Making the most of summer

The endless summer of childhood games and favorite novels can sometimes promise more than it delivers. Fantasies of lying on the beach, fun-filled bike rides and non-stop barbecues entertain us all winter long, yet by July we’re often still thinking about getting around to our summer plans. It’s not too late to design a summer structure to take advantage of the warmest weather in Chicago.

Here are six steps to fully enjoy the rest of the season:

1 Decide what is really important to you this summer."You might also think of structure as a theme,” says Glenna Ganster, licensed clinical professional counselor in Aurora. If someone else were advertising your summer plans to the neighborhood, what would the theme be? Baseball? Biking? Learning new skills? One-on-one connection? A theme will go a long way towards shaping your summer and ensuring that the elements of the theme happen.

Megan Heep, a Chicago mother of three, builds summer fun around crafts."I try to come up with new projects for the kids in the summer. Sometimes I have an idea in advance but often I end up leafing through a preschool activity book at the last minute or looking up an idea on someone’s blog and finding an activity that doesn’t require any special preparation.”

2 Decide what you want more of: Reading? Kids helping out with chores? Picnics? Outdoor music? Tennis? Unstructured days? Or less of: TV? Video games? Meals on the run?"Summer is a good time to teach my kids a new chore,” says Liz Bruemmer, mother of two preschool girls in Deer Park."We set up a chore chart with fun incentives for completing it. The rewards are fun summer things. The added bonus for me is that when the busyness of fall kicks in, they are able to help out more.”

3 Brainstorm on paper about your ideal summer schedule. How often will you be at the beach/pool/park? Are you grilling on the deck most evenings? Is your family biking together? Are you usually in town or away on the weekends? Even if it is still a fantasy, write it down. Knowing what seems ideal is the first step to making it a reality.

4 Assess your time availability. Start by listing your previously scheduled events: day camps, swimming lessons, play groups, family vacations, out of town visitors, etc. How many weekends are left? How many evenings are usually open in a week? Are there chunks of unscheduled time in the day? Once you see what you’re working with, you can determine what’s reasonable in a summer structure for your family.

“We are still pretty nap-focused,” says Heep."So, even though it would be great to just be outside all summer, we still have to spend time at home (especially the baby).”

5 Ask for input from the rest of the family."I ask my kids what they want to do. They always pick visiting a pool that’s a distance away and can be a bit pricey,” says Bruemmer."By planning ahead with some other families, we are able to get a group rate and have the fun of playmates to swim together.” Ganster advises,"Asking for input initially makes planning more complicated, but it helps ensure cooperation. Plus, you never know when someone will come up with a gem of an idea.”

6 Create a rough draft structure. Pick a night of the week for a picnic and concert. Park districts all over the area offer free summer concerts so it is easy to get a"two-for-one event” in an evening. Post a sign-up list for"after camp chores” that need to be completed before dinner. Design a new ethnic menu each week to eat on the deck if you have one or on the floor if you don’t. Create your own summer reading program just like the libraries do. The Bruemmers are part of a loosely structured cooperative camp."Basically, it is a group of moms and kids who plan ahead to do all the fun summer things you often want to do but don’t get around to. We visit pools, beaches, parks and have picnics together on Thursday mornings. By scheduling ahead, we are able to get very reduced group rates and have fun friends to do it all with.”

Good summer planning will make great memories, deepen the relationships with each child and teach values that will last for many summers to come. Knowing what is really important gives you a great chance to prevent‘the summer that got away.’

Letitia Suk is a writer, speaker and life coach living in Evanston with her husband, Tom. They are the parents of four grown children.

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