Believe it or not, planning a terrific summer begins with just one simple step: Start early. It might be hard to think about sunny days and warm temps when you’re still sporting winter coats and rain boots, but did you know February and March are the ideal times to get started?
Here are 26 tips and ideas for planning fun- and learning-filled days that are sure to make your kids declare, “This is the best summer ever!”
Plan the plan
- Make a summer bucket list together with your kids. Sit down and dream about the places you want to go as a family, and camps and activities they want to participate in. When summer comes, write the easy-to-do activities on pieces of paper and put them in a fun box; kids get to take turns choosing.
- Book campsites. It's not too late! Even if you haven't booked your prime camp site or yurt for July or August (or several sites, for bringing friends), you can still find some spots at these great family campsites.
- Purchase one or two memberships to a favorite museum or zoo (perhaps one indoor spot and one outdoor) and plan for multiple visits over the summer to take your time and get the most bang for your buck. Plus, you’ll get discounts and early registration for camps at your family’s favorite Seattle spots, such as the Pacific Science Center, Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo.
Get out there
- Mark free days for state and national parks. State parks are free to visitors on June June 13 and Aug. 25 and national parks are free on Aug. 25, so if you don’t want to shell out for a Discover Pass or national-park admission, mark those dates on the calendar now.
- Visit ski resorts in the summer for loads of family outdoor fun in spectacular settings with fewer crowds (and even some off-season discounts). Crystal Mountain, Whistler and Mt. Hood Skibowl’s Summer Adventure Park offer thrilling activities, such as gondola rides, biking, zip-lining, family activities and more in the sunshine.
- If you must go to a Disney theme park this summer, go in May or early June before school ends. “You will see shorter wait times and cooler temperatures,” says Anne Taylor Hartzell of Hip Travel Mama.
- Plan trips to local vacation hot spots for next year. Yes, really. The best time too book a popular destinations like Oregon's Treesort, Campbell’s Resort on Lake Chelan, Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum and the cabins at Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island is now, for next summer. See our article on one-of-a-kind destinations kids love, from treehouses to lighthouses.
Find cool camps
- If you’re looking for camps on a budget, then community centers are your best friends. You’ll find a variety of day camps offered at reasonable prices and close to home. Boys & Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts also offer affordable summer camps with some financial assistance available.
- Sign up to be notified by email when registration for high-demand camps opens, such as the free Apple Store in-store day camps.You can also sign up for newsletters from your favorite museums that offer camps to get early notification.
- Join the Seahawks Kids Club to get a spot in the popular free Gatorade Junior Training Camps. The two-hour clinics, held in the Seattle area, teach kids ages 7–14 football fundamentals with a Seahawks coach or player.
- Team up with other neighborhood parents and create your own themed summer camp, rotating between each home daily. You’ll save money, and camps can easily be tailored to kids’ interests.
Have a blast on a budget
- Seattle Parks and Recreation offers free beginning swim lessons for kids 6 and older in summer afternoons and evenings at nine beaches around the city.
- Looking for fun, free ways to beat the heat inside? Here’s a quick cheat sheet: Kids Bowl Free, where kids can bowl gratis in locations across the Seattle area; your local library’s summer reading program events; $1 morning movies through the Regal Cinema Summer Movie Express program; and indoor playgrounds in malls such as Kids Cove in Bellevue Square and at Alderwood Mall.
- Buy Wild Waves yearly passes or a family four-pack of tickets during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend to save big for the following summer. During the summer, you can sometimes buy discounted passes through Seattle Parks and Recreation.
- Reserve museum passes through local library systems, including Seattle Public Library, King County Library System and Pierce County Library System for fantastic museums like EMP Museum and KidsQuest Children’s Museum.
- You can also plan outings around one of the many free museum days, or to the region’s many wonderful always-free museums, such as Puget Sound Navy Museum in Bremerton, Children’s Museum of Tacoma and the Western Heritage Center in Monroe.
- Rather than paying pool fees, dive into the area’s great lake beaches for swimming, such as Madison Park Beach, Green Lake, Pine Lake Park in Sammamish and Idylwood Beach Park in Redmond. And don’t forget what some say is the best family beach in Puget Sound, Jetty Island, accessible by free foot ferry in July and August. Find more beach tips here.
- Pick up a Seattle CityPass to play tourist for a day and save on Seattle’s best attractions. (When you’re in Disneyland, grab a Southern California CityPass to save money and skip the long lines.) The Seattle-area Chinook Book is also packed with discounts for museums, plays and activities; check with your local parents’ listserv or facebook group to ask for coupons other families aren’t using, or your local Buy Nothing group.
Manage screen time
- Set screen-time rules for summer early and stick to them. Agreeing on rules will cut down on daily negotiations for just one more show or one more hour. Some families maintain the same screen-time rules as in the school year, allow more tech access or even tie rules to how often kids get outdoors.
- Enforce screen-time rules with hassle-free apps. PBS Kids Super Vision monitors and sets time limits for what your kids are watching and playing on the PBS Kids website and app. The Amazon FreeTime parental controls also set limits on screen time for Kindles, Fire tablets and Fire TV, and provide kid-friendly content for a small monthly fee.
- If you have young kids, pick up 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids by Seattle-area author Asia Citro. Stock up on the basic supplies for the book’s sensory activities, such as baking soda and cornmeal, and you’ll have a hands-on activity ready in minutes.
- To maximize non-screen time, keep your family’s favorite outdoor games — such as badminton, Frisbees, horseshoes and sidewalk chalk — stashed in the car trunk for spontaneous fun.
- Make your own technicolor. Use spray paint to turn concrete pavers into a permanent hopscotch path for your backyard. Painting the stepping stones is a fun family project for a colorful game that won’t wash away in the rain.
- Write down some of your family’s summer adventures on a calendar, or ask your kids to create a journal to record their favorite summer days. Not only does it help you plan ahead, but you can also look back once school begins.
- Don’t overbook! Include downtime to unwind. Give your kids time to explore, read and get outside on sunny days.