5 tips to manage the chaos of extracurricular activities

5 tips to manage the chaos of extracurricular activities

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

7 top tips to pack a healthy lunchbox for school

7 top tips to pack a healthy lunchbox for school

Something dear to every mum’s heart is surely sharing tips to pack a healthy lunchbox – we make so many every year. A lunchbox heads out with our kids each day and it’s a good opportunity to get some top nutrients into our kids.  To get through the intensity of the average school day, kids need top fuel.

By no means am I an expert and please note that I am not a dietician or nutritionist. This is what is working for my family. Every family is unique, so you need to adapt a process that works for yours, hopefully mine will give you some ideas or inspiration.

Lunchbox strategy - 7 top tips to pack a healthy lunchboxMy best tips to pack a healthy lunchbox

1. Pack in the macronutrients first

When putting together the kids’ lunchboxes I make sure to include food items representing all three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. These all perform essential roles in the human body and ensure that little brains and bodies can perform at their best. Kids need to be fuelled well with them.

I generally include a protein-based sandwich filling or other main item; fruit and veggies for carbohydrates; and a home-baked treat or extra item that includes additional carbohydrates and fats.

2. Empower the kids to make their own

Once kids reach secondary school, we encourage the kids to get their own. I know many families that do this from a much younger age with great success, but I am happy to leave it at primary school age. Home-cooked food is available for the older kids to pack and they choose the other items themselves. This cuts right back on food coming home wasted in the lunchbox.

3. Establish how much food your kids need

For the lunchboxes I do pack, I tailor the quantity going in to make sure there is enough food to meet each child’s individual needs. One of my kids has a big breakfast and only eats 3 – 4 items in his lunch box. While another eats five items every day. Get to know your child’s appetite and eating patterns to meet their requirements.

4. Create a template for lunchbox items

It makes it simple and helps me when I am putting together the shopping list. With a template, I can make sure I purchase the right mix of items.

Using a template takes the thinking out of the lunchbox process.

A template to pack a healthy lunchbox might look like this:

  • 1 main lunch item
  • 1 whole piece of fruit or veg
  • 1 container cut fruit or veg
  • 1 home baked treat
  • 1 extra item if needed – rice cakes / dried fruit and seeds/ eggs / yoghurt or fruit

5. Prepare the night before

Most of the lunchbox can be prepared and/or packed the night before like:

  • Pack up containers of cut fruit and veg and place in fridge
  • Put seed mix into containers and into the lunchboxes
  • Wrap up the homemade lunch box items and place in the fridge
  • Put ice bricks into freezer

Then in the morning it is just a matter of the kids picking and packing!

6. Have a regular baking day

If you follow my Facebook page, you will be familiar with the weekly prep sessions I undertake on the weekend. I will make a savoury and sweet item for the lunchboxes, prepare some veggies for lunches for me during the week, and make other miscellaneous items for snacks at home.

RELATED: Try this no-bake honey and oat muesli slice recipe

Where possible, I try to create efficiencies by planning meals on the weekends (and cook them in larger quantities). This way we often have leftovers for the kids’ lunches like:

The aim is to choose recipes that I know make large batches and keep well for a few days. I often bake again Wednesday or Thursday to see us through to the end of the week.

7. Buy in season fruit and vegetables

Not only is buying in-season fruit and vegetables cheaper, but it also helps keep variety in the lunchboxes throughout the year. You can see a list of seasonal fruit and veg in Australia here.

Do you still pack the school lunchboxes for your kids? What’s your process?

Feature image by Caroline Atwood

Our strategy and rules for screen time for teens

Our strategy and rules for screen time for teens

Setting screen time for teens is no easy task. We spend a good portion of our kids’ early years steering them away from technology. There’s a lot of research suggesting that kids 0-2 years of age shouldn’t have screens at all and older children’s time on screens should be strictly limited.

