Managing Your Children’s Activities – Part 1 (after school activities)

This is the second post in my 10 post series, 10 Areas to Master For Managing a Household. Join me every Thursday for a new installment! This post focuses on after school activities and social plans for kids in school, next week we’ll get into working on a homeschool schedule.

This installment deals with managing kid’s activities, but not in the same way that 100 other blog posts deal with it. I am a firm believer in finding and maintaining a healthy balance between my kids having active social lives and having so much going on that they get burnt out. If your kids are involved in activities almost every night of the week and you’re looking for ways to manage those nights, that’s not what this post is about. This has a lot more to do with deciding what is important and necessary and what isn’t, and most importantly, what fits your family.

I’ll start this out by saying that I have lived both extremes. I have been the mom with kids in public school and a baby in a sling across my chest running all over the city to different activities and putting dinner in the slow cooker every morning because I was hardly ever home to make it at night. I’ve also been the homeschool mom with three kids in several different activities, running them to all their classes and having long school days at home to make sure we got everything done. I’ve found a balance in the middle and I’ve learned to feel out our schedules, really listen to my kids and know them and what they actually want.

Even when kids request to be in several activities at a time, and seem to understand the commitment level involved, there’s so much more to it than that. As you probably already know if you have ever had multiple kids in multiple activities, it brings a lot of unnecessary stress and logistical nightmares to family life. On an average week, if you have two kids with activities twice a week, you either have an activity almost every week night or you have more than one activity on any given night. When does after school cool down time happen? What about homework? When does dinner happen? Is dinner a relaxing time or is it rushed or happening super late? If you have a younger child as well are they just getting carted around to all the drop offs and pick ups? Extra curriculars affect more than just the child enrolled in them.

So, what’s necessary and for who? You know your kids, the more social and overachieving they are, the more likely they are to want to get involved in activities. The more introverted and relaxed they are, the less likely. Of my three kids, two are really laid back and would rather not do multiple activities and one likes to be busier. We make this work for our family by not over scheduling the kid that wants to stay busy and not just letting the other two not do anything.

Before you fill your calendar with classes from the Y or your local community center or dance or martial arts or whatever else is going on around you, think about all the ‘other’ stuff you want to do with your kids that are hard to fit in. Teaching life skills like cooking or sewing? Family field trips to the zoo, museums, art galleries? A weekly library day? Having friends over for sleepovers where no one is being rushed out in the morning? Even just wanting to block off a time of night to really sit down and help with homework, going over the lesson and making sure you’re up to date on all your children’s assignments, permission slips and notes. Maybe there is something you want to share with your children that you are passionate about, like playing piano or working on cars. Not all of these things fit every family, but even just adding one or two of them to your family’s routine takes time! Would you rather your children be involved in another outside activity or do a weekly trip to the library, for example?

Downtime is really, really, really important. I can’t possibly stress this enough. Since I’m yet another rando on the internet telling you that downtime is important, I suggest you do a little research and see just how important it is. So try to keep that in mind too when you’re choosing what activities to put your children in and what family activities you want to do with them, they need some nights and weekends with nothing scheduled at all.

Remember that even if each kid is only doing activities twice a week (assuming they are not happening on the same day) that puts you out of the house four night a week. That’s four nights you’re not helping with homework, four nights you’re not starting dinner when you normally would, etc. Of course, one of your children may fall in love with something like my Helena fell in love with competitive dance. It was fairly short lived, just under three years, but she was ALL IN. It was expensive and time consuming and even though my husband has very little free time, he was left to pick up the spilled over duty of caring for the other two kids when I couldn’t take them with us to competitions or rehearsals. I know a lot of parents live the life of competitive dance moms, swim team moms, soccer moms, jiujitsu moms, etc, but it is all encompassing and exhausting. If your child isn’t totally in love with it, it’s ok to just take classes once a week to enjoy it without the added stress or pressure.

This school year, my kids only do structured activities part time, by choice. We have a weekly library date, we go ice skating every other week and we participate in the monthly field trips organized by our homeschool charter. We have memberships to several local museums and children’s museums, so we go on field trips there when they have special activities or when my children just want to go. We also just started an independent Girl Scout troop, and the part time activities they participate in are parkour / freerunning and painting classes. They take these classes once a quarter.

This is a far cry from three years ago, when our oldest was taking jiujitsu three days a week (two weeknights and Saturday morning) and competing in tournaments, our middle was taking dance classes almost every weeknight and every Sunday afternoon and competing in competitions with her team, and our youngest was taking one dance class a week, one library activity a week and several play group meetups a week. It. Was. Insane. Two nights a week the two oldest were both at classes at almost the same time, so the drop off / pick up was a delicate maneuver! Weekends did not belong to the family really, since jiujitsu took Saturday morning, the library took Saturday afternoon and dance took the majority of the day on Sunday. The kicker for me was that my kids were happy in these activities, and even though I was exhausted and running around every night, I didn’t want to tell them to pull back. The following year though, I suggested exactly that and they both scaled back to less classes a week and we had one weekend day free! Eventually, they moved on to other activities and then chose to part time their activities and I think everyone is a lot less frazzled.

So start by deciding how many nights you really want to commit to being out of the house with your children, and decide as a family what activities you’d like to do together. If you’re practicing Positive Discipline or doing just the family meetings, that’s a good time to do some brainstorming together. You can also decide as a family for how long you’ll commit to these choices before you reevaluate and add or remove things later. Keep in mind what you already know about your children. If you have a reader, a library day is a great addition to your week. If you have a little scientist, getting a monthly science kit subscription and doing one activity from it a week is an inexpensive and at home way to fuel a passion. Get creative, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune and it doesn’t have to always be out somewhere. Just having your children’s friends over to play is fun for them and depending on their ages you can set things up for them to do or they can be left to their own devices and come up with something creative.

On top of all this you have to remember your own daily responsibilities and how they come into play when filling your calendar. If you’re homeschooling and planning enrichment activities during the day, when will you do your daily chores, and get your daily load of laundry done? If your kids are in school, and these activities are all happening between school and bedtime, when will you make dinner? When will the kids have time to do their own chores, or their homework? It is a lot to think about, for sure, but once you really weigh what matters to you as a family, you can make smart choices about what to include in your schedule and what you would rather not have in your lives.

I’ll talk about using a planner in week 9, but in the meantime it is important to keep all your plans on a calendar of some kind that everyone can see. Even a plain wall calendar from the dollar store will do, it just needs to be in a central location (the kitchen is always a good idea), so everyone can see what’s going on – and use it!

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