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Get Ready for Summer: Five Things to Do Now

Here's how to help ease your child from the predictable routines of school to the adventures of summer.

By GreatSchools Staff

Summer brings a change in routine, and that's enough to make some children anxious. The girl who begged to go to soccer camp might have second thoughts about going to a new place with children she doesn't know. The boy who's going away to sleepaway camp may be nervous about leaving home for the first time. Here's what you can do now to ease the transition:

1. Involve your child in planning and preparing.

Narrow your list of options to those that meet your needs, your child's needs and your budget. Then, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, give your child a role in planning the summer. Giving him some control over the way he'll spend his time may head off homesickness. If you can't let him choose the camp itself, perhaps he can help choose the specific program, days or hours he'll attend.

As the time for camp nears, involve him in packing his bag for sleepaway camp, making sure all of his clothes are labeled with his name or packing his backpack for day camp. When your child leaves home, whether it's for the day or the week, be sure he knows who is going to pick him up and when.

If you have a summer jam-packed with different camps, vacations and care-givers, help you child make a wall-size calendar that shows the family's plans between the end of the school year and the beginning of the next one. Because younger children have trouble understanding the passage of time, give a child who's going away to camp or to an extended stay with relatives a small calendar so he can mark off the days.

2. Talk to your child about the changes.

Discuss what will be familiar, as well as what will be new. Is she going to day camp with a good friend from school? Is the camp at a familiar location, like the neighborhood YMCA? Are there any familiar faces on the staff? Reassuring her that it's OK to have mixed feelings will help her learn to manage new situations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents of children going away to camp talk to them ahead of time about homesickness while staying positive about the adventures ahead. The academy's guidelines say parents should avoid making an agreement to pick up the child if he gets homesick because it might undermine his confidence in his ability to be independent.

3. Plan for some ordinary days.

If your child is going straight from basketball camp to sleepaway camp to a long family vacation, think about arranging what child development expert Dr. Judith Myers-Walls calls some "buffer periods" to help her rest and enjoy some unscheduled time. If you need child care during the day, consider arranging to share a baby-sitter with friends or neighbors.

"Parents need to realize it's OK to have ordinary days," says Myers-Walls, a professor at Purdue University. "You need ordinary meals in between the five-star restaurants to appreciate the gourmet meals."

"There are real advantages in letting kids do projects, in letting kids get together to do their own newsletter or start a lemonade stand, put on a play or build something," Myers-Walls says. Children who are overprogrammed miss the chance to exercise their initiative, creativity and teamwork without adult direction, she says.

4. Practice for new experiences.

If your child is going to sleepaway camp for the first time, arrange for sleepovers with a friend or a weekend with a relative in the spring. Take a walk around the block with your child at night and let her practice using a flashlight, or help her plan a campout with a friend in her own backyard.

Comments from readers

"This is for parents and grandparents asking about cheap things for kids to do in the summer. I took my 12 year old son to the YMCA family branch and he couldn't get enough of it! He loved going! They teach them to swim but also, my son loved using their weights and other equipment to buff up his small frame. It gave him more confidence and helped keep him in shape for baseball (which he loved too) Sign up for little league, girls too! Moms and Dads can get involved, keep score or volunteer in the concession stand, bring the other children along to root them on! "
" Re: 'Getting ready for summer.' I realize that in today's world many parents have to be away at work, and that means that the best options for children may be community recreation programs, daycamps etc. or the sitter. However, I hope parents realize how important taking time with their children really is. I think kids appreciate everyday family time including meals, a trip to the park or pool, summer ball in the backyard etc. Remember to take time with your children everyday. One big family vacation doesn't make up for the rest of the year. A trip to sleepover camp may be a treat, but again can not replace the family's time together."
"Need ideas other than camp - too expensive for any of my grandchildren. Also, looking for ideas for working moms and dads that need child care during the normal shcool hours."
"I love the comment from 'I bored means I want to clean' that is the problem with children today they don't know how to have nice clean fun without an adult showing them what to do. "
"I wish my mom would read this. Within days after I get out of school I'm stuck at a boring summer school, which lasts pretty much the whole summer. The only time I'll get to have fun is when I'm going to go camping with my friends, and when I go to visit my aunts."
"How on earth did I survive childhood in the 60's without all of the expert advice available to today's parents? How to prepare for summer? As John Stossel would say, 'gimme a break!' Public parks, community pools, bicycles, hangin' out with friends, books from the library, exploring the woods behind your house, watching clouds, staying up late, getting up later and summer trips to Grandma's house. Then there's always the excitement at the end of the summer when it's time for new school supplies and clothes. I submit that any parent who need 'expert' advice on how to help a child transition to summer should have considered buying a pet instead of having children. Oh yea, at my house the kids know that the expression, 'I'm bored', means the same thing as, 'I want to clean something.' We don't hear that expression too often!"
"I think those Children who have the exprience in camp will be more independent. In Taiwan there are't popular for children to join the camp, but they will learn the same exprience by join the school club,actually it is't enough. In Taiwan,parents are worry about their children for leaving home.So maybe parents are more need to learn new's thought that do't worry about children who want to learn independent."
"Cheap things for kids: Camping out in the backyard. Complete with adult supervised marshmallows and Smore roast makes it more interesting. Day trips to parks you dont normally go to. Packing a cooler with string cheese, grapes, finger foods, plenty of drinks. Bridge hopping, there are several tall bridges near me and it was just fun to go over the big ones for the view. Zoo was an all day trip. Remember the kids backpacks make great places for drinks and travel supplies. Biking to the local stores. If you cant find a swimming place find a clear stream to walk thru with your water shoes on. Have a writing session with a winner getting a prize. Hide n seek. Art time with old buttons, scraps of old clothes cut and pasted or pages from old magazines. Get boxes from the local store and build a small community. Go bird watching, Play ring around the rosey. Add the numbers from the road signs you see to keep math skills sharp.(Rt 24 becomes 2+4=6) I spy game."
"This is Great! I would suggest one more thing, help children to serve others and to do more to grow spiritually during the summer so they may experience God's love deeper. If you have the money, go out of the country and teach them new cultures and languages, they will grow to know God and his creation in a deeper and wider way. Andrew Martin Author of 'Crossing the Red Sea' #1 inspirational book of the year"
"Your headline to prepare kids for summer is ridiculous. Kids don't need to prepare for summer, they look forward anxiously to it all year. Your headline should have been about preparing kids to go away from home for the summer. I think the issue is one of too many parents trying NOT to interact with their kids, and avoiding them by sending them off to school, and in the summer, to camp."
"My son is 12 and has had a fine time sleeping away from home since he was 8. It probably differs from child to child."
"My son is 9 and has asked about sleeping at friends' houses and having friends sleep over with us. The one time we tried having a friend sleep over, we ended up driving him home @ 11:00. The boys played all night and would not sleep; then our guest needed one thing after another, till I finally asked to go home. When are kids more comfortable with sleeping away from home?"
"what are the cheep things to do with your kids oner the summer? I have three boys"