What to do if you can't send your kids to camp this summer? Should you
a) tear out your hair?
b) rob a bank?
or c) think of creative ways to spend the time and reframe it as a positive family experience?
I'm personally leaning towards option b – if I can just convince my husband! But option c isn't as hard as you think. Well the "being creative" isn't too difficult, but sometimes the "positive family experience" aspect can be a challenge.
Here are a few tips and suggestions:
1. Do things that you enjoy (Yes, you, the mother or father, count too!). If you really don't like hiking (I don't mind if it's down Fifth Avenue), then don't plan a bunch of mountain walks. No matter how good it may be for your kids, you'll be miserable. Which in the end actually won't be good for them!
2. Don't sweat the mess. Cooking -- with kids of all ages and genders -- can be fun, and productive. They may actually learn some useful skills. But the part they will probably enjoy the most is the decorating. This involves cookie cutters where the dough gets stuck in every crevice, multi-colored icing that adheres to all surfaces, and sprinkles that continue to reappear long after the cookies or cupcakes have been eaten. Never mind: it's a fun activity that can last for many hours.
3. Find a friend with a pool. Bring snacks -- for your friend's children too -- and plan to spend the afternoon in and out of the water. Bring games for poolside play and perhaps some light reading for you, depending upon the age of the kids and the degree of supervision warranted.
4. Hire a mother's helper. You can either use the younger girls who can't be left alone with your children but whose extra arms and energy will free you for other things -- like cleaning up sprinkles! Or you can hire an older girl who, usually at a relatively low rate, will watch your little darlings for a few hours. She will play with (exhaust?!) them and you will get a break.
5. My children don't like the "m" word but many museums have special summer programs for children, frequently involving an art project. In this case, someone on the museum staff is available to clean up the mess.
6. And speaking of mess, a giant house cleaning project, indoors or out, can get everyone involved. As my son said the other day, "You feel a real sense of satisfaction after some hard and productive physical labor." Or words to that effect! He was initially unenthusiastic but eventually got absorbed in the project. For the highly motivated nature-oriented child, there is the prospect of planting and nurturing a vegetable garden.
7. On those really hot and slow days when nothing else will do, don't discount the power of sprinklers and Popsicles. I ran through my neighbor's sprinkler the other day and I can now speak from experience – it hasn't lost its thrill!
8. Depending upon you and your children, there is always the public library. It is air-conditioned and you can to read to your small ones there while the older children can collect books to bring home.
9. Here in southern California, we have that fantastic option not available everywhere -- sun, sand, and the Pacific Ocean. There are some wonderful children's beaches with options for water activities, sand play, swings, slides and bike riding.
10. Don't discount your local park. If you're lucky you might even run into some other mothers there and not just their nannies. On second thought, call a friend ahead of time to meet you there.
11. Do not say the word "educational." Kids do not want to hear anything remotely related to learning for at least the first two weeks of vacation. But a really great science center can be a lot of...fun. That's the word to use.
Miriam Levi wrote in her book "Effective Jewish Parenting" that our attitude towards our children is frequently based on what we tell ourselves. If we tell ourselves "we can't stand it," we won't be able to. But what do we mean by talking like that? "Being boiled in hot oil" she suggests is something we really can't stand. Spending summer days with our children is just not in the same category (usually). Think of all the hours they spend in school, under someone else's influence. And welcome the opportunity.
There are many more ideas. Let's share them using the comment section below. Have a great summer!