Try telling that to the teens! Once kids grow up to be teenagers, it’s even harder to limit screen time for teens. Television, computers, iPads, gaming devices and mobile phones all compete for our teens’ time. Plus, at our house, there are two more big reasons why it’s increasingly hard to limit screen time for teens:

•  Our teenagers have an iPad for school and need the iPad and other technology for their homework

•  Social media networks are the key communication tool for teenagers

This means applying the same rules for the teenagers as the younger kids doesn’t really work. In our home we group activities like TV watching, Wii games, online time, iPod time etc all under the banner of ‘technology time’. You can find my earlier writing on technology / TV time here:

•  To TV Or Not To TV?
•  The Impact Of Background TV
•  TV And Children

Teens and screens - strategies and rules for teen screen time


The positives and negatives of screen time

I want to state that I think screen time can be great for kids. I spend lots of time online myself and while I am aware of the negative issues that can arise from social media networks (bullying, comparisonitis, access to porn, etc), I think it can also be a fantastic way for teenagers to connect and communicate with friends.

I think screen time can be great for kids.

The issue I have is with too much technology is that it is too much of a sedentary activity. Time spent in front of a screen means less time spend doing other activities, in particular physical activities and interacting face to face.

In my experience, itseems the propensity of kids/teenagers to stay in front of a screen is very personality driven. Two of the five kids in our family, really struggle to self regulate. The other three naturally tire of screen time and seem to self regulate much better.

Don't miss the Screen Freedom ebook


How much time do kids spend on technology?

According to the Raising Children Network:

  • The average young person consumes 4 hours and 49 minutes of media in a typical day.
  • About a third (33%) of young Australians aged 12-14 years spend more than 10 hours on the internet each week.
  • On average, young Australians spend 2 hours and 26 minutes watching television, DVDs and downloaded television content in one day.
  • More than one in five parents (22%) would like their child to be less involved with electronic media and communications activities.

 Managing screen time for teens – what we do

In order to allow our teens some autonomy, we use a fairly open style of access:

•  No technology before 10am or after 10pm

•  No technology to be used in the bedroom

•  Take regular breaks (no more than 1 hour stretches of time) from the screens

•  Homework is take priority over technology

Some days our teenagers regulate themselves better than others.

Some days it seems as if they are stuck permanently to the screen. On those days when they are not self regulating, I will enforce a break.

I used to change the wifi password to prevent the temptation for the kids to jump online before school in the morning. I also used to wait to give them the password in the afternoons, until they had spent enough time off line or completed outstanding tasks. I don’t tend to do this anymore as I’ve learned that it doesn’t teach them self-regulation when it comes to screens. They detested my having control like that and I didn’t love withdrawing privileges.

Other approaches for screen time for teens

To bring some new strategies and rules for screen time for teens to the table, I asked other families what they do. I wanted to know what they do to help their teens learn to regulate the amount of time they spend on technology. Here are some of their suggestions:

•  Screens are strictly off at meal times.

•  One screen-free day a week.

•  Setting a time limit (eg. 2 hours a day)

•  Spending less time on screens ourselves

•  Drawing up a contract and agreeing boundaries together

How do you manage screen time at your place?

Image: Glen Carsten Peters 

How we foster independence in our school-age kids

How we foster independence in our school-age kids

Our eldest child went to a Montessori preschool and I learned such a lot from his lovely teacher. One of the first things she taught me was to foster independence. This meant not doing things for children that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. When you’re in preschool, this means this like carrying your own bag, dressing yourself, blowing your nose and getting your own drink of water.

It took me some time to really grasp the concept, and sometimes I find it hard to know what my kids are genuinely capable of. Mind you, having five kids has really helped; I just don’t have the time to do everything for each child.

I think if I had more time, I could easily fall into the trap of doing things for the kids that they could be doing. I’d do it to help them out, but also, probably , to help me out too. Over the years, I know I’ve probably done more for my youngest child over the years, as there wasn’t a baby after him needing my immediate attention.

Supporting kids to be independent and teaching them skills to organise themselves is so important.

