Managing extracurricular activities and family life

After every school day there’s a sprint to the school gate as kids race to attend extracurricular activities. Most kids, most families, are committed to some kind of after school activity on most days of the week.

The things is, there are so many brilliant extracurricular activities available that it’s hard to limit our kids. They want to do all the things and we want to let them. Too many structured activities however can rob kids of time to simply play, explore and be physically active. Take these stats:

An Australian study found that four and five year olds spend more time in organised, structured activities than in unstructured play.

Other research found that young children who are highly scheduled in structured activities on weekdays and those with limited adult involvement, especially on weekends, tend to be less physically active.

I’ve included these stats because I don’t want to exacerbate the myth that kids have to do after school activities. They don’t. As parents we have a choice about each and every activity we enrol our kids in.

We limit the number of extracurricular activities for each child. 

I know my kids would love the idea of doing even more activities than they currently do. We deliberately limit the number of extracurricular activities each child does. I know that there is only so much each kid and the whole family can handle, from both a busyness and financial perspective. As the adult, I need to make the best decision to ensure no one is overloaded.

After school activities - 5 tips to manage the chaos of extra-curricular activities

5 strategies for managing extracurricular activities

I often think about testing out a term where no one has any after school activity to see what it would be like. But the fact is that I love that the kids each play a team sport and have a training night that gets them running around. Combined with a couple of other activities, we do have number of after school activities we need to accommodate across the week. These are my best tips for managing the load:

1. Limit the number of activities each child can do

Each child can do up to two activities. I have five kids, so two is only slightly more than we can handle. The kids can choose what activities they want to do, within reason, and we do our best to provide their choices.

Sometimes the day/time just doesn’t work out, so they need to choose something else. No one is forced to do an activity, but they must finish what they start. It’s important for them to understand the responsibility to turn up when it comes to being part of a team. So if they pick up a new sport, they need to see the season out before they drop it. 

If the kids show interest in something new and are keen to try it out, they know that to fit the activity into our week, they will have to drop something else. This isn’t only for my benefit. It is just too easy for kids to be over enthusiastic about what they want to do and tire themselves out. There needs to be time when they don’t have any structured activities so they can just be.

Set a family limit for extracurricular activities and stick to it. As the parent it is important for you to make the judgement call about how much they and you can handle.

2. Schedule on specific afternoons, not every afternoon

Over the years I’ve learned that what works best depends significantly on the ages of the kids. Once we had all kids at school, I opted to schedule activities on two nights so that most of the activities happened on those days. We then had two nights completely free and one night where I had just one later pick up (6pm). 

I also avoid having anything on Monday nights if I can. It is nice to have a calm start to the week.

You can also read 10 Tips For Managing After School Activities, which I wrote when our youngest was only a baby!

Play with the scheduling of your activities – try scheduling activities so you have a couple of nights free with no activities.

3. Use waiting time wisely

While we are waiting at one child’s activity, I listen to the reading of the younger ones in the car. If time permits we can then have a run around on the nearby oval. You could also use the time to listen to a podcast together, help the other kids with their homework or catch up on emails. This could also be just the right time for older teens to stay home and have some screen time, too.

Don’t forget, waiting time is also a nice opportunity to just have a chat and hang out together.

Waiting time doesn’t have to be lost time. Make it an opportunity to catch up on quiet activities or get some exercise.

4. Book in early

The earlier you book the extracurricular activities, the more likely you are to get the time slots that best suit the family schedule. This is especially true for sports teams with different practise times and dance classes that fill up fast.

Make a note in your calendar of when enrolments open up. You could also request a timetable in advance so you can start planning.

5. Use menu planning to make dinner easier

The scenario of having tired and hungry kids when you come in from activities and then having to prepare a meal is not one I relish! Our menu planning is based around the extracurricular activities schedule. For example, I plan meals I can make ahead on days when we are going to be home late. You can read in detail about how I menu plan by clicking here, but as an example, this is a sample of how I base my menu plans:

  • Monday – Meat and veg
  • Tuesday – Slow cooker meal (multiple activities)
  • Wednesday – Meat and rice (eg stir fries, curries, etc)
  • Thursday – Meal that can be prepared in advance (multiple activities)
  • Friday – Meal that can be prepared in advance (late pick up, so feed the younger kids before I go and the remaining when I return home)
  • Saturday – A meal someone else can cook (usually a wrap-style meal)
  • Sunday – Meat and veg

Make it easier to feed the kids a healthy evening meal without the rush by planning ahead.

How do you manage the after school activities?

Image: Click and Boo

Nicole Avery

Planning with Kids

Nicole Avery is a Melbourne mum to five beautiful kids aged 8-18. Nicole is slightly addicted to spreadsheets, tea, running and CrossFit. She’s also the master organiser behind the blog Planning with Kids and the podcast This Family Life.

4 Comments
  1. I have 3 kids. One high school, one primary and one baby. I love keeping Monday afternoon free too to try and knock out some homework. The big kids both do a sport, an activity together and an instrument each …. which leads on to band practice and concerts and the 2 things quickly becomes many more! Especially if they have a talent.
    One thing I do that has made life so much easier is to pack their dinner into thermos’ for any nights that activities finish later. They can have dinner when they wait for their siblings and no one gets hangry!!!
    Doing an activity together has created a lovely family team spirit which can be hard when kids are different ages and different genders. Sometimes they do swimming or tennis. This year the big kids are doing show jumping together.

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