Summer camp: The secret to a stress free summer holiday?

After a week of seeing other parents on the school run and my social media channels getting bunged up with back to school pics, my own offspring have now returned to school. The 2019 school summer break is over. Several weeks of living in a messier-than-usual house, with the kitchen being repeatedly raided by hungry children and punctuated by days out to busier-than-usual visitor attractions and visits to family and friends.

summer camp, summer camps, school holidays, dadbloguk,, uk dad bloggerIn previous years I only used summer camps on an ad-hoc basis but this year I took a different approach and it worked well. Pic credit: Agnieszka Kowalczyk on Unsplash.

This year, however, things were a little different in this household. With both my kids at school and me now working for myself, I had to balance family and work. More to the point, in the absence of school, I’ve had to balance 24/7 childcare.

For summer 2019, I had a plan. I was going to put the kids into a summer camp two days a week.

I’ve previously made use of summer camps on an ad-hoc basis, but probably for no more than four or five days over the entire six weeks. I’ve always said parents should consider summer camps as it enables you to do housework and so on, always tricky if the children are constantly around you.

Before I say anything else, I acknowledge some parents, especially those that work full time, have no choice but to use summer camps. I’ve personally just felt that I want the kids to be at home as much as possible over summer so we can do more together while they’re relatively young.

Only thing is, it’s never quite worked out the way I wanted. Sure, we’ve always got out and had lots of fun and visited places we rarely get to see but in previous years, we’ve quickly descended into domestic chaos.

This year I decided to take a more structured approach to holiday childcare. Helen and Izzy went to summer camp two days a week and as a result, we spent much more quality time together.

To balance work commitments, I sometimes had to work late into the night or get up stupidly early. On one occasion I had to work while sat next to the barbecue while we were on holiday in Portugal. Nonetheless, knowing I had two child-free days a week meant I was able to plan work and I met my work commitments with relative ease. It wasn’t perfect, but it was manageable.

Things were much better on the domestic front too. The house was regularly vacuumed, and I even gave the car a cursory clean on a couple of occasions.

Yes, standards slipped. As is my usual practice over the summer break, I gave up ironing. Not that I planned this, but I didn’t get my haircut until the final few days of the break so I spent quite a bit of time looking like an unkempt animal but domestically, the wheels turned reasonably smoothly.

While at their summer camp, the kids made new friends and got to spend time with other people. This, I think, is important as six weeks constantly in the company of the same people is tough going for anyone.

The guys running the summer camp kept the kids active and they returned home tired but happy. Crucially, Helen and Izzy returned home asking to go back. Yes, screen time did increase over the summer break but it was much reduced compared to previous years and with a rough, weekly structure in place, it was much easier to go out for the day knowing I wasn’t returning to a sink full of washing up / unmown lawn / pile of dirty because I’d already taken care of these dreary tasks.

I wouldn’t want Helen and Izzy to go to summer camp all day, every day, but I am a convert. Popping them in a couple of days a week worked well for all of us.

This year was different for another reason. With Helen and Izzy getting older (….they don’t stay young for long), they’ve both developed sporting interests. They’re members of a couple of different clubs that continued running over the summer break.

Although we did miss a few sporting sessions, we went to as many as we possibly could. In a sign of what is to come as the kids get older, I had to sit down with a calendar and plan almost every activity and play date long in advance.

How would I summarise summer 2019? As ever, it was fun and we made memories. We got to do most of the activities we had planned but there were several things we didn’t do. That’s just the way these things go, right?

Yes, I do feel a bit frazzled. This year’s summer break was closer seven weeks in length than six weeks. Even so, I feel sad it’s come to an end. I love the summer holidays and spending all this time with the family (I can tell I’m going to be a dreadful empty nester when the time comes!).

I also know next year, I’ll be planning to put the kids in summer camp for a couple of days each week. It enabled me to do all the boring stuff while they were occupied elsewhere. I didn’t expect to feel so strongly about it, but it made the summer holiday work so much better.

Have you used a summer camp? Maybe you avoid them? I’d be curious to know of your experiences so please do leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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