Juggling Kids and Work? 6 Tips for Surviving the Summer Childcare Scramble

For the record, Cindy Tisher enjoys summer—her family has a boat on a lake near their home in Bend, Oregon, USA, and she likes warm weather. “Summer here is a dream, and I love it,” she says. “But figuring out childcare is the worst.”

Tisher, a paralegal, and her husband have a 10-year-old son. Both parents work full-time, and summer requires a juggle of carpools and camps that often start at 10 a.m. and wrap-up before the end of the workday. Tisher tackles the season with spreadsheets, help from friends and a healthy dose of gratitude that her family can afford the extra care.

She’s certainly not alone. For three months of the year, no school means no childcare for most families. Finding places for children to go can be an expensive, and sometimes stressful, endeavor. One survey by the Center for American Progress revealed that the average family spends more than $3,000 on summer childcare alone. So how can families plan ahead?

Here are some tips for finding care and saving money, while still making time for some fun in the sun:

1. Take advantage of FSAs and scholarships

With five-year-old twin boys and an eight-year-old daughter, summer childcare is no small cost for Sara Di Vittorio, an attorney in Granite Falls, Wash., USA. Sara estimates she’ll spend $3,000 on day camps and extended care options just for the month of July.

“You have to be ready to pay for it,” she says. She and her husband alleviate some of the burden by using money they’ve saved in their flexible spending accounts, which allow them to save pre-tax dollars for childcare expenses.

If the costs of camps seem out of reach, check into whether you’re eligible for some financial assistance. Many camps offer scholarships or even financial assistance via the federal government for families that meet specific income standards.

2. Activate your village

“I take a community parenting approach,” says Tisher, who emails her day camp plan to more than a dozen of her son’s friends. The hope is that they’ll sign their children up for the same time as Tisher’s son—giving him a friend at camp and creating an easy carpool. This summer, she has a friend taking her son to a museum camp in the morning because it’s on her way to work, while she’ll be ferrying the kids home from soccer in the afternoon because the field is close to her office. “I think open communication is key because there are lots of us in the same boat,” she says.

Also, think about dividing and conquering with your friend families. One person can dedicate a week to watching kids from two or three families, then the next family does and so on. You could also check with older teens in the neighborhood to see if they’re interested in babysitting on specific days or even a few weeks at a time.

3. Get creative with time off from work

There are few things as valuable as taking a proper vacation. But if you’re facing a childcare crunch, many parents find ways to put their paid time off to use. For instance, think about spreading out a series of days off over the summer, taking one day each week or planning half days so that you can be home with the kids.

If there are two parents available to contribute some PTO to summer childcare, the expense of paying for care decreases. As an added bonus, you get some quality time with family at home.

4. Work from home

While this isn’t usually a whole-summer option, remote work can provide some relief for specific days or weeks. But working with kids also at home isn’t always the best for productivity. A few pro tips can help make your family make the most of remote work days:

  • First, depending on the age of your children, develop a simple sign system for letting them know you’re in a meeting or on a call. A green piece of paper on your door means you’re available, for example, while a red one means please wait until later.
  • Consider rising early to put in some hours before they’re awake or while they’re easing into the day.
  • Schedule playdates at friends’ houses to mix things up for a few hours.

5. Explore camps near relatives

Asking grandparents, aunts, uncles or other family members to watch the kids for a week or two every summer can be a big request, and not always possible. But some families make it work by investigating day camps near where their relatives live. That way, your family can drop kids off for the day and spend time with them before and afterward. Depending on where your family is located, this can also be a way to save money as camps in smaller towns are often less expensive.

6. Save your summer schedule—tweak and repeat

Putting together the summer puzzle is an accomplishment in itself. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel each year. Record your childcare plans on a spreadsheet, whether that’s weeks with babysitters, time with family, camps or a mix of them all. Keep relevant links, registration details, and information about the costs. Then next year, when summer inevitably rolls around again (it always comes faster than you think), you’ll be halfway done with your planning before you even start.