If you wander into the kitchen of a busy family, you may feel like you’ve entered into the command post of an international mission. Multi-colour-coded calendars cover the refrigerator, while bulletin boards are covered with birthday invitations, team snack schedules, and permission forms.
Organizing the schedule of everyone in the family can be a true juggling act — keeping all the balls in the air (without inadvertently misplacing a ballet slipper) is challenging. Yet with a few helpful tricks up your sleeve you can de-complicate scheduling and manage your family’s activities with greater ease.
It starts with being mindful about how you pick your children’s activities. The next step is managing that calendar.
Keep on top of the activity schedule
While some people seem to have the knack of keeping a schedule in their head, the majority of us need help to keep on top of a complicated itinerary without missing a beat (or a class). Visual reminders, help from others, and a whole lot of preparation go a long way in running a family schedule.
- Write it down. The most common method of effective planning is the good old calendar. If you’re in the camp that still likes to put pen to paper, ensure you pick a calendar with plenty of room for writing activities on each day of the month. And more importantly, make sure you use it! Each member of the family can have a colour for their activities and each activity should be listed clearly with the time and location. Keep the calendar in a high traffic area in the house such as the kitchen and refer to it daily with your kids to ensure you’re all heading in the right direction. When your child plays team sports, the venue for each game and practice can be different from week to week. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen kids show up at a wrong location for a game. (And the number of times the parents of said kids have looked frazzled as they realize they have to sprint to a different venue).
- Track it with tech. Technology has come a long way in helping with scheduling too. Google Calendar is a great, free, alternative to the wall calendar. You can enter all your family’s activities, locations, repeating dates, colour coded for each person, sync it up to your smartphone, and give access to anyone who needs it. If your child is on a team, one of the best tech team planning tools is a website called TeamSnap. (In fact, Active for Life has just partnered with TeamSnap because we love how the site makes life easier for coaches and families, but I’ve been using it with my family for months and we love it.) Your team manager can use the site’s various tools to keep the whole team informed of everything to do with the team. Your manager can set up the site to send out game and practice reminders, set up snack duty schedules, and can use the site to send out emails to the team about any important events (like parent parties). The site is also invaluable as you can let your coach know ahead of time if your child will or won’t be able to attend a game by ticking off which dates they will or won’t be present. It’s also a great spot for the team to post team photos, handbooks about team rules, videos to help the kids improve their skills, etc. And for me, the best part is that the team schedule syncs right up with my smartphone calendar so I know exactly when and where each event is taking place.
- Be Prepared. This isn’t just the motto of the Boy Scouts or a catchy song from the Lion King soundtrack. It’s also the most important requirement for every parent with busy kids. Being prepared means checking in with your partner to see who’s going to be available for driving duty. It means making up a menu plan (with your kids’ input) at the beginning of the week so that on days with activities at dinner time, meals can be simple, made-ahead, or portable. Being prepared also means setting out uniforms and filling water bottles the night before as well as having a stash of healthy snacks and juice boxes on hand for snack duty. It’s not always easy to think days ahead, but when you can, you will save yourself a whole lot of stress.
- Buddy up. Having your child in an activity with a friend not only means your child will have an automatic partner in a group, it also means another parent to assist with driving duties. Car pooling has saved our family countless hours in the car. With three other boys in the neighbourhood on the same hockey team as our son, our four families have pooled the driving duties for years. As the boys can be on the ice up to five times a week, car pooling has been the best way to put aside time for other kids’ activities, for taking stock of the rest of the week, or for simply taking a deep breath and enjoying other pursuits.
- Line up sitters. Speaking of others helping out, sometimes you need to call in extra reinforcements. Keep a healthy list of reliable babysitters on hand for those times when the schedule is just not running smoothly due to a sick child or any other unforeseen incidents.
While their pursuits often mean a busy schedule for their parents, the successful organization of this schedule is ultimately a winning scenario for the entire family.