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The summer juggle: Mixing kids' vacation & work

This is our first summer with a child out of school for the summer.  Until this year, our kids have been in year-round childcare, where summer is no different than the rest of the year.  Back in February of this very-different year, I got busy planning the summer so my husband and I could work, and the kids would be in good care, have some down time and some fun time.  We mixed a few week-long camps with a family vacation or two and some visiting grandma and cousin time (they "watched" the kids).  Good variety, some fun, quality care, and mostly no boredom. 

Well it's August now, 3620443013_7056e1fc91and I'm nearing the end of this first summer vacation after many years without.  As a long-time proponent of shorter summer breaks for kids, I've been pleasantly surprised at how much more summery (for lack of a better term) life feels this summer with some real vacationers in the house. 

Yet I struggle with some of the anticipated issues, too: camps are far more expensive than public school (and Multnomah county's SUN program, while excellent and very reasonably priced, came out with its schedule so late in the spring that this I-gotta-have-care mama was done planning by then), logisitcs are challenging and ever-changing (life jacket this week? snack or not?), a professional degree in planning is required, many camps don't run on a 9 to 5 schedule and so aren't an option for many, and finally, I gotta work, already! 

Does parents' work trumps kids needs?  I wish I was designing a great summer more with my children in mind than our work schedules.  While of course we considered both, it's clear to me that our summer "plan" was driven more by our work schedules than our kids' needs.

What about your family?  How's this summer thing working out for your family's work schedule?  Did you recruit family to help?  Get an Au Pair?  Find a great, affordable, nearby summer-long program?  Think summer break should remain 12 weeks, or is it just too dang long?  I'm thinking about 9, myself.  You?

[Thanks to wsilver & Flickr CC for the summer-y pic]


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I agree. I'm so envious of the teacher-moms and stay-at-home moms out there that get to really experience summer and go swimming during the day, go camping during the week and go to the beach whenever they feel like it. That is what I would be doing if I wasn't working full-time and my child wasn't going to his school daycare all summer.

We also broke it up with one (expensive) camp and a week with grandparents visiting. I do wish summer break was a bit shorter and I wish there were more full day camps to take some of the pressure off.

Honestly, the cost of summer care was one of the many reasons that I continue to stay home after my kids are school age. And my kids have had enough summer to be "bored" now at the end of it. They are eagerly looking forward to school, school shopping and swapping and seeing all their friends who were MIA all summer long.

I've long been a proponent of the year round school idea. It has a short summer break and many little breaks through the year. It would still be a juggle for parents but the bulk of the summertime would be a thing of the past.

Another fan of the year-round school idea. And yes, the length of most camps puts most working parents out of the mix.

The worst thing by far though, is the loss of skills that happens. My 6yo was keeping up fine through July, but now she's really struggling to keep up with her reading/Spanish/school skills. It's heartbreaking to think of the first 6 weeks of school being taken up by re-learning everything from last spring.

I want them to have unstructured time, but with the husband and I slaves to our structured work, it makes it really, really hard.

Somebody in Portland could clean up if they looked to the East Coast tradition of summer-long day camps and sleepaway camps.

This piecemeal system of week-long camps is expensive and inconsistent.

We took a summer vacation and went as a family to a Spanish immersion camp for kids (they have a Spanish program for adults too) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Another family, plus two of my sister's children came with us. Next year my sister will take my kids back to the camp with her and I'll have some time to myself next summer. We rented a house in Cuernavaca, a pretty inexpensive endeavor since there were so many of us but our school Instituto Chac-Mool also could have arranged homestays for us that would have included meals.

Summer schedule is the same as year-round for us. Learning time in the am (9:00-12:00), playtime in the afternoon. We homeschool and LOVE doing year-round learning. We learn any day that papa is at work.

