No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks.

And no more early rising for the school bus, or late nights at homework. In a few short weeks school's out, and the long lazy days of summer are in.

In May, the freedom of endless, unplanned days sounds delicious: lot of time for the kids to play ball, tell fortunes, be kids. No more day plan in the back of your mind, no more carpools or orthodontist appointments competing with dance lessons and soccer practice. Just open the door, push 'em out and let 'em run.

There are other pleasures to letting the kids live a don't-have-to-do-nothing summer. The price is right, and it perks up and gives rein to such gifts as ingenuity, creativity, inner resources and sense of adventure. You stock up on lots of ice cream, cold drinks, fruit and cookies (someone has to feed the neighborhood gang), and they do the rest.

That lasts about a week.

By the end of June, full, complete and happy freedom is beginning to pall; by July, their whines are in earnest. What to do?

The Cadillac of summer options is to pack them off for eight weeks to a summer camp where they'll play volleyball and newcombe, learn to make lanyards and French a bed, and sing around a campfire. That'll run you a fee comparable to tuition at a private school. The voices of experience -- parents who've faced down a summer with the kids around before -- have several other strategies to suggest. THE FOCAL-POINT OPTION

With four kids in the family, there's no financial way, one parent notes, that the kids can have a summer filled with camp. Instead, "I let each one pick any type of camp or program they'd like to do, so long as it comes in a one-week package. Then I call the camp and choose a week toward the end of July or in August. That gives them something to look forward to most of the summer." In this age of specialization, many camps feature one skill or sport -- basketball, soccer or tennis, for instance -- and offer an intense, one-week experience in that skill. At a one-week soccer camp, for instance, kids start the day working on a skill (heading, pasing, tackling), then move on to scrimmages, league games, fitness regimes and more soccer play. tThey have a soccer ball near their big toe from 9 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon. Much the same holds true for basketball and tennis camps.

The attraction is the price -- naturally, one week of supervised activity is less expensive than three. Fees for one-week programs range from $25 to $100. Another advantage is the "three-week aura" of a one-week program: the kids look forward to it the week before, enjoy it the week of, and get over it the week after.

There are also one-week art, music and science programs. Starting in mid-July, for instance, THE SMITHSONIAN will offer morning (1 1/2 to two hours) one-week programs in Eskimo life, insects, sketching, underwater animation, weaving and music for wood and clay, which starts off by exploring how sound is produced and ends up with children making their own flutes, harps, marimbas or other instruments. Classes are divided into sections for seven- to nine-year-olds and 10- to 12-year-olds. Fees are between $38 and $48. For further information and a more complete schedule, call 357-3080.

County and city recreation programs also offer one- and two-week specialty camps. See the listing below for county programs. A STAR IS BORN

There's ham inside almost every kid. "Besides," says one mother, "if I'm going to sign them up for a program, it ought to be something they can't get on the playground or in school." She sends her kids to drama class -- a great way for them to let out all the pent-up emotions and anxieties of the winter past. Kids who are 13 to 16 years of age can combine drama with volunteer work by enrolling in a free puppetry training course and then putting on puppet shows at THE NATIONAL ZOO. Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ, 673-4953) sponsors the program. The two-week training course starts June 22. Kids in the program are expected to use that training to put on puppet shows in the zoo one or two days a week. Anyone interested in puppetry and willing to be available for shows in July and August can apply. ADVENTURE THEATER at Glen Echo has three two-week sessions for five- to 12-year-olds, which emphasize character-building in real as well as theatrical life. Kids do arts and crafts geared to the theater, learn about makeup, act out stories and make puppets. The first session starts July 6, from 9 to 3, $120. For those 12 and older, there are two three-week sessions, also beginning July 6, covering every aspect of putting on a performance -- lights, sets, the works. The program culminates with a performance for the public. Fee is $180 for three weeks; 320-5331 for further information. THE ROUND HOUSE, 468-4172, has drama summer programs for first-graders through high-schoolers. ARENA STAGE's Living Stage (554-9066) also has summer participation programs for kids, as does Catholic UNIVERSITY's Hartke High School Drama Institute (635-5358, ask for Fay Jennings) and McLEAN STAGE STUDIO (893-6806). Bethesda academy of ARTS, which meets at Whittier Woods elementary school in Bethesda (365-1093 or 229-2893), has a three-week, three-hour-a-day program in acting -- voice training, improvisation, characterization, makeup -- plus a play production, $135, for kids kindergarten age through high school. Several county programs also offer theater arts; see the listing under individual countries or cities. THE BODY POLITIC

Halfway measures may be what you can afford, but not necessarily what you need.When you need the day long supervision a summer of camp provides, check out the programs offered by local recreation departments. They're often less expensive than their private counterparts. They may not offer as wide a range of activities or some other niceties (such as swimming), but they're usually close to home, well supervised and friendly.

