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Welcome to This Awful/Awesome Life! My name is Frances Joyce. I am the publisher and editor of this magazine. We'll be exploring different topics each month to inform, entertain and inspire you. Meet new authors, sharpen your brain and pick up a few tips on life, love, entertaining and business. Enjoy and please share!

School's Out: Will it be a Long Summer or a Fun Summer? by Fran Joyce


The end of the school year can be the source of great joy or frustration depending on your family situation. Some families thrive on routine and parents dread the months when the school bus doesn’t dictate morning wake ups and evening bedtimes. Others cheer for the opportunity to grab an extra hour of sleep and not have to rush around making sure teeth are brushed and backpacks are properly loaded in time to make it to the bus stop.

I’ve been a working parent and a stay at home mom and over the course of several corporate relocations, summers with my sons afforded unique challenges and opportunities. Sometimes, I’d read a wonderful parenting article about how to make the most of summer, and I would try to mimic these resourceful parents only to feel resentful when my family didn’t cooperate.

Do what works best for you and your family. If you have it figured out, kudos.

If, however, your family is like mine, grab some sunscreen because I have a few ideas on how to keep the kids from getting bored without scheduling every hour of their summer vacation.

First, sit down with your family, and find out what everyone plans on doing this summer. Set a summer budget for activities even if you can afford to do anything you want. Will you be taking a family vacation this summer? Are there sports clinics, science camps, art or music programs or work schedules that need to be included in your plans? How do these activities impact each member of your family? Are they logistically/financially possible? If you will need help with picking up and dropping off, who can help you out and how will you reciprocate? How can you avoid spending the entire summer in your car?

If your kids want to do EVERYTHING, ask each child to choose one special activity. After you plan for those, schedule other things. Remember to include some down time. It’s perfectly normal to want to stay up late and sleep in once in a while. Allow time to play outside, ride bikes, play video games or simply daydream. Over structuring your child’s time can rob them of opportunities to problem solve and prioritize events.

Activities I never compromised on were outdoor play and summer reading. If you want your kids to forego a couch potato lifestyle, set a good example; get up off the couch and do something outdoors. If you want your kids to read, be a reader. Show your kids it’s possible to do both activities. It’s a balancing act, but you are up to the task.

Your local library has some excellent reading programs as well as other fun and educational summer programs. My sons received summer reading lists from their schools during the last week of classes. They read for at least 30 minutes before bed every night. It was a natural transition from listening to bedtime stories.

Those of us in the Pittsburgh area are blessed with multiple options in our own communities and an incredible downtown filled with universities, museums, theaters, science centers, Phipps Conservatory and Schenley Park brimming with activities for all ages. For a list of free and inexpensive activities, www.visit or

Stick with activities that fit your budget and stress the importance of family time.

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Make family outings fun learning experiences by allowing each family member to plan an outing. They choose the activity, budget time and money for the day, and plan the logistics. Will you drive, take a bus or ride the trolley? Where will you eat? Make sure they budget money for gas, parking, trolley or bus fares, tickets, food and drinks while allowing ample time for travel, activities, food, bathroom breaks and bus/trolley schedules. After giving them clear guidelines, step back and let them figure it out.

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Speaking of budgeting, there are several fun ways to teach your kids about money this summer. Ask them to help with meal planning/preparation and grocery lists/shopping. Suggest new foods to try and let them look online for budget-friendly nutritious recipes to incorporate into your summer diet. Set a weekly grocery budget and take them to the store and/or Farmer’s Market with you. Teach them to read labels and comparison shop. Challenge them to keep a running total in their heads of the cost of each item placed in the cart. Reward the child closest to the actual total with a small treat. Stick to the budget and put whatever money is left over each week in a jar for fun summer activities.

Keep them motivated by letting them earn “additional cash” for chores they do around the house.  Be sure to include “cash” for the activities mom/dad regularly do such as laundry, chauffeuring duties, yard work, etc. Deduct “cash” for time mom/dad have to spend completing kids’ chores not done or done incorrectly as well as time spent refereeing family conflicts.

Grow a family garden, take walks, hikes or bike rides together and never be afraid to get out in the yard and toss a ball or a Frisbee with your kids. Have movie nights and family game nights. The long summer is really quite short and you only get so many before they grow up and have families of their own.

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