So, no we didn't "recruit" family to help, though grandma and grandpa are coming to visit this month. Never had an au pair. Our summer-long program at home is free, except for that big order of art supplies and a week of pony camp. I think 12 weeks IS too long to go without learning. (Just answering the actual questions. :))

I cannot imagine my kids not having a "summer" break from school, and hope that it stays that way! Year round school just seems like too much for them too soon.

They have the rest of their lives to "work" through summertime, why not just let kids be kids, and have the summer off.

Other than catering to parent's work schedules, I don't really see why shortening the summer break is at all necessary.

And if it's truly due to parent's needing to fill their kids summertime hours, then let's come up with some fun things to fill the days with, and not shorten the break. Or, god forbid, getting our employers to be more flexible with us in the summer?

Just my opinion!

I love having summer with my kids and as a stay-at-home, part-time at home worker, I feel lucky -- it's easier to juggle than if I had to go to an office everyday. I did hit my limit with juggling kids all the time, all day, though, sometime around the end of July. Luckily, we'd signed up for some camps. At the same time, I also had hit my limit around May-ish with the constant running around routine that is the school year...

What I wish for is a shorter summer - maybe six weeks, and then other longer breaks during the school year.

woops...meant stay-at-home mom...

As a stay at home mom I did not have to do much juggling with child care but I also would love a shorter 6 week summer break with a couple of other longer breaks during the school year. I don't like to take my daughter out of school for vacations and taking them during Christmas or Spring Break or jamming them all into the summer is not that appealing to me. I also have to agree that the long summer does make it difficult for the kids to keep up the learning momentum they have during the school year.

Not a Fan, Great idea re more flexible employers! It's when the various family members' schedules don't jive that there are challenges. I'm for shortening the vacation reasonably, 12 down to 9 for starters. Plenty of time to be "off," but less time to lose the learning. Anyone know what the research says is an optimal length?

I would hate for our kids to lose any summer vacation time just to accomodate the work schedules of other kids' parents. I work part time and juggle schedules with my husband. We make it work. 9 weeks is way too short! And frankly, I don't buy the whole thing about kids "losing learning." They're just learning different things.

Interesting point, "bad idea." They are just learning different things in the summer, not necessarily "losing learning."

I'm going to chew on that for a bit.

Since when are academics the only things kids are supposed to learn? There are a lot of intangibles that I remember learning from my childhood summers--cooperation, boredom-busting, self-reliance, writing and putting on plays in my backyard with my sister, forming secret clubs and coming up with a secret code language--as well as important tangibles like learning how to rollerskate, build forts, ride a bike, and making Barbie clothes. I also did a few one-week camps each summer.

Did you know that the USA is the only industrialized nation to not REQUIRE its employees to take a (paid) vacation? No wonder we have so many stressed out parents and stressed out (and depressed) kids. There's got to be more to life than rushing around.

I am feeling a need to rethink my life.

seems like with budget issues, summer breaks are getting longer, not shorter. didn't some districts cut days off the end of the year this year?

As a teacher, I will tell you that although kids get 12 weeks, lots of teachers don't. We spend time learning about our new students, learning about our new classes, taking classes (it's mandatory in OR for teachers to earn 9 credits every 3 years, plus many teachers embark on professional development in the summer.) I personally have done professional development for the entire summer for 4 summers. It has improved my teaching in ways that would never be possible with year round schooling. Not to mention buses and most classrooms are not air conditioned. Would you have sent your child during the last heatwave? I don't mean to be snarky,just provide another outlook. Do you think teachers would be at their best teaching year round?

Meg, It's an interesting/very valid point re buses and A/C, but I think your point about professional development in summers is worth exploring. I'm being honest here - I'm not a teacher and don't know it at all from that angle. Non-teachers don't get a long break in our work year (though I'd love one), which isn't to say that's ideal, just for comparison. Some lucky ones get a month off after, say, 7 years in one place. And of course I want great teachers for my kids, and so am thrilled that they *do* have a time opportunity to study/develop new skills. Sounds like a good thing.

