One of the reasons I started this blog nearly 5 years ago was to specifically answer the question, “How do you DO it?” Because every time I was out with the kids- at the grocery store, at gymnastics practice, at a soccer field- as soon as people figured out that I was the Mom driving that huge car and had 6 kids in tow… that's what they would want to know…. how EXACTLY did I DO it?
“Umm…. I do it like you do it…. One day at a time. Scratch that- one moment at a time….”
“….With lots of lists…. and a very detailed calendar.” (At which point the commenter usually says; “You must be SUPER organized!”)
Hmmmm… most of the time, yes…. But just as soon as I start thinking I have my act together- something unravels and I am back to square one. Managing the kids after school schedule is something that has evolved over the years, especially as the kids have grown older and I can leave some of them home alone (or with an older sibling) while I shuttle one of the other kids to /from an activity. But in a nutshell- here are my guidelines for managing after school activities:
1. During a season, each child can only sign up for one activity
When I talk to other Moms, I often learn that if you count the number of total classes/activities her family attends in a 7-day period- it is almost always higher than mine. Last week I met a Mom whose daughter takes dance, horseback riding, and ice skating- and those classes meet a total of 5 times a week. Her son take karate, plays basketball, and also ice skates- for a total of 7 times a week. She was pretty surprised to find out that at the moment, my total activity count this winter season is only 7 lessons/sports for all 6 kids. Kyle plays soccer twice a week, Spencer plays basketball twice a week, Jack plays indoor soccer once a week, the girls each take horseback riding lessons once a week (at the same time!), and Alex isn't doing any activities right now.
Kids need downtime. Kids need time to tackle homework- especially once they are in their middle school years and the amount and complexity increases. Kids don't have to try every single class or sport offered, and kids shouldn't feel over scheduled. I think it comes down to whether or not the child feels balanced or pulled in too many directions. And what the cumulative effect is for all of that activity on the family (especially Mom!)
2. Think twice about advanced “travel teams” for sports
Four of my six kids have played on “higher level” travel teams for sports- because in each case- it was something that they very much wanted to do. We have had both positive and negative experiences on travel teams- and I am most certainly not condemning them at all! But you really need to consider the level of commitment required. Where we live- travel teams for sports are often three-season commitments. So there is a fall season, winter season, and spring season- and if you sign up to play on the travel team, you are agreeing to play for all nine months. Which can make it very difficult to also “try out” another sport during the same season- both from a scheduling perspective as well as having the time for it!
Travel teams by their very nature often require you to travel further distances to games, and even to practices- which greatly increases your parental time commitment. We can spend more than 5 hours on a Sunday just driving to/from and watching a soccer game for just one of our children. We've had seasons when 4 of our kids followed this schedule- and it was definitely hard.
And then there's the fact that once you start playing at this level… there is pressure to continue playing at this level. Just make sure you know what you are getting into, and define for yourself what your boundaries are when it comes to that commitment interfering with your family time.
3. Car pooling with other parents is an awesome thing!
I wouldn't be able to juggle my schedule if I didn't have parents of teammates who love a good carpool as much as I do! But I do have several “personal rules” about carpools. Everyone needs to be able to pull their weight- and specifically I mean me! Just because I have six kids doesn't mean that I should expect to drive less often than every other family in the car pool! And I don't ever sign my child up for an activity knowing that there is NO WAY I can ever get them there on my own. That's not fair to the other parents I am relying on, and it's not fair to my kids either.
4. Get it all into a calendar and make sure it is sync'd up to your phone
It is nearly impossible for me to make any sort of appointment for one of the kids without knowing what else we have going on, on any given day. So having my calendar on hand at all times is key! I am sure to keep it updated with schedule changes- and sync'd to all of my devices as well as to my husband's calendar so he is in the loop. And when I load in a game schedule into my calendar- ALL of the information goes in- date, time, location, opposing team, etc. More than once I have found this to be invaluable when I am driving around looking for a field!
And make sure you have the cell phone #s of coaches, as well as other parents of players on the team in case you get into a bind and need some help retrieving someone from their activity.
5. Take advantage of school sports
One of the best things about my kids reaching middle school age is the wide array of sports offered right at school! The kids stay after for a study period first (because for “student athletes”, “student” comes first!), and then they have their sports practice, and then they ride the bus home! They are with their friends on the team, and other friends can also stay after school and watch their games-which they love!
And don't think that middle school (or even high school!) means your child is too old to try something new. I know our middle school specifically encourages kids to try out for new sports and activities- and in most cases they don't cut kids from teams. I have had sons run with the track team for the first time in middle school, having never run before!
Oh- and did I mention that in many cases, these school based sports and activities are free?
6. We take our summers OFF!
For me, in the height of the spring sports season when I spend so many hours driving to/from soccer fields, it really helps that I can look forward to an activity-free summer. And by activity-free I don't mean that we don't do anything… I mean that we don't sign up for anything structured- no lessons, no classes, no sports, no camps. Instead we plan our own schedule that meets our own demands- with plenty of downtime to hang out by the pool, ride bikes in the neighborhood, walk the dog, and go on day trips in the Northeast. Knowing that the “crazy” will soon come to an end- helps!
I know my approach to after school activities with my large family might be a little different than most of my friends. But it works for us. What do you think?