Set Your Alarm for January

©Robert Kneschke via

Remember last April when planning for summer was exciting? Now, it is July, and you are ready to refinance your mortgage or figure out a suitable blood sacrifice just to get your kids out of your living room. 

I’ll be the first to yell it from the round-a-bouts: I am a better parent when I am not with my children all day.  

For all my fellow caregivers who said an ‘amen’ to that last statement or for those who never considered uttering those words, I think we can all agree that preparing for any time off from our children’s ‘regularly scheduled programming’ requires everyone to be on the same page.  

My tips/reminders are not just for those who want or can provide a full-day experience for their child at camps from June to August. There are unlimited options for any budget that will allow every person in your family to settle into something that works.  

Since we are all in the thick of summer, it seems the perfect time to start thinking of next summer. Actually, this is the perfect time to reflect! 

Let’s start with pro-tip #5: Do your research.

If you are new to the summer camp scene, then you will be pleased to know that you have approximately five thousand four hundred and eighty-seven camps to choose from in Indy and surrounding areas! I may not be entirely set on that number, but you get the gist. To narrow the choices down, I like to make a list. Think of the different driving routes you do with your kids, places you visit, ones you drive by, and areas of town you are in. What places do you already frequent? Survey what is there and then look them up. Did they have summer options, and if so, what were the times and cost? Is each day laid back, or is there a full schedule of well-planned activities? Take screenshots. Remember to get contact info!

Pro-tip #4: Did you forget the free stuff?

It’s true. There are a multitude of free activities that can also be included in the ‘drop your kid off” category. Stay alert for vacation bible school and religious-themed activities.  Depending on your personal beliefs and comfort level, doing a week-long VBS for a few hours daily is an affordable option for the younger kids. I will take a pause here with this tip – while free or lower-cost activities can be enticing, they may not be for everybody.  If something is free, it is more than likely being staffed by volunteers, and the ratio will be higher for children vs. adults. Good-hearted as the staff may be, it may not be the best fit for children with complex needs. Only you can decide how that will work for your family.  

Pro-tip #3: Start reflecting now on what is working and what is not.

Maybe your daughter has turned into a night owl and does not know there is a seven-thirty AM. That summer PE option or rise-and-shine overnight camp may not be worth the money. But your tween son has thrived with an active schedule and becomes restless without it, so finding a steady location with changes of theme or focus may fit the bill.  And how are YOU this summer? Some families enjoy the flexibility of having more unstructured together time -working from home, playing with friends, or jumping from activity to activity. But some families can not and should not be together all day, every day, for many valid reasons. Be honest with your partner or other caretakers with all of that now. That will help how you plan for when the time comes to make decisions in January. 

Pro-tip #2: Set your alarm for January

I was waiting for a heart scan while in the ER at around nine o’clock in the morning in late January, and I was on hold with the registration office of a VERY popular summer camp destination. Blood work and different x-rays continued while on hold (with the same soft rock loop playing on speaker phone) to secure my son a spot. There was snow on the ground, and it was freezing outside. Besides the fact that I was in an emergency room with shooting pains, let’s focus on the timing of this fiasco. I was trying to secure a spot for my seven-year-old son to go to camp FIVE months before it even began. The funny twist was that I waited on hold all day and still did not get in that day, but he was placed on the waiting list. So set your alarm for January, folks. Between January to March is prime registration time for summer camp! And with the alarm comes your debit card, which will be used to secure that spot, pay a down payment, or be required to pay the entire camp fee upfront. If you will be securing multiple camps then prepare for that. Evaluate the budget now and see what is workable.

Pro-tip #1:  Set up the summer command station

You may find that summer is actually busier than the school year. That’s what I see in our case.  I have tried so many organization gadgets and specialty calendars but this summer I found a good mix. We have one large wall/desk calendar where each family member uses their initials and has an assigned colored pen or highlighter. If a family member has a camp or other activity, I write their initial, the name of the activity or place, and the exact time it’s happening. This information goes on the master wall/desk calendar. Our whiteboard hangs on the wall in our kitchen. Using painter’s tape, make text-like boxes on the whiteboard while leaving room on one side to put each family member’s name while on the other axis are the days of the week. Take colored dry-erase markers and complete that family member’s weekly activities. When the member wants to see what is happening that week, they will find their name and can search by that and the day of the week.  This helps you to see where everyone needs to be, who is available to drive them, and what to plan for.  For older family members who live on their phones, you could replicate the same weekly dry-erase board calendar on the calendar app. If you are feeling a little extra that day, go ahead and assign some fun notification ringtones to each family member.

I wish a magic wand could bring every one of you an Instagram-worthy summer where bickering ceases, dirty dishes become clean, and names move up to the top of the waiting list. But until that day comes, here is one thing to give you a head start: Create that January calendar notification now (yes, right now) and copy/paste the links to this article and the Indianapolis Mom’s Summer Camp Guide directly into it.

Happy planning!


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