The camp spreadsheet

IMG_0320Every year around this time, I come to the question of what we are doing this summer. It is a complicated question, as it involves figuring out vacation weeks and camps for three children (the fourth is still too young for most of them). Last year the kids were off for much of August, and while there were definitely some fun times, there was also a ridiculous amount of TV and Kindle playing, especially once they figured out the parental control password and started making large in-app purchases (who creates a $50 booster pack, seriously? Since my husband randomly purchases stuff on Amazon — like we are talking mushroom-growing kit style random — I thought the emails were about his purchases until I figured out what was going on and put a stop to it).

So this year I am trying to make sure that they have something at least every other week. There are some old standbys: an outdoorsy day camp that is about 2 miles from our house, vacation bible school, a local art camp. There were ones we tried in the past that will not be repeated. There were specific requests: a theater camp, a football camp, and a boy scout camp.

I spent some time figuring out the new ones, and looking at the summer schedule. This was complicated by the question of which weeks we would take off for vacation (and what our nanny wants off too). After a lot of crossing stuff out and looking at weeks, I finally decided to make a spreadsheet. On the left? The weeks of summer. On the top? The three camp-aged children.

I am quite proud of this Excel creation. I can see, quite quickly, how many children will be occupied for any given week. The stakeholders (i.e. children) could look at the selections and give their input. I will be able to check the camps off as I register. I even thought of creating extra columns with the prices so I can see the ridiculousness of this all, but that would probably just depress me. Though perhaps if there are no in-app purchases, that will be a mitigating factor.

How do you and your family figure out your summers? Are you doing it now? Are you already done or do you more wing it later?

In other news: Thanks to the time change the children were all sleeping a wee bit later this morning. But thanks to my crashing by 10 p.m. last night, I woke up on my own at 5:30. It was a nice morning of sipping my coffee, showering with no one hollering at me, and reading magazines in the quiet. It was a nice vision of what life might be like in another 2 years or so.

Photo: Buds on the trees! I thought about illustrating this with a spreadsheet, but flowers are prettier.

30 thoughts on “The camp spreadsheet

  1. This will be our first summer with the summer camp balancing act. We are taking the easiest path: 2 school-age kids are going to the same outdoorsy full-day summer camp for the entire summer (at the local arboretum, 5 min drive from our house). The youngest kid is in daycare, so that’s easy. I debated signing the older 2 for a couple of different things (gymnastics… YMCA… theater) but decided that having the same place/routine for most of the summer would be best for everyone’s well-being. We are going to rely on grandparents + parent time off during the transition camp-less weeks at the end of the school year and right before the next school year starts (why do camps shut down almost 2 weeks before school starts???). I hope the kids love their camp… if not, we’ll have to figure out something different for the following summer.

    1. @Natasha – I agree that simple is good. They will have a fun time anywhere, so the local arboretum is a good bet. As for the space between school and camp…I suspect it’s the same reason school goes 9-3. None of this is set up with working parents in mind. One can argue whether or not it should be but…the reality is that it isn’t.

  2. I need full time care in the summers are well as during the school year so that automatically rules out a lot of camps. I need care that starts by 8:00 (preferably in the 7:00 hour). I also prefer if both kids can be in the same camp because that is less wasted time driving (for 1 year this was not possible because of ages). So I went with a YMCA style camp. Lots of outdoor time. 7:30AM start time (this is so crucial. Why do more camps not start in the 7AM hour!). And it can take both kids. IWth my demands though my options are pretty limited.

    1. @beth – a lot of ones around us have a “pre-care” option for 8 at least. But it’s extra, of course! And it would really add up if one had to select that for all 3 kids…

  3. We have two daughters and use a spreadsheet tool Each week is color-coded based on what camp they are attending. We place a high priority on camps they can attend together. There are only 2 weeks when they won’t be at the same one.

    1. @Sylvia- I agree that having them all in the same place would be nice. Unfortunately, in our situation there are few camps that really accommodate 4-year-olds and 9-year-olds. Some that do only have a half-day option for the 4-year-olds which is somewhat less convenient!