I'd *love* a break in summer (or any time of year!) to take a writing course since I write a lot for work, or to get up to speed on the latest this and that to make me a more effective/happy employee. Were there only time! If only employers liked that idea: July = professional development month?

Again, I don't mean to say that since I don't get that teachers shouldn't, but rather to ask: what makes the most sense in schools? There are students, teachers/other school staff and parents in the mix. How to satisfy us all - as best we can? If summer were 8 weeks, could that be enough time?

I happen to agree that kids learn loads of different, very valuable things in summer (starfish! scooters! gardening!). But my question is really 8/9 weeks v. 12. With that small reduction. are we losing or gaining? Likely not our choice since it's a tax question, more or less. Sigh.

Thanks for this dialog, it's nice to hear where others are coming from on it all.

This isn't the point of this post, but I have to respond to Meg's last comment about teachers being their best year round...

I have a desk job that allows me to go the bathroom whenever I need to, pump when it worked best for me and my baby, and grab a snack whenever I'm hungry (not to mention taking a peek at urbanMamas, scheduling doctors appointments, and even ordering the occassional birthday present).

My sister on the other hand is a PPS middle school teacher at a inner NE school. That girl is "on" from the second she walks in the door, charged with keeping order and discipline of 28+ kids, having to be creative and inspiring, while dealing with a lack of administrative support or parental involvement.

Being a teacher is a thankless job in many schools and while it's a pain in the ass for me to juggle my 27 hour/week schedule with coverage for my kids and there are clearly numerous other variables to consider in this conversation, I too wonder if teachers would be at their best with a year round schedule.

My mom was a single parent in the 70's and had no support at all. I think I was about twelve and my sister was ten when we started watching ourselves while she worked. We had no choice but to entertain ourselves in the summer. Fortunately we were very imaginative and occupied ourselves in safe ways. We did neighborhood plays, wrote short stories, roller skated, played games on the lawn with the other kids in the apartments where we lived and went swimming(we were good swimmers). My mom didn't have the money for summer camps and I remember feeling so envious of my rich friends and all the things they got to do. However I am thankful that my sister and I got that time in our lives to feel free and play, play, play. Of course as an overprotective mother of two sons, my oldest has autism, I cringe at the thought of them being on their own. I have kept it pretty simple this summer. They have been taking swim lessons and kung fu. I also try to set aside time for them both to practice reading and writing. Then I just allow them to play and for the most part they do okay. Currently they are really into art. But I am seriously thinking about camp, a week somewhere next year if we can swing it financially. I have been fortunate to be a stay at home mom for eight years now but am itching to go back to work but summer care is a huge issue. Regarding the length of summer vacation I personally feel that it is much needed time for the Teachers and children to recharge for a busy school year.

I feel lucky to have summers off w/ my kids as a inner city public school teacher. I feel that for the time I work during the year I am paid well and get good benefits. My husband on the other hand work year round, can't take more than 1 week off at a time and gets 2 weeks vacation yearly as a professional. I have no complaints, love the kids I teach and do not feel like I have a thankless job. I wouldn't mind if the schedule changed to 2 weeks vacation, 2 weeks in spring and 2-3 weeks in the summer like some schools in the nation, but this also could create conflict for working parent. Just my 2 cents.

I work part-time, opposite schedules with my husband, at a job I probably would have left awhile ago if I didn't have children at home needing me to keep it. I went into it figuring I would move on when the kids were in school. Now that we're there, I realize I will probably stick with it a bit longer for the very situation the OP describes. That just sounds crazy making to me, not to mention how I think my children might see it. In answer to the original question of whose needs dictate the most, I would have to say that it's a family need at this point to have a lifestyle that has a little more peace to it.