When our daughter was 10, she set her alarm each school day to make sure she got up in time to have a good breakfast, get herself ready for school and leave the house just after 7am. Depending on the day she would either walk or her dad would drive her to the train station. She would then catch two trains and walk a short distance to arrive at school.

She was never late, her teachers said she arrived with a smile and was always well organised for her day. My daughter did all of this herself without prompting. Her ability to organise herself didn’t happen overnight however. It was a work in progress since she was tiny. 

While kids may not always see it this way, making them responsible for household tasks, teaching them life skills and expecting them to be self starters is the best thing we can do for them. Through these accomplishments their self-confidence builds. They learn that it often takes more than one go at a new task to be able to do it well.

Kids learn that they are competent and can contribute positively to the world around them.

Raised independent - how we foster independence in our school-age kids

Three key ways we foster independence in our kids

1. Teaching household tasks

This is an ongoing instruction for the kids. We regularly revise the tasks the kids do around the house. Our family contribution schedule (which you can read more about here) allocates tasks based on age and skills.

Foster Independence: Family Contribution Schedule
Click on the image to learn more about Nicole’s Family Contribution Schedule

There are some jobs on the list the kids would rather not do, but there are other jobs the kids can’t wait to try out. All of the jobs help foster independence.

Trying new tasks at home when they are supported also helps children to be more willing to try new things outside of the home.

2. Teaching kids to create their own routines

Foster independence with this kids' Schedule - Free TemplateClick on the image to download Nicole’s free kids’ routine template

To foster independence and help the kids get ready for school on their own, we have been using visual prompts and schedules since preschool. The kids help me create their schedules and as they grew older, they would create their own. You can read more about it here.

When he was in Year 7, our son used these skills to set himself up a homework schedule so he could manage his new high school workload. Homework was a significant increase from the year before and he had exams to study for as well.

There was a time at the beginning of the year when he was a little overwhelmed by the workload coming in. Together we created a homework priority checklist that he could use to help him know what to work on and when. This helped him keep on track.

3. Teaching life skills

Starting with breakfast, we taught our kids basic cooking skills, like making omelettes, frying bacon and eggs and making smoothies.

It was a gradual lesson from eating cereal to cooking their own breakfast. Over the years I have taught them skills like:

  • juicing
  • grating
  • cutting
  • making sandwiches
  • making dinner

Of course the life skills they need are not just limited to the kitchen, other skills we work on include:

  • using the washing machine
  • using the iron
  • cleaning the bathroom
  • vacuuming
  • changing the beds
  • navigating their way around our local area
  • using the telephone, email and messaging
  • learning to negotiate
  • solving problems, etc.

And when my kids grumble about what I am teaching them or am asking them to do, I will remember this quote:

“In the end, it’s not what you do for your children… but what you’ve taught them to do for themselves.” – Ann Landers

How do you foster independence in your kids?

Image by Chuttersnap

10 hacks for organising school mornings better

10 hacks for organising school mornings better

There are many pain-points in a mum’s lyfe, but surely organising school mornings is one of the sorest. In most households (mine included) there is just so much going on. To help you contain the chaos, I’m sharing my 10 best hacks for keeping the kids moving. What works best at your place?

Morning hacks - 10 hacks for organising school mornings better

Hacks for the night before

1. Make a set bedtime

Having an age-appropriate bedtime for the kids means they get the sleep they need. They are more likely to actually wake up of their on accord in the morning, refreshed and ready for school. Generally, when they get a good night’s sleep, kids wake up happier and are easier to manage.

2. Set the breakfast table 

We set the table for breakfast, including putting the cereal boxes out on the table, before we go to bed at night. My husband is usually the first to have breakfast and leave the milk on the table for the kids that follow. As the children wake at different times, this enables them to easily serve themselves. The older children will now cook themselves a hot breakfast most mornings.

