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Published May 24, 2012, 11:30 PM

Tips to get through the summer with your kids

CASSELTON, N.D. - Tanya Parker chuckles to herself when people comment on how easy it must be having summers off. The Casselton kindergarten teacher and mother of six can’t help but see things in a more realistic light.

CASSELTON, N.D. - Tanya Parker chuckles to herself when people comment on how easy it must be having summers off.

The Casselton kindergarten teacher and mother of six can’t help but see things in a more realistic light.

“Honestly, by the end of the summer, I’m so ready to go back to work. Being home with the kids constantly taking me this way and that way, I feel like a chauffeur half the time just getting them to their activities,” she says. “It’s almost easier being in a structured school setting.”

It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy spending quality time with her lively brood. But a mother needs to be prepared for when the “We’re bored!” cries start or the rain falls or things just get a little hairy. “The key for me is keeping them busy and out of trouble,” Parker says.

So on the first day of summer vacation this year, she spread her mom calendar out on the kitchen table and began plotting, marking each child’s activities in a different color to distinguish one from the next and avoid overlap.

For the times in between set activities, Parker has become expert at having a ready trick up her sleeves – or in her Rubbermaid tote, as the case may be. “They shouldn’t ever have the opportunity to be bored,” she says. “So I always have something in my back pocket.”

It might be a pack of water balloons or a new jug of bubbles, some sidewalk chalk or a handful of dollar bills for a spontaneous trip to the dollar store.

“Flexibility is a must because with tee-ball or baseball it can be day-by-day. If it’s canceled due to weather, you have to have something else ready to go.”

Parker and her mini-flock also frequent area bookstores and libraries offering summer reading programs that challenge kids to read books for prizes. She says it’s important to her that her children don’t check out mentally in the summertime.

“It can be hard, especially with my boys, who are go, go, go,” she says. “But like this morning, for example, my son already had a book out and was reading it at breakfast – something he can’t normally do during the school year.”


Lee Hoedl of Fargo, knows well the challenge of helping kids’ brains stay stimulated through the summer. As a stay-at-home dad, he’s got a teen son and a set of 8-year-old triplets to keep engaged.

Through time, he’s gotten his summertime planning down to a three-point method of attack:

Step 1: Survey the prospects

Our area offers oodles of summer camps and recreational activities, not to mention family pool passes and arts options. But early investigation is a must.

“Some people are scampering around last-minute because it’s sometimes the last thing you think of,” Hoedl says.

He and his wife, Diann, learned early on to start pulling together options in January, when the summer-activity brochures begin arriving in the mail.

“We keep a folder from the year before, and around the new year, start shoving all the ideas into that folder for the upcoming summer.”

Step 2: Narrow it down

When it comes to choosing activities, logistics like budget and time loom large, according to Hoedl.

“You might have three kids all running in different directions,” he says, noting that coordination is a must, as well as being alert to schedule overload.

“Sometimes you just have to say, ‘This is too much – we can’t do all of it.’ ”

Step 3: Schedule then stick with it

Around March or April, when registration deadlines approach, the Hoedls dig out their summer-activities folder and checkbook and make it all official. Once the main activities are on the books, they look for single events like movies, musicals or professional sporting events and fill in the gaps.

Beyond the scheduled kids’ activities, Hoedl plugs in his own summer “to do” list; things like home improvement projects and bigger events like family trips.

He’s also a believer in keeping commitments, and usually has a chat with the kids at summer’s beginning to remind them of that.

“We tell them, ‘If you start something, you finish it.’ We’re not going to be a week into it and quit.”

Hoedl says summertime can provide a prime opportunity for trial runs, allowing kids to sample activities they may or may not stick with in the future. One son learned he’s not football material after giving a summer camp a try.

An avid runner and self-proclaimed “outdoors type,” Hoedl likes to challenge both brain and body. As a result, many of the activities he steers his kids toward involve the cardiovascular system, like outings to state parks, hiking and fishing.

In their home, the summertime rule is no television and video games before noon. “We’ll negotiate some things, … but that’s one that can’t be,” he says, adding that mornings – especially rainy ones – are great for focusing on household chores and other tasks. “We’re not trying to deprive them, but there’s a happy balance.”

Finally, he and Diann have the kids share their summertime hopes, such as lemonade stands and extra time at the cabin, or maybe a little more backyard grilling or taking in a fireworks show. It’s often the small things that make summertime memorable to children, he says.


Angela Berge, parenting resource coordinator and Extension agent for North Dakota State University, offers the following parenting summertime-survival tips:

  • Connection time: “Shut down the electronics and turn off the television. Provide opportunities to explore and play with your kids based on their ages and development,” Berge says. “Go on a ‘look and listen walk,’ fishing, to the park or play board games. Have fun together and build relationships.”

  • Balanced scheduling: “Look to find the Goldilocks effect that’s ‘just right’ for your family – not too much, not too little,” she says. “Down time – just looking at the clouds – is OK, too.”

  • Academic maintenance: According to Berge, research shows that kids who maintain positive habits of learning are more likely to maintain their level of intellectual proficiency and perhaps progress even further in the summertime. “Encourage reading or read to your children, let your kids see you reading, visit the library, visit the zoo and so on.” She adds that an ordinary family activity like cooking connects well with math and science. “Be creative, be intentional and have fun together.”

  • Positive attitude about learning: “As the end of the summer nears and back-to-school is beckoning, remind your kids that school’s a great place to be,” Berge says. “A positive parental attitude goes a long way to encourage and support school success.”


With six kids in her summertime household, Tanya Parker has become adept at searching out low-cost options for summer fun.

Here are a few she recommends:

  • Picnics: “We’ll sometimes just pack up at the last minute and go over to the park for a picnic.” And since the kids are old enough now to help make their own lunches, she says, it’s a win-win since it decreases her work and makes it fun for them.

  • We love a parade: Parades and other kid-focused activities, including those connected to citywide events like the Casselton Summer Fest Days, are always a hit.

  • Zoos and museums: Safety Safari Days at the zoo and special days at Yunker Farm can be free or low-cost.

  • Rainy-day blues-chasing: “We make forts with blankets in the living room on a rainy day,” Parker says. “Or the kids will put on little concerts with their instruments and turn it into a CD.”

  • S’mores, please: All you need are graham crackers, chocolate bars and marshmallows for this traditional summertime treat. A backyard bonfire makes the most authentic s’mores, but Parkers says they’re just as tasty when cooked in the microwave.

    Other tips to keep kids content

  • Bulk-buying: “I usually make a trip into Sam’s Club at the beginning of summer so we’ll have water bottles galore, as well as little pouches of things to pack for on-the-go lunches,” Parker says.

  • Plenty of PB&J: You can never have too much sandwich meat and peanut-butter-and-jelly supplies on hand in the summertime, Parker says.

  • Child care help: A military wife, Parker has a regular sitter to help her two days a week throughout the year to give her a break. In August, this also allows her time to prepare her classroom for the coming school year. “I do online grocery shopping at times, too, but normally it gives me a little break to go into town for groceries.”

  • Mama respite: She also enjoys occasional scrapbooking retreats with friends.

    “I think it’s important for any parent to make sure they get ‘me time,’ ” Parker adds. “I enjoy being with my kids, but the kids need a break from me as much as I do from them.”