These days, it can feel like our children have busier schedules than we do! There are more extracurricular options for kids than ever before, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Between school, sports, music lessons, art lessons, play practice, and tutoring, you can start to feel like a full-time chauffeur. Throw another kid or two in the mix, and utter chaos can ensue! How can you fit it all in without stressing out the entire family? Here are a few tips:
1) Prioritize -- This may be easier said than done, but sometimes families need to limit activities to focus on the activities that matter the most.
First, think of reasons why your child is enrolled in each activity. Did your child seek out the activity, or did you choose it? Are certain activities interfering with your child's schoolwork? Which activities does your child enjoy the most? Which activities create the most difficulty in terms of transportation? Answering these questions might help you decide which activities to keep and which ones to chuck.
Second, think quality over quantity. Pick a couple of things your child is truly passionate about or excels at. Some parents are thinking down the road to college applications, and colleges appreciate kids who have developed one or two talents or interests to the fullest as opposed to kids who load up with as many activities as possible just to build an impressive looking resume (yes, colleges have caught onto this trick).
Third, for most families, school should come first. At the high school level, students aren’t allowed to continue with sports if they can’t keep their grades up. It may be tough to choose math tutoring over a fun after school club, but if you are thinking ahead to those college applications, in the end your child’s knowledge and grades will matter the most.
2) Create a Master Schedule -- Whatever system you adopt, make sure it’s easy to use, manage, and change.
One great option is a dry erase monthly calendar that you keep in a common area like the kitchen. Assign a different color to each member of the family, and keep all appointments up to date on this calendar. A dry erase board can easily be changed to keep track of last minute additions or rescheduled appointments. Individual family members can then use the master schedule as a reference when adding appointments to their personal calendars.
3) Group Activities Together -- Make things simpler and maximize family time together by “bundling” activities.
There are a couple of ways to approach this. One thing to consider is transportation. If you have the flexibility to do so, try to group activities together by location, especially if some activities take place a good distance from home. If brother has violin and sister has soccer on the same side of town, try to schedule the violin lessons on the same night as soccer practice.
Another thing to consider is scheduling some down time together. Some families set aside one evening a week as Family Night. This is a great time for a family dinner and some board games or a movie -- whatever fun activity your family enjoys. On the flip side, some families prefer to “bundle” all extracurriculars on just one or two days a week to leave all of the other evenings free for family time.
4) Keep Your Routine Consistent -- Whichever approach your family prefers, try to keep things predictable for your kids.
Most children thrive with routine. When kids know what to expect, they tend to respond better and have less anxiety in any given situation. Mondays may be chaotic with driving back and forth to ballet, piano, and lacrosse, but if Mondays are always the chaotic day and you have other days that are consistently less chaotic, kids will be able to handle the Monday craziness. Try to keep necessities like dinner time, homework time, and bedtime as consistent as possible from day to day, even if the rest of the schedule differs wildly.
We all have busy lives, but busy doesn’t have to mean stressful. With a little extra planning and some mindfulness about what matters the most, we can manage our kids’ schedules in a way that will allow them to follow their passions, nurture their talents, and strengthen their family bonds.