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“The Best Summer Is a Strategized Summer”

To avoid too much screen time, discretionary spending, and bickering, we load up early on summer vacation ideas and leads on cheap entertainment. Steal a few of our family secrets and leave a few of your own!

Memorial Day weekend is over. Which means you, like my wife and I, have just survived a warm-up for the pending purgatory otherwise known as summer vacation. Over the long weekend, Laurie and I endured three straight days of bickering, staying up waaaaay past bedtime, and countless requests to turn on the TV. To be fair, the kids suffered two exhausted parents and nearly as many orders to turn off the TV. And we all lived to talk about it.

In fact, during the kids’ final three days of school, Laurie and I debriefed what worked and what didn’t. We also discussed past summer vacations, and started planning ahead for the upcoming thirteen weeks. With four young kids, three of whom have ADHD, we made the following list of activities to ensure we all still love each other come September:

Plan your schedule – A few days ago, Laurie printed monthly calendars for June, July, and August. She’s already filled up quite a bit, and erased or otherwise changed quite a bit as well. But this will come in handy when the “I’m so bored” comments start.

Swimming – lots of it. A play therapist once advised us that strenuous activity for a hyperactive child can work wonders for his or her behavior. “Swimming is great physical exertion,” she told us. “It tuckers them right out.” We’ve found this last part about the exhaustion is debatable, but we have found that an hour or so of swimming can take the edge off the kids’ wildness. We like to go in the morning when the pool is not yet hot and is typically less crowded.

Sports Camps – Similar to swimming, sports camps are ideal for burning off excess energy. We’ve enrolled the kids in sports camps hosted by churches, schools, and our local recreation center. Many of these venues have the resources to host indoor events, which is ideal given our Texas heat. Soccer and basketball are the sports of choice for our energetic ones.

[Free Resource: 20 Secrets to a Smarter Summer]

Plan your budget – We have four kids, so ticket prices to water parks or the movies add up quickly. Frankly with four kids, EVERYTHING adds up quickly. Every year, we set aside a few hundred bucks specifically called “Summer Entertainment.” We pick one of our favorite field trips and buy season passes, which typically cost only a bit more than a day pass. Last year, we chose a water park with multiple locations in our area. This year, we chose the zoo because the kids love animals and there’s lots of walking.

We also set aside weekly entertainment money for trips to the dollar movie. We find the local restaurants and fast food chains that sell happy hour slushes and dollar menu ice cream cones. We have two boys and two girls, so we have the genders share. This cuts down on the sugar, and teaches the kids to work together to agree on a flavor.

Also, Laurie and I work to ensure the kids appreciate these treats. So we explain these are rewards for getting along or for a specific good behavior. Our kids with ADHD require constant coaching and redirection. When you end up saying “quit that” every five minutes, it’s important to also build up the kids’ self-esteem by praising them as often as possible.

Free Stuff – We’re always on the lookout for free events in our area. Laurie is part of numerous community groups on Facebook that advertise free events. We’ve also found the library is a great resource for activities, events, and reading clubs. Lots of local churches host free or inexpensive vacation Bible schools. Be on the lookout for new restaurants opening and hosting free “meet and greet” events. Depending on how these events are advertised, we try to arrive early or on-time to beat the crowd.

[ADDitude Asked: How do You Make Summer Break Fun & Productive?]

Get out of the house – Electronics are a huge temptation, so we look for as many opportunities as possible to get out of the house. We made a list of family field trips; including parks and libraries.

Also, sometimes we tell the kids to just go outside. We give them no further instruction, other than “Don’t come back in here in five minutes and ask when it’s ok to come inside.” We do this in the morning before the heat hits. I guess we’re old school like this, but we bought bikes and scooters for a reason.

Busy hands – While at home, we focus on limiting screen time. We go old school again with puzzles, word searches, Legos, model cars and airplanes, origami and paper airplanes, jewelry making, homemade play-doh, stress balls, and slime (which can also help your sensory integration kids). Sometimes we even whip out the big guns: READ A BOOK.

We don’t do all of the above every day, or even most days. There’s the occasional stay-in-pajamas-and-watch-TV-for-twelve-hours day. But this a rest, recuperate, and rehydrate day, and is an ideal time for sunburns to heal. We’ve found the above to be helpful so the kids can have a productive summer, and so they won’t be bored or spend three months binge-watching blockbuster trilogies. They’ll be able to look back on thirteen weeks of activity and feel rested, refreshed, and eager to start the next school year.

[11 Summer Brain Builders]