  4. Love the blog and your work! I absolutely love the idea of using a spreadsheet to organize the summer. I have been waiting for camp registration to begin since right after Christmas to see what our options will be this year. Complicating the situation are the kids varied interests and ages- let’s not even talk about the cost. As a working mom of 3, I have to get started early!

  5. I was amazed at how many camps ran 9-3 and did not offer before/after hours. That REALLY narrowed it down. We are doing a city-run parks & rec camp for 6 weeks and filled in the weeks after with a highly-rated camp run by a place that has a daycare as well (so good hours!) The city camp is SO affordable, that we won’t mind paying the full 6 weeks and taking any vacation weeks we decide. We are also doing vacation the week before the camp starts. Thankfully I only have one kid in camp, I’d DEFINITELY need a spreadsheet otherwise!

  6. The little ones will be in daycare, but I didn’t think about what Gooball will be doing all summer. I somewhat assumed that he would be spending a lot of time with Grandpa and Uncle. They usually watch him when he gets off the bus, before we get home (they live three houses down the street). I suppose we should have a conversation with them. We will go on a small vacation and I work one half day and one day from home. Maybe I should start looking into some summer camp options . . .

  7. This is my last “easy” summer. Big kids will be home with me in June and part of July while I’m on maternity leave with new baby, then in the same preschool camp they’ve gone to the last two years (the school has year round daycare, and ample openings for extra kids in the summer.) The oldest is finishing Kindergarten now, so this is her last year there. Doing things piecemeal in 2017 is stressing me out already!

  8. I only have one kid so ultimately easier. I tackle camp planning after taxes. Tax guy is due on Sat so this is my next task.

    I print out blank monthly calendars for summer. We fill in the hockey camps first. He’s also doing a basketball camp this summer. We fill in our vacation week and maybe a “grandparent camp” week (although in previous summers he’s come home with lots of presents so maybe not). Then we fill in the remaining weeks with the YMCA that is near my work. They are active and outside all day — love it! I can’t handle too many options and changing drop off/pick up every week so he’s learned to be content with a few special (also $$) sports camps and then the Y.

    1. @Arden – that is kind of my sequence too. Taxes, then camp!
      Also, I too have discovered the hierarchy of costs. VBS and some of the local rec stuff are pretty cheap. Y is relatively cheap (given that it is all day). The museums and fancier outdoor ones, not so much. Someone mentioned sending her kids to a variety of different churches all summer. Only problem is most of them are not going to be open 8-6.

  9. I make a spreadsheet then share it with my kids’ friends’ moms. We’re usually able to add a buddy or two to a few of the camps. This year there have been special requests for : Jedi training camp (at the local fencing center) Harry Potter Camp (through the city). Then we will do the usual mix of baseball, VBS, gymnastics (surprisingly affordable for camp) and a week of family vacation. This will be the first year with my husband working from home with me so I think he is voting for more 4-day camp options so we can go up to the mountains for the weekend.

    1. @Calee- brilliant to compare with other parents to get camp buddies! I think that was one more dimension I just could not optimize on. Though I suspect some requests for specific camps may have come because friends were enrolling.

  10. Oh wow can definitely see how you would need a spreadsheet! My aim is to keep the kids together as long as possible. Have not enrolled C in anything yet (might just have him do some classes), A is going to JCC camp which includes a week of “princess dance camp”. Omg 🙂

    1. @SHU – princess dance camp!! We need to find one of those!

      We have already had the first major camp enrollment fail. The cub scout camp requires rising first graders to have an “adult partner” the whole time. I am not sure I see that happening. Fortunately, the 6-year-old said he would be mollified with an extra week of art camp.

        1. @Alexicographer – I have no idea. I was told it is a cub scout standard policy. It is only for the 6-year-olds but boy is it unfriendly to working parents, single parents, and indeed any family that doesn’t have a readily available adult (even SAHPs often have younger children to care for!) I was told I could find another adult who was volunteering and get them to accept responsibility for my kid. I think it will be easier just to do another week of art camp instead.

