Creating An After-School Plan
Figure out what to do with your kids when school is out for the day.
Farewell, Lazy Days of Summer. Hello, School-day Shuffle. It's time to kick things into high gear. Schoolwork, soccer, ballet, trumpet, school plays -- suddenly you find yourself pulled in a dozen directions at the same time and don't want to make the mommy 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 organization," says Laura Brodsky, mom to two boys (ages 10 and 13), and an Online Community Manager from Mount Laurel, N.J. "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 moms who can't be sitting outside the school building when the bell rings. Whether you set up carpools with your mom-tourage or hire a sitter to drive your kids to and from activities, the most important thing to consider is that your children are safe and well cared for.
- Carpools. 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 "mom-to-all" for the day. This means: snack prep, homework help and rule-minding.
- Sitters. Finding a sitter 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 babysitter can't be overstated. According to Neysa Richardson, Care.com's Nanny Expert, you want to find a sitter 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).
- Find a babysitter near you
- See great babysitter interview questions
Depending on where you live, your sitter may be responsible for driving your children to and from activities. You'll want to make sure she has a great driving record (yes, you should have her take you for a ride) and knows car safety standards. (Review American Academy of Pediatrics car-safety recommendations.)
Step 2. Coordinate Classes and 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. "As parents we need to ask ourselves, is this my fantasy or wish or my child's passion or wish?" Dr. Robi Ludwig, a nationally known psychotherapist and Care.com expert explains. Instead, find something -- anything -- that can enhance their interests and skills. (Get after-school activity ideas.)
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 and 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 sitter 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 organizing the extracurricular activities, answering homework questions, and getting dinner on the table. Here are some strategies:
- Bring the activities in. Brodsky's children both wanted music lessons so she found teachers who would come to the house. "That way," she explains, "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 sitter. This person might even be a tutor to help with the daily homework routine, comprehension and review. (Check out this homework guide for sitters.)
- 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 cleanup while you take some time to check over their assignments.. If they need help, schedule time after dinner to answer questions. This doesn't have to be a drag for your kids 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 Organized
The key to staying organized is creating routines and thinking ahead. Take some time each weekend to prepare for the following week. Strategies include:
- Create a color-coded calendar. Invest in a big calendar that can be filled out with each kids' weekly activities. Place in the kitchen, mud room or main traffic-area Consider color-coordinating it per child so that your kids can take quick glances and know what to expect each day.
- Pre-packed the bags. Prep 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 sitters, 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. (See printable childcare emergency forms.)
- Check-in online. Keep parents and caregivers on track with online status updates and shared calendars. You probably don't want your sitter Facebook-updating the world that she's at ballet class with your daughter. But texting you, emailing upon arrival or updating a shared family/caregiver calendar (we love the Cozi.com app) are all good ways to know your system is working seamlessly.
Let's face it, along with the school year and all its extracurriculars comes the inevitable mom-fail moments. A soccer 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 an A+ for effort -- at the very least.
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