The Summer Camp Scramble

For working parents, having a plan for what the kids will do over the summer when they are off from school is important — and stressful.  It’s expensive.  There aren’t always a lot of options.  My school aged daughter doesn’t even want to go to camp, asking me if I could stay home with her instead.  And my son with Autism needs a camp that can accommodate him, which is even more expensive!

As I talk with other parents, we all share the same stress, whether you have a child with special needs or not.  Here’s my advice on how to approach, and conquer, this very daunting task.

Set a Deadline.

My deadline is the end of March.  In the Seattle area, and probably any larger city, there’s a sweet spot between when registration opens up for summer camps  and when registration fills up.  In the case of summer camp, I sign up for emails from the camps I’ve used in the past and I sign up for them on any camp that looks interesting.  As Spring approaches, I look for these emails to help remind me that I need to sign up.

Plan Ahead.

I like to involve my kids in the decision on where they are going to camp.  Do they want to do the same camp as last year?  Do they want to try something new?  Since my daughter continues to beg me to quit my job for the summer and stay home with her, involving her makes it easier to get her into a place where she’s actually looking forward to the summer.

Involving the kids in planning includes figuring out where their friends are going to camp.  Encourage your kids to ask their friends what they are doing.  Reach out to the parents you know.  This is a great way to discover great camps you don’t know about and potentially sign up the kids for a camp they can attend with their friends from school.  And as your kids understand that many of their friends are doing summer camp as well, this helps with their enthusiasm.

Finally, planning ahead involves figuring out any summer vacations you’re going to take.  You don’t want to sign up for a week of camp if you’ll be away on vacation.  This adds to the complexity of planning but once you’ve got that detail figured out, not only do you get child care covered for the summer but you also have your summer vacation to look forward to.

Camps for Kids with Special Needs

This situation is a lot trickier.  Just like with typical camps, doing research and asking friends is important.  In the Seattle Area, I’m lucky to have many options, though they are expensive.  My son has attended summer camp with Outdoors For All for 3 summers now.  It’s a relief to have this option.

If you live in an area that doesn’t have camps for kids with special needs, there are still options.  Before I discovered Outdoors For All, I found a local daycare that had a summer camp program.  I met with the director and explained my situation.  The group of kids was small enough that she felt she could accommodate my son.  I also arranged with her to get the schedule in advance so that I could communicate that to my son.  At the time, having him know ahead of time where he was going and how the daily schedule would break down was half the battle.  I kept a tight communication loop with the daycare provider and the summer worked out really well.

Other Logistics

For a working parent, the other element of summer is focused around logistics.  Drop off times and locations are different than the school year.  To simplify things, we work out a schedule for this in advance.  For example, I’m taking the kids to camp on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and every other Monday.  My ex-husband is taking them on the other days.  The babysitter is picking up in the afternoons.  We add the drop off and pick up times to the calendar, including addresses of pick up and drop off locations, so that the first week, everyone knows where they are going.

As the dates get closer, we also agree on a plan to put details of field trips into the calendar and work with the kids so that THEY remember the things they need to bring.  Swimming stuff for swimming related field trips.  Camp t-shirt for field trip days.  Hiking boots for fields trips that need that item. By putting this responsibility on the kids, they learn to be responsible and it takes some of the burden off of you.  Trust me, it only takes one field trip of them sitting beside the lake rather than swimming in the lake for them to remember to bring their swim suit the next time.

Register and then Relax!

If you’re like me, until I have camps all set up, Spring just brings me anxiety.  Once registration is complete, I can relax, enjoy Spring and look forward to the Summer!


Incorporating Travel Time into Your Calendar

Because I work on Outlook Calendar at Microsoft, I see requests all the time to “automatically add travel time to my calendar”.  Why don’t we see this in Calendar solutions out there today?  It’s a bit tricky.  Before I tackle the question of “Why Not?”, let me give some advice on how to deal with this using the calendar solutions that are available today.