          1. Yeah … it’s also not at all consistent with (by which I mean “diametrically opposed to!”) one of our big goals for camp, which is providing our kid a place to be, explore, engage, without parental involvement/interference — not for our sake (though that is another goal) — but for his. Seems weird to me, but then, I’m not involved with anything scout related, so have no idea how it intersects with other aspects of the scouting program.

  11. Oh my. That sounds like a dizzying task to take on!

    A question for you: One or two of my kids would enjoy some summer camp weeks, I think, but most of them would probably be a little exhausted by them (especially my introverted homebody #4.) Do your kids ever get worn out by these camps and just want to stay home?

    (I mean this as a curious question and not as judgmental, and I hope it comes across that way.)

    1. @Kristen – it’s a good question. Some of my kids are more homebodies than others, but most of these camps are done by 3 or 4 in the afternoon. So they have the time from 4-8ish/9 (bedtime) to hang out at the house. Plus big chunks of the weekend. And the weeks we won’t be doing camp (we have 3-4 off weeks during the summer). If you’re going to school all day during the year, I think camp doesn’t feel long, it feels like school…only a lot more fun. I think if we were homeschooling it might feel different.

      I think a lot of places offer half-day type camps, which can be the best of all worlds. Get em up and out of the house, but then they can relax in the afternoon.

    2. The first year my son did the Y camp…he was exhausted that first week. Like fall asleep on the way home tired. He also tends to drop a few pounds as well just from all the activity. He’s more active through the year now with sports and can acclimate better.

  12. I swear by excel spreadsheets for summer planning for my 5 little people! Camp is a tricky proposition in our house… Due to all the issues you mentioned, the most cost effective option for me is a summer nanny who helps me get the kids to summer fun activities – tennis, swim, sailing, etc instead of camps, per se. I let the kids each pick one camp week – my oldest chose sleep away camp in the woods, kids 3&4 both want Audobon nature camp, #2 is undecided and the baby is mainly out of luck for a few more years. 🙂

  13. So our task is much easier because — 1 kid, SAHP. That said, we rely heavily on camps because: they are fun (and I don’t even bother with the half-day camps, more trouble than they are worth, for us. We’ll do a few 9-3s and have one that’s just 4 days long, but basically look for ~8 to ~5 and M-F). Way more fun than being at home with a parent.

    For me, the big task was figuring out travel for the summer — we are going to visit family in Europe for (it turns out) ~3 weeks, but really 4 from a camp perspective as they start and end mid-week. So once those airfares were pinned down (phew!) , it was a matter of filling in the camps. A few are “obvious” as they are extant camps that DS wants to repeat that run only a few weeks a summer. Others require some decision-making. We’re fortunate to have a lot of good options AND an easy-going kid, so the schedule’s not hard to sketch out.

  14. Just a plug for sleepaway camp as kids get older. It has been amazing for my son to get out of the city and away from screens/internet/video games/electricity and be self sufficient. He started at 8 going for 3 weeks (now 12 and going for 7 weeks).

    1. @KP – very true. I have fond memories of sleep away camp and I think I went for the first time when I was 9 as well. I broached the topic with my 8-year-old but he was not excited about the idea, so I will wait another year or two. I suspect my youngest will see how much fun the older ones have and will want to start going at like age 4.

    2. Sleep away camp all the way! My 12 year old now goes for 5 weeks a summer, started him out with a week long camp when he was 8 or 9 and increased weeks and to a camp further away as he got older. my teen daughter plans her own summer and I’m just waiting for my five year old to be old enough for sleep away camp.

  15. Yay for the spreadsheet – that’s par for the course among the working parents I know at Microsoft 😉

    We are lucky to not need a spreadsheet (yet) because our girls will attend the same camps for the most part this year – all of July and August is covered by their excellent current Spanish immersion preschool/K program, and then the last bit of June will be at the new school they’ll attend in the fall (which thankfully has summer camp coverage for all but 3 days total that school is not in session. I love that place.)

    1. @Meg- it was pretty basic! The left column was the weeks of summer: starting June 20 in our case, and going through Labor Day. Then at the top I did my 3 camp-aged kids, each in their own column.

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