Hacks for school mornings - set the table the night before

3. Prepare the lunchboxes

I have the lunchboxes set out on the bench and will put in any items that are non-perishable the night before. For example, I put crackers or cut up fruit in containers in the fridge ready to go. I also use beeswax wraps to package up any homemade food, so in the morning it’s just a matter of the kids grabbing things to add to their lunchbox. 

RELATED: Nicole’s 7 top tips to pack a healthy lunchbox

4. Prepare uniforms and other clothes

I don’t lay the clothes out for the children, but I do oversee the laundry to make sure  uniforms are washed, put away and ready to go. It’s then the kids’ responsibility to have their clothes out before they go to bed at night. This works extremely well for younger children at preschool, as sometimes making decisions on what to wear can take up a huge amount of time! Better to do this in the evening when there is less time pressure and if items cannot be found there is time to locate them.

Hacks for the morning

5. Key time markers

We have key times across the morning at which certain activities need to occur. At (or before) 7.30am children need to brush their teeth, get themselves dressed, pack bags, etc. We aim to leave the house at 8.05am, so everyone should be completely ready by then.

Make sure everyone knows when your key times are and what needs to be done beforehand. It’s a good idea to call out ‘five more minutes’ and countdown the time, especially for younger kids.

Try this time organiser to keep the kids on track: The Pomodoro method

Hacks for school mornings

6. Clear the breakfast dishes

Each child is responsible for taking their breakfast dishes from the table to the kitchen bench for the youngest and for the older kids, they need to place their dishes in the dishwasher.

Having the kids stack the dishwasher means there is then one less thing that I have to do so I don’t feel as rushed. It also helps the kids understand that we all have to work together to keep the house tidy. This task and the next two require the children doing things for themselves. I find it is much easier for them to concentrate on these, if their are no distractions like TV or computer on.

The go anywhere breakfast bar is a great for mornings on the go.

7. Make beds and tidy bedrooms

Each child is responsible for making their bed and tidying their room. I don’t expect perfection from this, but that at the minimum the bed linen is straightened and items are removed from the floor. To help reinforce this good habit, I find that drawing their attention to how nice it is to come home from school to a neat bedroom helps a lot.  It makes it easier for them to settle after school, and get stuck into the homework later.

8. Children pack their bags

It is the kids’ responsibility to ensure they have their lunchbox (the eldest two children now make their own lunches), hat, basically all the things that they need for their day at school. I find this a helpful task in early training to keep their possessions organised.

Hacks for school mornings - kids pack bags

If they have left their hat at home, because they left it in the bedroom instead of putting it back in their bag, they will have to accept the consequences of this. (At our primary school, no hat means that they cannot play out in the sun during terms 1 and 4.)

It helps even more if packing the bags becomes a nightly ritual for older kids. That way, in the morning they only need to put their lunchbox and computer into the bag and they’re ready to go.

9. Strategies to keep calm

This is probably the hardest thing to do in the morning, but even when the kids are infuriating me, I try to stay calm. If I try to calmly deal with situations as they arise (as opposed to ranting and raving at them!), there is much less chance of things escalating. After all, any blow ups make it even harder for us to leave the house on time. Some ideas to stay calm include:

•  Reinforce the time regularly to keep everyone on track

•  Take a moment or two out for yourself if you can – enjoy a cuppa or sit in the sun

•  Take a deep breath and remind yourself that being late isn’t the worst thing in the world

Read more: 7 tips to keep calm and parent when you feel anything but calm

10. Walk to school

This is not possible for everyone, but I find that walking to school is less stressful than packing all the children in the car, finding a park, getting them out, etc. It also provides a lovely opportunity to chat and play games as we walk along.

This morning we left the house with dishes on the table and unmade beds. I am hoping we will leave the house in a different state tomorrow!

What are your best tips for organising school mornings ?

Feature image by Samantha Gades; breakfast  by Monika Grabkowska; clock by Malvestida Magazine; bag by Matt Ragland / all from Unsplash

Useful hacks for school mornings

Pin It on Pinterest