Tip #1 Think about travel time the moment you add a new item to your calendar.

You know where you will be going to and where you’re going to be coming from.  When you create a calendar item, also create additional appointments before and after.  Calendar reminders are getting smarter and smarter.  These smart reminders help you leave for an appointment on time. For example, Google Now will look at the address in an appointment on your calendar and look at your current location and then pop a reminder at the right time so you’ll leave on time.  But what if someone at the office schedules a meeting right on top of the time when you would have been traveling to the appointment?  This is why it’s useful to add that “travel time” appointment.  It helps you communicate to others (at work) both the time you’ll be away at the appointment as well as the time you’ll be away traveling to the appointment.  The same advice holds for traveling BACK from the appointment.

Tip #2 Think about travel time the moment you ACCEPT a new item on your calendar.

Whether you have a job that requires you to travel from client site to client site or you work in an office that is part of a larger campus, you need to think about the amount of time you’ll need to get to an appointment the moment you commit to that appointment by accepting it.  Proposing an alternate time to accommodate travel time right when you set up an appointment will make it easier for the person you’re meeting with to modify the time to allow you to arrive on time.  They will appreciate how proactive you are.  Even more, being this proactive will be perceived as showing respect for THEIR time.

If you work in a corporate campus environment, it’s actually a bit tougher.  You’re not driving across town, but you may need about 10 minutes to get from your building to the building of the person you’re meeting with.  I see people take the approach of leaving a meeting 10 minutes early.  But often, the actual decision making happens in the last 10 minutes of a meeting so by taking this approach, you’re missing critical moments in your work day.  Instead, my advice would be proposing a time with a start time that is 10 minutes later.  Instead of accepting a meeting from 2 to 3pm, propose a 2:10 to 3:00 meeting, assuming this is a smaller meeting where the meeting organizer has some flexibility.  When you propose the time, add a comment like this, “Can we start 10 minutes after the hour so I have time to get from my previous meeting in building X?”  Again, you’ll be helping this meeting start on time by not being in a position where you have not choice but to be late.

The Result: when you take this extra step of accounting for travel time, you’ll reduce stress in your day to day.  Instead of checking your calendar in the morning and being faced with what feels like a horrible obstacle course that will result in you arriving late to everything all day, you’ve created a manageable schedule that you can glide through in order to accomplish everything you need to accomplish that day.

So back to the question of “why don’t calendars today automatically add travel time to your schedule?”  All I have is a theory but here it is:  Your time is as precious or MORE precious than money.  Using money as an analogy, imagine if your bank automatically committed your money to other things every time you spent money.  For example, you spend money on school supplies for your children so your bank decides that you should be saving for college as well so it transfers a chunk of money into your child’s college fund just because you spent money on school supplies!  People SHOULD be saving for college.  But that doesn’t mean that they want someone else making that decision for them.  The analogy applies to time as well.  Just because you’ve committed to something on your calendar doesn’t mean that you want your calendar automatically committing to other things.  Maybe you’ve accepted a meeting that you may or may not end up attending?  If your calendar automatically adds travel time to block your schedule, you may not be very happy about that.  I’d love to hear other theories on why we don’t see features like this in calendar today or if there are calendars out there that do this that I haven’t seen.

It’s all about having a dream, a plan, and a little patience


I learned to ski a few years ago and after getting the hang of it, the first thing I wanted to do was share this with my kids.  I had this romantic dream of all of us hanging out on the hill, skiing all day together.  Family bonding at it’s best.

Making this dream a reality is much easier said than done.

My challenge is that my pre-teen son has Autism so teaching him new things takes a little more work than a typical kid.  Asking my friends how they approached teaching their kids, it sounded pretty easy.  Sign them up for all day ski lessons.  They ski while you ski with the grown ups.  Then, to reinforce the lessons, throw them on the school ski bus.