In THE DISTRICT (576-7278) there are fully supervised day camps at 10 spots around town, and each recreation center in the city runs a summer program. Some programs are structured, some are not. The activities center around baseball, softball, soccer, arts and crafts and the like. There is no fee for either the camp or the recreation center programs. In addition, the District runs a special therapeutic recreation program for kids with mental and physical limitations (767-7465).

In MONTGOMERY COUNTY (468-4203) there are 23 general and specialized (gymnastics, soccer, lacrosse, martial arts, baseball) camps, from 9 to 3:30. Bus transportation is provided. Fees are $60 to $100 for a two-week session. In addition, the county runs a summer playground program at 85 playgrounds for seven weeks (fee $5). Although there are organized activities (arts and crafts, sports), it's a drop-in program; that is, kids don't have to come for the whole day and no counselor is detailed to make sure they stay all day.

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY (699-2407) has a $5, two-week general day camp, Camp Dawana, for kids six through 12, and a summer playground drop-in program that starts June 29 (no fee) and several specialty camps that run $30 to $40 for two weeks. Among the specialties offered: basketball, gymnastics, soccer, weight training and running, theater, arts, tennis and nature.

FAIRFAX COUNTY (691-3291) does not have a general day-camp program, but there are summer hobby classes, some of which meet once a week for a few hours a day; others, all day long, four days in a row. Classes include arts and crafts, music, dance, karate, tumbling, gymnastics, horseback riding, sailing. Fees range from $7.50 for six once-a-week sessions to $74 for four days in a row of sailing. The Summer Neighborhood Centers program offers drop in camp, 9 to 3:30, June 25 through August 7, at 112 locations ($9 for the summer). There's also a Summer Theater Day Camp, July 6 through 17, $60, plus special programs for the handicapped and teen programs.

ALEXANDRIA (838-4343) has an accountability program and a drop-in playground program. Both feature arts and crafts, sports, dance, gymnastics instruction, nature, trips to museums or swimming pools, roller skating, putt-putt golf, bowling and other special events. They meet at 20 locations throughout the city, Monday through Friday starting June 22. The differences between the two are in the hours (drop-in meets from 10 to 6: accountability from 8 to 6), in the supervision (at drop-in kids can come and go; at accountability, they stay at camp until a parent picks them up) and in fees (drop-in is free; accountability is $20).

ARLINGTON (558-2700) offers play camps for five- to 12-year-olds at seven locations; $54 per child, 10 to 3; $99 per child for extended hours (&:30 to 6), $78 for each additional child in a family. There are also baseball, track, bowling, volleyball and badminton camps for eight- to 12-year-olds. These meet in three three-week sessions, beginning June 22. Like the play camps, there is an extended hours options. Fees are similar to play camp. Arlington also has Camp Patahontas, a three-week day camp with one of the weeks spent at an overnight site in Virginia; $94 per three-week session with extended hours available during the other two weeks. For tots (two to five) there's a half-day tot camp, $25 per three-week session. There are also drop-in playground programs, no fee; and camps for the physically, mentally or emotionally limited. THE MARK SPITZ PLOY

If you belong to a community or private swimming pool, chances are the pool has a swim team. Swim teams hold practices, usually twice a day for an hour or two at a time. "That's what my kids do every summer," reports one father. "They go to morning practice and afternoon practice and that pretty much takes care of the day. They make friends with other kids on the team and hang out around the pool most of the day. It's a pretty cheap, healthy way to spend a summer."

Some pools field highly competitive teams where an extra 1/100th of a second on a backstroke lap means a slot on the B, rather than A, team; others are more laid-back: You come out for the team, you're on it (best times swim in the meet).

