Activity overload: Creating kids’ schedules that work for your family

Molly Logan Anderson

If you’re like most parents, you’ve likely spent the past few months determining your kids’ after-school schedules.

Families across the nation are taking “extracurricular” to a whole new level with loads of activities. It seems more of our kids eat in the car, get shuffled around by friends and family and complete homework from the bleachers than ever before.

How much is too much when it comes to activities outside the classroom?

“One thing’s for sure, you know too much when you see it,” says Nicole Wise, co-author of “The Over-Scheduled Child” and a mother of four. “It’s when parents are stressed and cranky, kids have tantrums and beg not to have to go … or they feel pressured and exhibit signs of anxiety.”

Wise suggests considering how everyone in the family feels about proposed activities before signing up for something new. Once you’ve committed, there are many ways to keep things simple and as stress-free as possible.

Plan ahead

Weeks before a change in the routine occurs, determine how it’s all going to work.

“If there is too much running around and you won’t have time to make dinner, figure out how you will solve the problem,” Wise says. “Build the schedule with the awareness of what each day will be like … and what each week will feel like.”

Rushing to and from activities is part of family life, but planning ahead allow kids more time to be kids and you more time to breathe.

Tweak if necessary

Look for indications that a schedule isn’t working and don’t be afraid to make changes.

“Pay attention to whether your child seems to have fun being a kid,” Wise says. “There aren’t any hard measures or formulas for this; it’s intuitive and a balancing act and it sometimes requires midstream adjustments (like dropping an activity) if things aren’t going well.”

Consider a limit

From a logistical standpoint, there may be times when the number of activities needs to be controlled.

“I limit my children to one sporting activity each per season during the school year,” says Kaytie Behnke, a mom of four from Oswego, Ill. “In the summer, I let them explore more options through lessons and day camps.”

Keeping a cap on activities allows parents to meet schedule demands when more than one child is involved.

Organization is king

Whether you use a paper organizer, large wall calendar or digital scheduler, make sure the family schedule is transparent for all involved.

“I color code my schedule,” Behnke says. “Each child has a different color for the month, making it easier for me to see when, where and if we have crazy days.”

Wise agrees and adds that one parent acting as command central is imperative.

Be flexible

Extracurricular activities offer a wealth of experience, friendship and life lessons, but more than anything else, parents want to ensure their kids are happy.

“Let your kids have a say in who they are and what they do,” Wise advises. “It’s their life, after all; they get to be the authors of it and you should enjoy it along with them.”

Having fun and remaining flexible will likely lead to well-adjusted kids with a close family connection.