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Managing the After-School Crunch

Our family is now fully, completely, totally, up-to-our-eyeballs, feet-first into the busy hum of the back-to-school season. I am learning that there isn’t really a ramping-up period, although it would be lovely if there were. One day it is summer, and the next day? The next day you are microwaving sausage biscuits with one hand, signing the choir permission with the other hand, and barking commands to get the troops out the door.

It’s a wild ride, and it’s always a shock to my system after three months of carefree days with the kids. My schedule requires that I jump right in, but my head? It’s not quite there yet.

Of all the logistical considerations involved with parenting school-age kids, I will confess that the one I find the most overwhelming is the managing of after-school activities. I hear stories of families that have chosen to drop out of the extracurricular scene altogether. And then I hear stories of families who spend every minute of their after-school time on the go to the next event.

Our family falls somewhere in the middle. The truth is, I think that after-school activities (scouting, sports, dance, etc.) can add real value to a child’s school experience. One of my kids is a swimmer, and I’ve been astounded at the boost in confidence it has given him to push himself in this way. One of my other kids is passionate about soccer, with some very specific goals he’s set for himself about where soccer will take him. I’m proud of them for these things. It’s worth washing the smelly shin guards and eating some dinners on the go, to watch my kids find a special niche for themselves.

But it is work. And when you have multiple children, of course, this multiplies the running around required by extra-curricular events. I have four kids (three of them school-aged), and sometimes I feel like I’m hanging on to our schedule by the skin of my teeth.

Out of necessity, we’ve coped with the busy-ness by allowing our kids only one after-school activity each. It sounds reasonable enough, but it’s not always been easy. It has required that the kids make some choices, and the establishing of priorities is an excellent life skill for them to learn. Here are a few other things I’ve been learning as I manage the after-school rush:

Keep your bags packed! Assign each activity its own permanent satchel or backpack. Store the necessary equipment in the bag permanently. (Perhaps hanging on a hook by the door?) This makes it easier to round things up. This goes for mom, too. Keep a bag of bills to pay, books to read, etc., and you can multi-task while you wait in the car. This will clear up your at-home time that much more.

Consolidate events when possible. Miraculously, we’ve managed to get our kids’ activities all scheduled on Mondays, Thursdays, and weekends. That means those particular days are extra-busy, but it also means I can count on the other days to be slower, with nice family dinners planned for those evenings.

Be involved. Taking a leadership role in your kids’ activities (i.e., coaching soccer, being a den mother, etc.) is added responsibility, but it also gives you the flexibility to set the schedule. That can be a huge convenience!

Plan your meals. Planning your meals ahead is a good idea for many reasons, not the least of which is the ability to schedule low-key, easy meals on your busiest after-school days. It also helps eliminates last-minute trips to the store, which means one less errand.

Keep meal-time expectations realistic. The idea of a sit-down family meal every single night is a lovely one, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that for our family, in this season, it’s not going to happen. That’s okay. We still make it a goal to sit down for dinners together several times a week, and we make the most of those sweet times.

You don’t have to eat out. Driving through a burger place every night can wreck your budget. Consider investing in some sturdy portable plastic ware, and pack meals ahead of time to eat on the go.

Watch your kids closely. If you sense that their extra-curricular involvement is becoming a burden or a stress for them (or you, for that matter), give yourself permission to scale back. The only way extra-curricular activities are worth the effort is if they’re adding value to your child’s school experience. If they’re not, dump them (the activities, not the kid!).

I have my eyes on the end-game in this parenting adventure, with my ultimate goal being to have responsible, disciplined, confident kids who can manage themselves well. And so far, including extra-curricular activities in our family schedule is helping us to achieve that. As long as that continues to be the case, I’m willing to spend a little extra time in the car, eat some sandwiches on the go, and wash soccer socks with an aroma that could curl my hair.

How about you? I am hoping you’ll weigh in with your suggestions – I suspect we’ve all developed a few strategies for balancing all this after-school busy-ness. What is working for your family?

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