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Challenge: Summer Fun

How We Survive Summer With Six Kids (in 5 Easy Peasy Steps)

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It's coming.

The children are gleefully counting down the days and parents everywhere are white-knuckle bracing for the same. Summer is almost here.

With six children in our busy household, summers are epic. Epic for the children in that they involve long lazy afternoons at the lake, firefly chasing in the evenings and endless dripping popsicles. Epic for Gabe and me in that they last 483 days and involve so many trips to the grocery store that we've considered getting part-time jobs there.

Over the years, we've developed a coping strategy that leaves us sane and still married in September.

Let me warn you, before we get much further, I really do mean a strategy. This isn't a let summer be summer and allow the kids to run free kind of household. We've tried that and in our experience it lasts until about lunchtime on day two. With six children and a mom working from home, we needed a more structured plan. Our strategy doesn't deliver the perfect idyllic summers we remember from our childhood, but given we're the adults this go-round, it comes pretty close.

Here are the five steps we take to survive summer with our six children.

Send Them To Camp

Easy right? Send all six to sleep away camp for 8 weeks and be done with it. Not so fast. First, we're not millionaires. Second, we'd miss them too much. Our camp strategy is a bit different.

Each child has a camp budget and can choose how to spend it. We explore private camps, the YMCA, our local parks and recreation department, and the public summer school listings for ways to stretch our budget, and there are lots of options. Lottie is enrolled in a week-long kayaking day camp for $100 this year.

We stagger camp schedules so only one or two of our tribe is away at any given time. Missing a kiddo or two shifts the dynamic at home and helps ease the constant-contact sibling fatigue that sets in.

Enroll in Free Summer Programs

We bowl for free all summer long. We attend second-run movies for nearly nothing ($1) twice a week. We c heck off reading lists. We attend open-air concert series. If a program is running all summer long, and it is low to no cost, we're probably signed up for it.

Set Summer Goals

Jack worked on swimming last summer. This year, Lottie is memorizing multiplication facts. Caden is joining me in learning how to meditate. Past summer goals have included buying a hermit crab, learning to ride a bike, and watching all the James Bond movies.

We set summer goals to continue learning even when school's out.

There are very few rules about goals. The kids set them and we write them down. You may have as many as you choose. Sometimes Gabe and I insert boring grown-up ones: focus on reading, a page a day in the math workbook. Sometimes we don't. Simon's goal last summer was to have no goals. For his first-job summer, that was okay with me. The learning was coming, goal or no goal.


Summer is magic. Kids grow two feet and nights are endless and the air is thick with memory. For our family, part of capturing that magic is celebrating it.

We take a family vacation in the summer, sometimes a planes-trains-and-automobiles budget buster, sometimes a wallet-friendly long weekend camping. We play a license plate game from Memorial Day to Labor Day, working as a team and texting pictures and still-to-find lists back and forth when we're apart. We throw a huge summer party and invite all the people we love. We hang a sheet and watch outdoor movies, light sparklers and spin in the front yard and use five gallons of bubbles and two buckets of chalk.

Gabe and I make cocktails on the porch and find dinner in the fridge and share stories of summers when we were kids. We let the girls dye their hair (Lottie is going full mermaid this summer) and the boys grow theirs out. We cram the kids and rafts in the car and play hooky at the lake.

We take full advantage of the long lazy days, but it is anything but spontaneous.

Follow a Schedule

Yup, days are long and lazy and scheduled around here. Why? Because I learned years ago that if I didn't sit down and schedule our camps and bowling and bike practice and movie nights they didn't happen. Without a schedule, we ended up with long lists of what we wanted from summer stuffed in a drawer somewhere.

Each year, I spend an hour or two building a summer calendar that we print and hang on the fridge. The kids shape it, and everyone doesn't have to do everything of course. It's a summer vacation calendar after all, not a checklist for a rocket launch.

The summer calendar structures the days and helps the kids know what's coming next. It helps Gabe and I budget and plan for the week ahead. It stops the endless questions of "when are we going to the waterpark?" and reminds everyone to clean their room. Over the stretch of June, July and August, the calendar delivers the summer we've all hoped for, and ensures we're all still standing in September.

This five-step summer strategy won't make your summer perfect. The children still fight and there are days no one wants to do anything. Kids are still booooooored and snack endlessly. But for our big family, this summer survival plan ensures that we capture the magic of the season and end it with (mostly) happy memories of time spent together rather than screen-fried kids and frustrated parents.

And so, parents of nearly-off-for-the-summer children, there you have it. May the odds be ever in your favor. Mix a pitcher of margaritas and you're ready to roll.

Need more than just my good wishes? Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to download our free, customizable summer calendar!

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