Families get creative in the summertime, juggling schedules that keep them on the go

FARGO - You don't have to explain the summer shuffle to Alison Dye. "I'm trying to figure out which kid is going to go to which game with which parent," the West Fargo mom of three says on a Monday morning. It's a challenge many Fargo-Moorhead pa...

FARGO - You don't have to explain the summer shuffle to Alison Dye.

"I'm trying to figure out which kid is going to go to which game with which parent," the West Fargo mom of three says on a Monday morning.

It's a challenge many Fargo-Moorhead parents face as school-year routines give way to months of summer vacation. First, they need to make sure their children are cared for during hours typically occupied by school. Then, they want their kids to experience the fun activities that happen during the warm weather months.

But how do you get them to and from those day camps, athletic events and lessons? Especially as a parent who works outside the home?

It's, perhaps, most challenging for parents of "tweens" - those kids who are too old for a traditional day care setting but too young to drive.


"It is just a constant struggle, working outside the home and keeping the kids out of trouble and finding new things for them to do," says Dye, whose daughters are ages 11, 9 and almost 5.

This summer, Dye, who runs two advertising businesses with her husband, has hired a college student on summer break to watch their girls Mondays through Thursdays. The coed is able to drive them to many day activities, including basketball and volleyball camps.

Even with her helper, Kelsey Kloos, Dye often finds herself running during the day, to an orthodontist appointment or the dog groomer or soccer. "It's on the phone, constantly juggling the schedule on the phone or text messaging with Kelsey," she says.

Other parents rely on carpooling or flexible lunch breaks to get kids here and there, says Lauri Winterfeldt, director of Community Education for the Moorhead School District. The department offers several summer camps for school-age children, including sports, music, writing and art.

"I see parents working very hard and being very creative" to juggle summer schedules, Winterfeldt says. "It's one of those things when you become a parent - you don't realize all the different decisions you'll have to make. You're constantly negotiating family and work life."

Stay-at-home struggles

Even stay-at-home moms do the shuffle.

Danette Laske of Fargo is the mother of five kids with ages ranging from 5 to 19. Right about the time school lets out, Laske sits down with a calendar to work out summer schedules.


"The only thing I require the kids in this house to do, they need to take swimming lessons," Laske says. Then she or her kids suggest which other activities they may want to do, and Laske maps it all out on the calendar.

She likes to make sure her children have friends attending the same sleep-away or sports camps. That way the children know someone else there, and it ensures a carpooling buddy.

Her daughter Grace, now 11, started riding her bike to tennis lessons a couple of years ago. She would meet a friend midway. The timing had to be precise, Laske says, but she felt safer having them use the buddy system.

"You look at their age and maturity. If they're wanting to do it, also," she says. "Sometimes they are fearful to do things for a reason."

Dye doesn't let her daughters bike beyond the boundaries of their West Fargo neighborhood. The oldest can't yet cross 13th Avenue South. It's quite a change from Dye's own childhood. "I remember at 12 years old biking to north Fargo," she says.

Kids today "almost go from being with a parent to going in the car (alone) with a driver's license," she says.

Ready for self-care?

A major question for parents is when their children can start taking on more independence, such as supervising themselves.


Rebecca Berge-Buss, a parent educator for North Dakota State University Extension, leads a class for parents called "Children in Self-Care." It's typically offered before school starts in fall - when parents are wondering if their kids can be home alone in the afternoon - and again before that summer vacation.

"Parents look for a certain age," Berge-Buss says. "We really bring out more of the developmental stages, because children go through those in a slightly different time frame."

Guidelines from the North Dakota Department of Human Services state that 9-year-olds should not be left unsupervised for more than two hours during the daytime, while 10- and 11-year-olds may be left alone for longer periods of time. Children ages 12 and older may baby-sit.

But Berge-Buss encourages parents to consider their children's attributes. Are they responsible? Do they do chores when told? How timely are they? Can they make meals or snacks?

In the end, safety is the biggest concern, Berge-Buss says, but money is also a factor. Some parents may think supervised care for their tween children is one place they can cut expenses, but it's not always the case, depending on the maturity level and coping ability of the child.

"It is hard, that tween age," she says. "Some children don't like the day care setting or the thought of having a sitter. Some of them are to the point where they can almost be a sitter, but they're not quite there."

Day care alternative

Lakes and Prairie Child Care Resource and Referral gets the majority of calls from school-age parents at the end of May and early June as parents try to figure out summer care, says Holly Saarion, parent service coordinator.


Some parents of tweens turn to school-age programs for care, such as the Middle School Age Learning Center at the YMCA's Schlossman branch. The after-school program for kids ages 10 to 13 is run as full-time care during the summer, divided into two-week sessions. An average of 40 kids attend per session, says Kari Langeberg, middle school age program coordinator.

Some children attend all summer, others for a couple of weeks between hockey camp and family vacations.

The program focuses a lot on independent living skills, like decision-making and cooking in a microwave, as well as community service projects.

The Y does some transportation to swimming lessons and baseball, Langeberg says, but she sees a lot of parents sign kids up for evening activities.

Langeberg notes that cost can also be an issue for parents doing the summer shuffle.

"Full-day programming is a lot more expensive than during the school year when you're just paying the after-school rates," she says.

On the other hand, there are a lot of opportunities for middle schoolers to gain independence by staying home alone, says Ellie McCann, family relations educator for the University of Minnesota Regional Office in Moorhead. Summer can be a great time for kids to start making some own decisions and living with consequences, she says.

McCann says it's important that families have a well-defined calendar for every member and a system for checking in during the day, whether it's via phone call or text.


"If they are not comfortable being at home, they're probably not ready to be at home," McCann says. "Build up the hours. Don't start them with a full day home alone."

And even when a family figures it out for one summer, the child grows, and situations change before the next year's break.

"You really have to take it one summer at a time and then regroup as a family," McCann says.

Dye, the West Fargo mom, has thought about this already. What if Kelsey doesn't come back next summer?

She already decided she won't saddle her eldest daughter with childcare responsibilities for the younger two.

"I don't want her to lose touch with her childhood," Dye says. She wants her "to have fun in the summer, which is what I remember."

If you go

  • What: Children in Self-Care parenting class
  • When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Aug. 17
  • Where: Olivet Lutheran Church, Fargo
  • Info: Call (701) 241-5700 or email to preregister.
  • Online:

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556

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