Note from Hint Mama: My 2-year-old daughter is just starting preschool this fall, but already she has a schedule full of activities, including toddler music and art classes. In addition to school, she’ll likely continue taking art classes plus begin ballet lessons. Remembering the schedule of these classes is hard enough, so I can imagine how hard keeping track of kids’ schedules becomes when you add more kids and activities into the mix. Luckily, Hint Mama contributor Crystal Sabalaske, a mom and professional organizer, has eight tips for managing kids’ activity schedules that can help us all.
When I was in elementary school, I remember going to my brother’s baseball games once a week. My piano lesson took place every Thursday afternoon, and as far as I can remember, if I wasn’t at my brother’s game or playing piano, I was free to play with my friends or fight with my brother over control of the remote. Every evening didn’t include a scheduled activity.
Now that I’m a mom of two children, I spend my days and evenings playing the role of taxi driver, shuttling my kids to their various activities. Today, just having your child take one activity a week is more of a wish-list item than a reality. In fact, I spend at least four hours a day, five to six days a week, at practices and games for my children’s sports teams, and that’s not counting the time I spend taking my children to music lessons, doctor appointments and parties. I know I’m not alone. There are many taxi drivers among us.
While I’m keenly aware that a shift has transpired between the schedules kids kept when I was growing up and the tornado of chaos parents are swept up in while trying to manage kids’ schedules today, I don’t know when the shift occurred. Regardless, the endless taxi driving seems here to stay.
So, as parents, we have to figure out how to keep it all straight and ensure that everyone ends up where they’re supposed to with all the needed equipment. In other words, we have to know how to organize our children’s schedules to stop ourselves from running in circles (or ending up in a strait jacket).
I believe I’ve at least partly figured this out. So, just in time for back-to-school season, today’s hint is how to organize — and keep track of — kids’ activity schedules using my eight simple strategies.
1. Pick ONE system for planning your schedule and record ALL activities in that calendar. You’re destined to forget something important if you scribble, “Johnny’s b-ball practice – moved to Saturday, location 2” on a scrap of paper. So that’s why it’s important to write such notes – and other activity details – all in one place. Dry erase boards, wall calendars and Google calendars all work great as organizing systems, but if you’re looking for some alternatives, check out some of the additional suggestions from Modern Parents Messy Kids. In addition to a Google calendar, I use a calendar, similar to the one in the image to the left from momAgenda.com, to create a general overview of what’s going on for the week, and I leave it on the counter so everyone in my family can see it without logging into our Google calendar.
2. Give everyone who has any sort of participation in the activities access to the calendar, such as fellow parents, older children, babysitters and grandparents. If you’re using a paper calendar, take a picture of it and e-mail or text it to caregivers who don’t live with you (say, every week or whenever a key update is made). If you use a calendar that can be accessed online, make sure to give others permission to read and/or update it.
3. Enter activities and details in your calendar as soon as you get them. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to forget to mark them down.
4. Assign responsibilities for each activity. This minimizes the blame game, and comments like “Oh, I thought you were going to put that in the calendar.” I enter all of our kids’ activities except for baseball. As a frequent assistant coach, my husband receives information about baseball scheduling changes before I do, so he has always been responsible for updating the calendar information about baseball-related activities.
5. Deadlines are important. Deadlines for sign-ups and party RSVP’s are just as important as practices, games and classes. If you spend the entire season playing a sport and fail to register for the championship playoff, your child’s coach and child will be less than pleased. Record deadlines in your calendar too, noting details such as “Sign-up due for Pentathlon today.”
6. Notify others of changes. If music class has been rescheduled, send a quick text to anyone responsible for carpool duties, writing, for example, “Schedule change for music class. No class tonight.”
7. Create checklists for each activity. What equipment and supplies are needed? The list for each activity should cover such items (see sample lists in the image to the right). Even if your child “always” has a pair of goggles in her backpack, put “goggles” on the list anyway. I can guarantee there will be an instance when they’re not in the backpack because they fell out, or a friend borrowed them. Keep the checklists in a central location, preferably close to the door where you enter and exit the house most often, so you can double check you have everything on your way out.
8. Pack up all needed supplies, equipment, forms and money the night before. This way, if you end up sleeping late or spilling breakfast on your outfit, at least you’ll be organized enough for the day’s activities.
Find some other great tips on how to organize your kids’ schedules over at HowStuffWorks.
What challenges do you face while managing your kids’ activities? What are your favorite ways to keep track of – and manage – the chaos of all of your kids’ activities?
Crystal Sabalaske, professional organizer and owner of Cluttershrink, has been helping people get organized in their homes and offices for the past 12 years. She has appeared on several episodes of HGTV’s series, Mission: Organization, and her organizing tips have appeared in national publications such as Family Fun, Parents, and Women’s Health magazines. Crystal lives in Bucks County, PA, with her 9 year-old daughter and 8-year-old son. Follow her tips on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
Photo credit: Crystal Sabalaske