As for the year round school thing, I'm really not on board with it. Kids need the downtime of summer. As someone already said, they're learning other things. You can show me all the research you want on year round school, and I imagine I can counter it with the research that says kids need to have free play time as well. Seems to me that free, unstructured, time has lost value as kids have spent more and more hours, from earlier and earlier ages, in structured programs. If that's the choice people want to make for their family, than that's their choice to make. But don't force it on me please because I'm doing everything I can to ensure my children still have that downtime and it's gets harder and harder all the time.

Although teaching is often a thankless job with strict requirements, so are lots of jobs. I worked in a factory for 12 years. Though the type of factory work had time off because it was seasonal, a lot of jobs don't, and they are a lot more demanding than a teacher's day. My current profession also demands CEU's, but 15 every 2 years. I don't find the demands on teachers to be out of the realm of what other jobs in the US require, even if they were teaching part time in the summer, which I've heard some choose to do. I'm more along the lines of chambu, LTF, and others who feel a longer school year, but with a different approach (with possibly optional attendance and perhaps charging for it but subsidized costs) is a good idea. Not just for parents but for kids.

I had lots of downtime as a kid, but don't see that it had much benefit. Kids are sponges, and their minds are always reaching for something to grab onto and work on. Especially since I hear stories about how much time is spent in the classrooms geared toward getting pass rates on standardized tests up, summer would be a good time to round out the kids' learning and experiences of finer things.

Basically our school year is still based on having one parent available (i.e. not working) to care for kids 3+ months a year (with all vacations, snow days, sick time) until they are able to look after themselves (12?). Not many families can manage that these days, I think that is a luxury for many families that has ended in the last generation. It's stressful and expensive. In Europe, the school year is much more in sync with the parents working, as mentioned. 8 weeks in summer, (2-3 weeks over Christmas and spring breaks) with working parents having about 6 weeks off each. A lot less juggling. But their economies and tax demands are different. I heard that in China the school days for elementary kids is 11 hours. Now that is stressful for the kids!

We are in our second summer of the camp shuffle. I feel lucky that we have it relatively easy but it is still a pain and expensive. My husband schedule allows him 6 weeks with the kid and I work part-time and then we have another 6 weeks to cover. I take time off when all of us can be together and another week to spend more one on one time with my son. But, on week number 4, we are starting to feel the fatigue of attending 4 different camps, with new kids and new staff every week. Individually they have all been great, but it is starting to feel like too much. Next year, I will definitely look for a camp he can attend for more than one week (are there any out there?) with a special theme camp thrown in.

As far as the school year goes, my husband works in a year around school and was a great schedule before our son reached school age, lots of family time. Well, it is still good just more challenging with school schedules that are not in sync. And he loves it, because keeps him refreshed and focused. Personally, I think 8-10 weeks off in the summer is ideal with some longer breaks during the year. Long enough to allow some space from school, time to explore the world, and a little boredom to set in.

I think some people might be confusing year-round school with school 52 weeks a year??? Year-round schools get approximately the same number of days of schools as September to June schools; it's just more evenly spread out through the year. And of course non-academic learning is taking place all the time, from the moment they open their eyes in the morning until the fall asleep at night. I used to be a classroom teacher too, and definitely a lot of review was needed (for some students more than others) after a 3-month break. Just part of coming back to a subject after several months. If the breaks are shorter and more frequent, I'm pretty sure less learning time is spent on review.

There might be an opportunity to weigh in changes in schools:


My kid is still in year round daycare, 3 days a week so "summer break" is not yet an issue! Whew, ya'll have me nervous! I'm gonna have to start looking into sending him to the east coast for a 12 week summercamp!

I'm a single parent, there is noooooo way I can manage all the juggling you mama warriors do!!! More power to you, I really admire you!

I think the best way to prepare for the kids' summer vacation is to plan way ahead. First, take a good look at the calendar and anticipate when the whole family will be available. After you apply for a vacation leave, estimate the amount of money you can spend and set an adjustable budget. Then, start researching about places where you and your family can go. Summer camp is not the only option! You just have to be creative and organized enough to set things without any conflict. Good luck!

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