Back to School Countdown: Make the Last Days of Summer Count!

Has the end-of-summer malaise struck your house? Let's face it, those days between the end of summer camp and the beginning of school can be hard to fill. On the one hand, there's a long stretch of unscheduled time to spend with your kids. On the other hand, there's a long stretch of unscheduled time to spend with your kids! A type-A mom could break out in hives just thinking about it. So how do you make those fleeting summer days memorable?

This year, my family is spending those two in-between weeks visiting out-of-town family. (The plan is to spend lazy days at my husband's family cabin, hit our favorite local ice cream shop, splash in the lake and visit the awesome kids' bookstore that houses a live tarantula, chinchilla, chicken and cat alongside the stacks of books.) Friends of ours are also doing the travel thing. But if you've met your vacation quota for the summer, check out these tips from real moms and from parenting expert Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions.

Make a memory book. Enlist your kids in creating a summer 2011 scrapbook or photobook. Ask everyone to share their favorite memories from the past three months, and get the mementos -- pictures from vacations, ticket stubs from the zoo -- together and create a memory book.

Do something silly. Set up a tent and 'camp' in the backyard; bring a picnic indoors (especially if your city is still experiencing triple-digit temps!); plan a backwards day where you serve dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner; or create a drive-in movie experience by bringing a portable DVD player outdoors. "Mixed-up, silly things are what kids love and remember most," Borba says.

Get a head start on school. "We're spending the week getting into our school routine, so the first week isn't as much of an adjustment," says Kansas mom Jennifer A. "Going to bed and getting up at 'school times,' picking out what we're wearing the night before, and setting up the homework area." Borba also recommends spending that week experimenting with new school lunch ideas that your kid likes -- and can even help prepare.

Plan a last hurrah. "Once the school doors open, those things you wished you'd done go out the window," Borba says. So use this last week or two to actually do one of those things you -- or your kids -- have been wanting do do. Bake that complicated German chocolate cake recipe your kids have been begging to make, do the craft project you've been collecting cardboard toilet paper tubes for, or plan that trip to the aquarium.

Hit the state fair. For many counties and states, annual fair time is approaching. If yours is one of them, spend a day there and don't feel guilty about letting your kids eat something fried on a stick.

Sure, unscheduled days can loom long for parents and kids alike, but the last days of summer are also a perfect time to slow down before the back-to-school craziness starts. So if nothing else makes it onto your calendar, plan one last barbecue and eat one last ice cream cone. Or two.

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