By Amy McCready

Summer’s almost here! But before you start to worry about childcare arrangements, lazy teenagers or the endless rounds of video games, take heart. With a little preparation, there’s no need to be caught off guard as you navigate schedules and ward off the “I’m bored’s!” Start here, and settle in for a fun, relaxing—and only slightly crazy—summer.

Pencil it in. Don’t wait until the bus has quit coming to finalize your plans. Grab your calendar now, and mark off vacations, camps, swim lessons and more—not to mention Grandma’s Alaskan cruise or the babysitter’s knee surgery. If you can, keep whole days open to give kids plenty of free time. You can even schedule things like backyard campouts, beach days (with a sandbox and kiddie pool if you’re inland) and lemonade stands—taking time off of work if need be—so your kids will have lots of fun to remember when it’s time for school again in the fall.

Keep up the good work. Sure, every kid needs to rest his brain for a bit. But if a child’s newly developed skills don’t get used regularly, they could be lost before the new school year begins. Enroll in a library reading program, pick up some fun workbooks or head out on a few educational outings to museums, zoos or historic sites to expand your child’s world while helping them learn. If your child struggles with academics, now might also be a great time to look into summer programs or hire a tutor to help him catch up.

Think outside the sandbox. Let’s face it: a kid can only build so many Lego models or sandcastles before she’s ready for a change. But there’s no need to listen to a chorus of, “I’m bored!” more than once. Brainstorm a list of indoor and outdoor activities—look to the Internet, friends and your kids’ own ideas for inspiration—and turn to it instead of the TV. Or put together a, “rainy day box” filled with things like craft supplies, puzzles, puppets and games that can only come out in wet weather. Keep in mind that it’s not your job (or the TV’s) to entertain your children all day long and that when given the chance, your kids will develop resourcefulness and creativity as they overcome their boredom.

Set it in stone. With your kids at home all day, there’s one thing you can count on: more messes! And you should also be able to count on a little more help. Create a Summer Contract with your child, and ensure that some things—like household responsibilities, bedtimes and media time—are non-negotiable. With your child’s input, write down a list of family contributions she can make every day or week: for instance, making her bed, emptying the dishwasher, walking the dog and weeding the garden. Make sure it’s clear she won’t be able to access her privileges, like her one hour of media time, until her jobs are completed. (Of course, if she goes over her media limit, she’ll lose her media privileges the next day.) And while later bedtimes are okay, keep them constant so you’re not negotiating every night, and they get the sleep they need. Sign the contract along with your child, and stick to it.

With these strategies, you can get ready for an unforgettable summer—one that everyone will love!