our library has an awesome summer reading program, but my youngest was the only one “into” it last year. The other guys read a lot, they just weren’t eager to sticker-chart their reading. I need a fresh take on reading this summer. I’m thinking I’ll have them give reviews for the books they read on video and then send the videos to their cousins or friends (just over my phone). They love making videos and it will be a way to .incorporate technology that doesn’t involve a game controller…because they can’t have screens until 4pm in the summer. Yes, there’s always initial resistance to this rule, but after a few days they get on board with it and they find other things to do during the day. We’ll probably have a weekly trip to the library to keep a fresh selection of books, too.

Free photo 2369068 © Yuriy Kaygorodov –


For previous summers they all had a spiral notebook “journal” that they had to write in before they were allowed to go cause trouble in the neighborhood. Just like with the technology rule, there was always an initial protest, but after a few days, it became part of the routine. I have to make a change this summer, though. Camps start at 8am or 9am and we’re busy grabbing sports equipment and yelling at each other…there’s not really time for journaling before we have to be on the road. I think I’m going to move writing time to right before they’re allowed to do tech. Yes, one last hurdle before brain rot! I’m sure there will be protests, and perhaps rioting, but I bet they’ll write in order to play their favorite video games.

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The Sand Pail List

We’re in full summer meltdown mode here, folks. It’s the end of July. All of those camps I carefully plotted out are over. Done. As in, everyone’s home all the time. At the same time. Together. My children are sick of each other, to put it mildly. And they can smell school coming. The other day my almost 14 year old was covering his eyes and yelling, “Ahhh! Tell me when it’s over!” Was this a preview for a horror movie? Was there a couple making out on the TV? No. It was much worse: a commercial for back to school shopping. It sent chills down his spine.

The first three weeks of August are all about holding on. To my sanity. Every other summer I’ve had amnesia when it comes to these three weeks. This time I remember and I’m going to do it differently. This will likely involve behavior modification/bribery. I’m okay with that. Because I would like to enjoy this last bit of summer with them. I would like to stop having to be the ref, waving my arms, and  pulling them apart when they fight. Is that too much to ask?

A “kindness” jar has worked in the past. It’s where they get a cotton ball in a jar when I catch one of them being kind. They share the jar and try to make a collective effort at filling it while working toward some reward. Kindness comes naturally to only one of my sons, so he does the heavy lifting when it comes to earning cotton balls, but it does raise the baseline for civility in our home.

I also don’t want to regret not getting to this or that before summer ends. I’m not talking about Facebook-worthy adventures and smiles. That ship sailed in June.  I’m talking about some little things that will make me feel like I tried to make summer very summer-y.

So, instead of a Bucket List, I’m making a Sand Pail List. A list of all the summer stuff I want to do before it slips away. The following list is in random order , if I’m lucky I’ll get to half of it, and you should in no way feel like you need a Sand Pail List. It’s just my latest attempt to bring meaning to chaos. And did I mention it’s almost August? Don’t bother with a Pinterest search…

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My March Madness

I know for a lot of people, March Madness means basketballs and brackets. For me, March Madness means summer camp sign-ups and logistical planning that could rival any big-city transportation schedule. Summer camps? But it’s only March, you say. To which I respond with an eye twitch and a hysterical giggle, followed by an offer to share graph paper with you…you poor lost soul.

Ok, so maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but March is when I get down to business for planning summer camps for my kids. It’s when schools and rec centers start sending home flyers about this camp that will make your kid care about science, or that camp that will give your kid the soccer skills she needs to nab a college scholarship ten years from now. (Don’t start me on this.)

And, of course, there are sign-up deadlines. So, if I want my kids to go to any of these camps, I need to have my proverbial ducks in a row. Which is easy for some, but my ducks tend to wander, get lost under couches, or suffocate under piles of papers. March means I’ve got to get my summer game-face on!

When I worked full-time, I didn’t have to worry about much about juggling camps. All of the pressure was on finding THE camp. The perfect camp that would open by 7:30 and stay open until at least 5:15. The camp that offered structure and fun plans…but also enough down-time for my kid to feel like he was actually on break from school – instead of just another school cleverly disguised in beach themes and “water fun” days.

I’m a SAHM right now, which means we can save money by not having to do all day childcare for three kids. Theoretically. But if I jam-pack the summer with camps that cost $60 here and $100 there…for three kids…well, that adds up fast. There’s a delicate balance of maintaining my sanity and maintaining the checkbook. You’ve got to figure out what’s going to work for your family. I’ve erred on the side of sanity most summers, but this summer I’m looking for more of that “middle ground.” Just enough camps to keep them busy and just enough downtime as to not drain the bank account. (I may regret this come mid-July – I’ll let you know.)

A Game Plan

After you’ve gathered all the brochures and your eyes are going a little crossed at the camp costs and the amount of money you may be spending on gas…STOP. This is where you get out your mental beach bag. It’s empty, right? Now, the first thing we toss in that mental beach bag are our towels because they take up a lot of space and we don’t want to forget them…because that’s uncomfortable. Your beach towels are important! Now think of your beach towels as your summer must-do’s. For example, a family camping trip. That’s your first beach towel. Shove it in. Now mark it on the calendar. Maybe your next beach towel is an affordable basketball camp conveniently located down the street that your kid is dying to go to. Stuff it in, mark the calendar. Perhaps your third beach towel is a one-day road trip to a dinosaur museum everyone will love. Stuff it in and mark the calendar. Our mental beach bag fills up quickly, but if we put the most important stuff in first, you won’t get to August 15th and regret letting less important trips and camps get in the way of what you really wanted to do.

Now you can toss in the other trips and camps as they fit…and you have to decide for yourself when the beach bag is full. I know I’m trying to leave more space in our summer this year. Picture me with a manageable beach bag! A bag where sunscreen bottles aren’t falling out and breaking on the cement, creating Jackson Pollack knock-offs. A bag that isn’t so heavy that it’s digging into my sunburned shoulders as I scream at children to watch for cars in the parking lot because they’re going to get run over for crying out loud!

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