Farewell, lazy days of summer, sort-of decent weather. Hello, school-day, crazy dash! It’s time to take things up a gear. Schoolwork, football, ballet, trumpet, after-school childcare, school plays–suddenly you find yourself pulled in a dozen directions at the same time and don’t want to make the mummy mistake of missing a recital or botching a playdate. The secret to staying sane? Keeping organized.
“I don’t think there is any way I could get my children to the places they need to go without organisation,” says one friend, mum to two boys (ages 10 and 13). “I keep a very detailed calendar and go over it each morning while I drink my coffee.”
Not quite so structured? It might take a new routine, hiring help–or a little of both–to keep your after-school activities in balance. Here are some ideas for keeping schedules on track without losing your marbles.
Step 1: Get a Pick-Up System in Place
This is especially important for working mums who can’t be sitting outside the school building when the bell rings. Whether you set up carpools with your “mumtourage” or hire a carer to drive your kids to and from activities, the most important thing to consider is that your children are safe and well cared for.
- Sharing a lift: Enlist a few friends whose children participate in the same after-school activities to take turns shuttling the kids. You’ll have to take a turn, too. Each parent takes a day of the week and is responsible for at-school pick-up, driving to and from the after-school activity, and being the “mum-to-all” for the day. This means: snack prep, homework help and keeping on top of squabbles and tiredness.
- Childcarers: Finding a babysitter who can handle the day’s activities from school end until dinnertime is a cost-effective and carefree way to make sure your kids get the most out of each day. The importance of hiring a great childcarer can’t be overstated. You need to find an after-school carer who is reliable, responsible, and genuinely wants to be there. While interviewing, find out their hobbies and interests and most importantly, how well they mesh with your family. You should take an opportunity to find out how they handle emergencies or unexpected events, such as a rainy day.
Depending on where you live, your childcarer(s) may be responsible for driving your children to and from activities. You’ll want to make sure they have a great driving record–yes, you should ask her/him to take you for a drive–and knows motoring safety standards.
Step 2: Coordinate Classes & Other After-school Activities
When it comes to choosing after-school activities for your children, it’s important to follow their lead. What are they interested in? What are their friends doing? The goal of after-school activities is to explore interests, meet new people, and let kids be kids–all while you’re still finishing up your day. Ask yourself, is this your fantasy or wish or my child’s passion or wish, when considering activities. Instead, find something–anything–that can enhance their interests and skills.
How much is too much? No matter which activities you and your children choose, it is important to not over schedule them. Generally, 2-3 extracurricular activities or playdates per week is within the norm–including the weekends. The goal of these activities is not to stress them out.
Step 3: Plan for Homework to Be Done & Checked
After-school is not all fun and games. It is the school year after all, and schoolwork is required. Whether you’re the one tossed in the middle of the ring, orchestrating the afternoon-and-evening circus act, or you have a childcarer working as ringmaster, you want to be sure there is a plan in place for homework completion and review. This can sometimes be a juggling act, especially if you’re the one who is responsible for organising the extracurricular activities, answering homework questions, and getting supper on the table. Here are some strategies:
- Bring the activities in-house: If children both want music lessons, find teachers who will come to the house. That way, one child could be doing homework while the other had a lesson–no transportation or time wasted sitting in waiting rooms.
- Get a homework-savvy childcarer: This person might even be a tutor to help with the daily homework routine, comprehension and review.
- Hire a tutor.
- Designate a time: Ultimately, you should carve out a time of day that homework must be completed, whether that falls before or after dinner. If homework is finalized before dinner, your children can help with clearing up and stacking the dishwasher while you take some time to check over their work. If they need help, carve out time after dinner to answer questions. This doesn’t have to be a bore for your children who would rather be vegging out in front of the TV. Put on some background music, get out the healthy snacks, and make a little homework party out of it.
Step 4: Stay Organised
The key to staying organised is creating routines and thinking ahead. Take some time each weekend to prepare for the following week. Strategies include:
- Create a colour-coded calendar: Invest in a big calendar that can be filled out with each child’s weekly activities. Place in the kitchen, entrance hall or other main traffic-area. Consider colour-coordinating it per child so that your children can take a quick look at it and know what to expect each day.
- Pre-pack the bags: Prepare your children’s book bags and/or after-school bags the night before and place by the door or in the car. Packed bags are helpful for carers, too, who won’t have to question whether the child has his snacks, equipment, and homework on hand. Tip: Include a laminated “emergency info” sheet in each child’s backpack so he is always equipped with his own medical information and emergency numbers.
- Set out school uniform the night before: For those of us whose children wear uniform, we’ve all been there: 1 sock only, and no clean shirt… To prevent this scenario from arising, lay out the clothes while saying good night to your children. If your child needs to become more independent, suggest that you do it together, so that they start to fend for themselves a bit more.
- Check-in online: Keep parents and caregivers on track with online status updates and shared calendars. You probably don’t want your carer Facebook-updating the world that she’s at ballet class with your daughter. But texting or emailing you upon arrival are both good ways to know your system is working seamlessly.
Let’s face it, along with the school year and all its extra curricular activities comes the inevitable epic-mum-fail moments. A football game will be missed, a costume won’t get sewn. It happens even to the best of us! Ultimately, if you’ve made arrangements to keep your kids safe and have helped them engage in activities they love, and maybe even learn from, you get credit for effort–at the very least.
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