Here’s how a conversation with my son went the other day:
Me: “What kind of summer camps would you like to sign up for this year?”
Son: “None. Maybe baseball.”
Me: “So, your plan is to shoot some hoops, maybe watch TV all summer?”
Son: No response. (Selective hearing kicks in.)
And so began our yearly exercise known as the “Summer Camp Summit,” as Urbana mom Nancy Castro calls it.
Every spring, parents pull out their calendars, park themselves at the computer, consult with friends and spend hours plotting and rearranging schedules to figure out where their kids will be on which day after the school year ends.
It is not a simple task.
Sure, very young children may simply continue their ongoing day-care arrangements, and for older kids parents may choose a summerlong day camp and be done with it.
But the logistics can get a bit ... complicated.
Siblings often have vastly different interests — computers? theater? rock-climbing? — or may be too far apart in age to attend the same camp.
The choices can be overwhelming, with endless variations — and yet there’s nothing suitable the week you need it most. Or the most desirable camps fall during your vacation. Or all the things you can agree on are scheduled for the same week.
Inevitably, I’ll get it all worked out and then find out a crucial class is full — or canceled due to lack of enrollment. The whole schedule falls apart.
Honestly, I enjoy doing my taxes more than this. At least there’s (usually) a financial payoff at the end.
Camp costs also add up quickly (but they are deductible).
Castro has found no winning formula, though her children are “Indian Acres junkies.” The Champaign swim club offers a reasonably priced half-day camp that you can sign up for by the week.
Apparently lots of parents have afternoons free, but “sadly that would not be my situation,” says Castro, a former English professor who now is a program director for the University of Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.
There are afternoon camp options, but some are just a couple of hours long and are “clear across town,” which makes transportation impractical, she says.
For one week, she enrolled daughter Clara, 6, in an afternoon Spanish-language camp at the UI and son Lucas, 9, in a soccer camp. But it’s logistically easier to have her children in the same place. Unless she hires a chauffeur.
She’s also trying a few all-day camps through the Urbana Park District and the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum. But she doesn’t want to do that all summer.
“It just seems like school,” she says.
Castro’s mother was a teacher and could stay home during the summer. Castro had no concept of a “day camp”; camp was something you went off to for a week.
She wishes her hours could be more flexible now, or that she could stay home during the summer. Her husband, Gillen Wood, is an English professor, but he has summer work responsibilities, too.
Ideally, she’d hire a nanny “who would take them to do all the fun stuff that I can’t go do with them. But that comes at a high cost,” Castro says. “Part of me wants a little enrichment in their summer, too. It’s a long time for their mental gears to be kind of stalled.”
Even parents with summers free feel the need to give their kids some kind of structure.
Tami Bajema, an Urbana High School English teacher, initially thought summers off meant lots of unscheduled, stress-free time to hang out with Samuel, 9, and Sylvan, 7. Their yard has a huge vegetable garden, a cool recycled tree/hidden fort and lots of room for activities.
“We are disappointed that more families don’t have unscheduled time for kids just to hang out and swap homesteads, but it’s understandable,” Bajema says.
Coordinating camps with their friends was the challenge. Bajema exchanged a flurry of emails with a group of soccer moms (including Castro), sharing the kids’ camp preferences and out-of-town plans to “achieve maximum camp synchronicity.”
That step is key; friends just make camp easier.
And to set aside precious family time, Bajema and her husband, fellow English teacher Bruce “Bruiser” Rummenie, tried to keep afternoons free, planned a three-week vacation and scheduled “absolutely nothing” for two weeks.
Though my husband and I both work full time, we take a similar approach: not scheduling something every week, tag-teaming work hours, taking as much vacation time as we can spare, swapping kids with friends. We’re also investing in a part-time sitter, sharing the cost with a friend, so our kids can have plenty of time at home.
The logistics may still be daunting, but the schedule is more relaxed than the school year, preserving some sense of that blissful summer off for all of us.
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Julie Wurth writes about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 351-5226, firstname.lastname@example.org  or Twitter.com/jawurth.
Klaire Green uses duct tape to seal a leak at the July 2010 2010 Camp Invention at Leal School, sponsored by the Orpheum Children's Science Museum. Vanda Bidwell/ The News Gazette
Luke Buzicky competes in an egg drop as part of Junk Box Wars during the July 2011 session of College for Kids, an afternoon summer camp at Parkland College for kids entering grades 3 to 7. Vanda Bidwell/The News-Gazette
Brenda Koenig helps Aiden Bristowe set up his rocket for launching at the June 2011 Camp Explosion - where kids are guaranteed one explosion per day - at the Orpheum Children's Science Museum. Vanda Bidwell/The News-Gazette