This sounded like a great approach but I knew it wouldn’t work for us.  First, group learning is tough for my son.  He struggles to watch and learn and often needs “hand over hand” type of instruction.  There’s also a communication barrier.  Private ski instruction it is.  Luckily, we ski at Mt. Baker, Washington.  It turns out that they offered private instruction for people with special needs at a less expensive rate than typical lessons.  We signed him up for these 2 hour sessions each weekend.  And we found a great instructor that we kept asking for that was a cool college kid from Western Washington University so that was an added bonus.

Now for the Ski Bus.  This one was tougher.  Kids pile on the ski bus, take their lesson and then ski with their friends until it’s time to head home.  Our challenge:  our son doesn’t really have any friends.  Sure, the kids are nice to him but there’s such a huge communication barrier between him and them, we knew he wouldn’t have a group of friends to ski with.  And you must ski with a buddy.  We’d been making progress with the lessons but we needed more consistency, like the consistency that the weekly ski bus would bring.

We worked with the ski school to have a private 2 hour lesson.  Our lesson included helping our son learn to independently rent his gear, get the gear on, and get to his lesson.  The plan was for me to meet my son AFTER his lesson and then he’d ride home on the bus with all the other kids and I’d meet him at the school.  But all the things that would happen between school getting out and me meeting him at the mountain required a plan for my son to be successful.

As usual, I used a calendar to capture the details of this new routine.

Ski Bus Schedule Clean

This calendar shows my work calendar, the family calendar that the babysitter uses, and my son’s calendar.  For me, I needed to leave early each day.  My work days are extremely busy and this took some juggling.  I admit, I was on a conference call during the drive up to the mountain to meet my son.  For my son, there were many things he needed to remember:

1. He had to bring the right ski gear to school.  The night before, we’d pack his ski back together to make sure he had everything from helmet to ski pass.

2. He would wear long johns under his regular clothes and make sure he wore his ski coat and waterproof boots to school.  These items would be set out the night before so he could independently get ready in the morning.

3.  After school, first, he needed to remember to NOT get on his regular school bus home.  Then, he needed to change into his ski clothes and get on the ski bus.

4. 10 minutes before arriving at the mountain, he needed to get his gloves, helmet and goggles ready and pack up everything he didn’t need on the hill and leave it on the bus.

5. Last, he needed to get to the ski school, rent his gear, get it on and meet his instructor.

These 5 items may sound pretty simple, but they were the reasons why I almost didn’t sign him up for the ski bus.  I couldn’t go with him everyday.  I could only meet him after his lesson.  He needed to do these things independently.  And at 13 years old, he really needed to be able to learn to do this independently, regardless.  This was going to be a stretch for him (and for me) but we did it.

I went with him the first day to help establish the routine.  I met with the ski school ahead of time to explain the situation so they could be watching out for him during the rental process.  And we dove in.  He really enjoyed it.  And by the end of the 6 weeks, he was getting his gear on independently and skiing very confidently on the easy runs.

Last weekend was the first time I went skiing with my son and my daughter without my husband (who couldn’t resist the great back country conditions after a long winter that hasn’t had the greatest skiing conditions).  It was such a wonderful day!  My son did everything on his own.  The rental process was SO much easier since I only needed to help my younger daughter.  On the hill, same thing.  My daughter is a bit of a dare devil and still learning to ski.  While I was helping to pull her out of snow drifts that she crashed into, my son was doing fine on his own and sticking with us.

It took 2 seasons of weekend lessons plus one season on the ski bus to get here.  But we have finally arrived.  I had many moments of frustration along the way where I was ready to give up on this.  But I’m so glad we stuck with it.

In a world where we want quick fixes and sometimes focus too much on the shorter term, this is a long term investment.  3 seasons of investment in lessons and logistics will now translate into MANY years ahead of skiing with my kids as a family.  Already, it’s SO worth the effort that just went in to get us to this ONE perfect day on the mountain.  And this has been a great confidence building exercise for my son.  He WANTS to be independent.  We just need to work a little harder to help him achieve that.