While the coaches don't teach kids how to swim, they do help them perfect their strokes, kicks and turns. The two to three hours a day of coaching is free. The only fee at most swim team programs is the $8 to $26 (boys or girls) cost of a team bathing suit, but even that may be waived: Some teams don't require kids to wear the team suit. Kids can be on the team whether you rent or buy a membership in the pool. (Rental fees -- you rent a member's right to use the pool -- at community pools are usually around $150 to $200 for a family of four.) ARTS AND WANDERINGS

"Every morning they'd go off with their dad, into the city. He'd drop them at the Corcoran where they took a morning art class. They'd get out at noon and either eat a bag lunch in the park, listen to the music and watch the people, or they'd spend the money they earned lawn-mowing and babysitting buying themselves lunch. Sometimes they'd go on to a museum. Eventually they'd take the bus home, too hot and tired to nag me to take them anywhere. I signed them up for a half-day program, but it turned out to be an all-day amusement," reports the mother of 12- and 13-year-olds.

She's talking about THE CORCORAN GALLERY'S summer arts program. It meets four mornings a week for three weeks, costs $150 per child, and introduces kids to techniques with charcoals, pastels, crayons, paints and pencil. The class goes out into the park to draw from life and stays in the studio to build dioramas and sculpture. The program is for 11- to 15-year-olds (no talent necessary), but the Corcoran also offers one- and two-hour-a-day programs for kids four to seven and eight to 11. These are in such kid-appealing areas as cartooning, puppet-making and clowning. Classes meet for one week, 10 to noon, $45. PRINCE GEORGE'S COMMUNITY COLLEGE (322-0785) has an Arts Sampler that meets in one-week segments from 8:30 to noon. Kids are divided into age ranges -- third- through six-graders; seventh- through 10th-graders -- and can choose a series of short art courses in either visual or performing arts. The fee is $40 for a week. PGCC also offers individual art courses, one-week, 1 1/2-hour segments, for $20. Kids can choose photography, print making, drawing and painting; there are also courses in dance, music, theater or choreography. HOLTON ARMS Creative Summer Camp (365-5300) is a full-day camp devoted to the arts -- music, dance, crafts, woodworking. THE JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER of Rockville (881-0100) offers several art day camps and art programs (membership not required). The SMITHSONIANS Young Associate Classes also offer one-week art classes (see listing above under Focal Point). SATURDAY SPECIALS forget the weekdays; concentrate your firepower on the weekends. "That's when I have the time to take my kids to programs," says a working mother. "They can look forward to the outing all week long." The Smithsonian, National Zoo and Wolf Trap all offer Saturday specials -- courses or programs that meet for one or two hours on one Saturday or on a series of Saturday mornings. Fonz (673-4961) has an aquarium science and technology program for 13- to 15-year-olds, four Saturday mornings in a row. Kids learn fish-collecting techniques, how to start a fish tank at home and how to keep fish in captivity. For 10- to 12-year-olds there's an arts and crafts class that looks at how the natural environment influences, animal life. Kids visit animals in zoo enclosures that typify natural environment. Then they design and construct a habitat and the animals to live in it. They may make animals out of cloth, or clay or dough, or recycled objects.

For seven-to-nine-year-olds there's a program on birds. Zoo bird-keepers teach the kids facts about bird behavior and why birds do the things they do. They discuss courtship displays and nesting; the kids visit young birds that have just hatched and watch the bird house incubator to see what chicks look like while developing inside an egg. They learn how to tell what a bird eats by the shape of its bill, and how birds are related to reptiles.

The four-to-six-year-old set can take a painting course, and preschoolers through six-year-olds have a program with their parents that specializes in child development. Taught by a specialist in child development, the program has parents watch how their children learn about animals at the zoo to gain insight into how the children think and learn.

At WORLD TRAP, the National Park Service's summer interpretive project produces operas and plays for kids in the theater in the woods. On alternating Saturdays starting July 18, NPS will present "Enchanted Child" and "Rapunzel." On June 27, the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra will play "peter and the Wolf." Concerts and operas are free. Performances are also given during the week at 10, 11:30 and 1. For information and reservations call 281-5587. THE SMITHSONIAN's Saturday series of programs for children includes a course in underwater animation in which kids study a living coral reef and learn about the people who live there. They create study-board scripts and collages using real specimens, then make a film about coral reefs. It meets Saturday mornings at 9 for seven- to nine-year-olds; at 11:30 for 10- to 12-year-olds.