(CNN) — Do you wish you could outsource the summer cooking, cleaning and camp planning associated with kids?
Once school’s out, keeping the family on schedule can become a full-time job.
From finding camps to shuttling children to their activities, summer can be more demanding than the school year. Keeping children engaged can mean the difference between calm and chaos.
As a mother of three children under age 8, I’ve experienced the dark side of summer.
I’ve missed deadlines to book my kids’ favorite camps (yes, early February can be too late for popular camps), set myself up for a logistical mess by having to drop off three kids in three locations at the same time, and perhaps the most trying — the long stretches without structured activities, leaving the kids climbing the walls.
What I didn’t realize is that professionals exist who will serve as a kiddie concierge of sorts: a personal assistant to make sure you don’t drop the ball on all the scheduling, purchasing and transportation duties that can turn summer into an ill-planned purgatory for children and parents alike.
So, I sought tips from scheduling experts on how to seek structure and maximize fun during the summer — and not feel guilty about it:
1. Delegate drudgery
Parents have a range of options if they want to outsource the logistics of managing summer activities. It doesn’t need to break the bank balance. In fact, parents can often use the time they save far more productively.
“For me, it’s extremely helpful to have someone who can organize things on the home front,” said Kathy Dupuy, president of Mom’s Best Friend.
She founded the Austin, Texas-based family services agency 20 years ago. Dupuy is not only the president, she is also a client. Her own personal assistant helps assemble care packages to send to her kids at sleepaway camp. She also helps prepare for their departure by ironing labels onto their clothes.
Most of the personal assistants her agency manages work between 20 and 30 hours each week, for about $25 an hour. She says that rates in Texas are lower than similar services in New York or California.
Throughout the year, they buy groceries, organize parties and coordinate household repairs for families, among other tasks. When school’s out, personal assistants can be hired to choose the best camps, manage supplies and ensure campers have everything they need when they start.
2. Commission crafts
Dupuy relies on a personal assistant for such tasks as costume creation for her children to wear to theme parties at their camps. A personal assistant can bridge the gap between a parent’s skills and the demands of kids’ activities.
“I’m not supercrafty,” she said. “Having someone who loves Pinterest, who loves to have the time and space to be really creative around a party idea, or birthday party favors, or helping set up for an event. …I just don’t have the time or creativity to do that.”
The camps her children attend often have elaborate themed parties. Her personal assistant helps devise and develop creative costumes for her four children, aged 9 to 17, to take to camp.
3. Seek expertise
Before parents start to design the costumes, it helps to know what camps are out there. In many cities, camps book up months before the summer begins. For children who want to try sleepaway camp, parents have a lot of places to turn.
“There are so many camps out there, you can’t even imagine,” said Sue Ellen Greenberg, who calls herself the Camp Lady. According to the American Camp Association, there are more than 12,000 day and resident camps in the United States. Based in New Jersey, Greenberg helps parents pick the perfect sleepaway camps for their children.
While parents do not pay for her service, she earns a referral fee from the camp if parents send their children there.
“You need to really understand the camp, and understand your child’s personality, and what you’re trying to get out of the camp,” she said. Greenberg said the biggest mistake parents make in choosing a camp is sending their kids to one based on their friends’ or neighbors’ choices. Picking a camp should be a personal choice.
4. Give up the guilt
If children stay home for the summer, don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. “The advice I would give is: Be comfortable asking for help,” said Tiffany Ellis, founder of Mama Concierge, outside Chicago. “A lot of people that do call me, initially, they always say, ‘I feel so guilty for calling you, because I’m asking you to do things that I could do myself.’ But that’s the exact purpose of my business,” she said.
Her clients have employed her for such tasks as finding outdoor swimming lessons for children 5 years old and under, and babysitting triplets while their mother slept. Services can cost between $25 and $50 an hour.
“The less you have to do, the everyday maintenance items, the more you can do with your family,” said Ellis. She encourages her clients to enjoy that time, guilt free.
5. Have fun
Personal assistants and camp planners say that parents use their services so they can enjoy more time with their children, without getting bogged down in household tasks. The summer can provide parents with an opportunity to hire a local college student, who might be cheaper than a personal assistant, to run to the grocery store or organize a craft.
The first day of school comes around quickly. For parents like me who are juggling multiple schedules, the best advice is to try to enjoy summer while it lasts.
By Jill Martin Wrenn for CNN