Mom’s Survival Guide to After School Activities

October 18, 2019
kids in car

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By midweek I am always exhausted.  Work is busy – but the kids are even busier.  My husband and I joke that the “real” day starts around 4:30 pm and we run like crazy until everyone crashes to bed.  It’s not a funny joke because by 4:30 pm I’ve put in a full days work and just want to be done.  But – kids.

I want my kids to have fun and be involved in sports and activities – it is so important.  So, I suck it up.  It drives me crazy how much time I spend driving them all around and sitting in various waiting rooms – all ultimately the same – crowded, loud and with an uncomfortable chair – if I’m lucky.

Since most of my daily free time is spent at these places I decided I needed to figure out a way to either enjoy that time or use my waiting time productively.  Here are the big 4 questions I posed to myself.

How to survive after school activities

  • How can I minimize the amount of time lost to extracurricular activities?
  • How can I make the most of my time when I am waiting?
  • How can I entertain the other kids?
  • How can I make getting out the door less stressful? I hate yelling at the kids to get moving

How can I minimize lost time?

First, I tried to find ways to minimize my time lost – that is the best case scenario.  My kids all take weekly swim lessons and piano lessons.  Then each kid picks one sport they would like to participate in. 

Private Swim Lessons

I hate swim lessons – I hate the hot pool deck, the shivering children who seem to have forgotten how to dress themselves.  And most importantly, I hated how every time I got all 3 kids in lessons at the same time one would move up a level and screw up the whole schedule.  So, I decided to throw a little money at this problem and put all three kids in one private lesson together.  This was a fantastic decision – I no longer worry about make up lessons, we all go together and it is always scheduled at my convenience. 

swim lessons

Piano lessons in our home

For piano, I found a piano teacher who comes to our home once a week so I don’t really lose time on this one.  I can make dinner and help with homework while lessons are going on.  Any night I don’t have to leave the house is a good one.

Carpool

There is always the classic carpool.  We were fortunate that during spring baseball one of my sons teammates lived down the street.  His mom and I were able to help each other out and take turns bringing the boys to practice.  This is the only time this has ever worked out for me – I have hope for the future!

Two kids in the same activity

If I can book two kids at the same activity it decreases the amount of time I am driving.  When the twins played t-ball I requested that they be on the same team and that worked out well.  My older son has told me he wants to join his brother at Ninja class when fall ball is done.  Fine with me!

baseball teammates

Activities immediately following school

If you can find activities that are held at the school immediately following dismissal you are very lucky – in our town almost everything is in the evenings. I just signed my son up for book club one afternoon a week – right after school. At least all I have to do is pick him up when it’s over.

How can I make the most of my time while waiting?

Let’s be honest – most days I spend at least an hour sitting somewhere waiting.  I can only check facebook so many times and search pinterest for so long before I am bored. And do I really have 6-7 hours a week to lose to such mindless activity?

The first thing I decide is whether the activity is one I will be actively watching – like a baseball game or one I will just be getting through – like a dance class behind closed doors.  Next, I think about whether I enjoy socializing with the other moms.  My son’s best friend is on his baseball team and his mom and I enjoy chatting while the boys play.  This IS productive use of my time. We catch up and enjoy each other’s company.  This is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening.

But, if I’m just going to have a few casual conversations and then turn to my phone I might as well do something productive with my time.  There are so many things that I can accomplish with just my phone or laptop.  I just need to save up some of these things during the day – and remember to do them while waiting.

How to use my time productively

  • Return emails and clean out my inbox
  • Read a book
  • Go for a walk if at an outdoor field
  • Catch up on work – write a blog post!
  • Create a grocery list and meal plan
  • Make phone calls if I have privacy
  • Plan tomorrow
  • Schedule appointments online
  • Help the other kids with homework
  • Online shopping

Planning is a huge part of my life.  I often have chunks of time where I can’t DO anything but I can think about what needs to get done – I make packing lists, shopping lists, wish lists for the kids, schedules for the next day, lists of projects to complete.  It is helpful to have everything written down so that when I do have time at home to accomplish things I am more efficient with my time.

How can I entertain the other kids?

I am lucky. My husband and I are both normally home in the evenings so the other kids don’t usually have to be carted around.  This makes a huge difference in how I spend my time at activities.  I used to watch some moms at dance with 2 and 3 younger kids – losing their minds and throwing m&m’s at their kids to get through the hour. These moms are amazing! – I couldn’t do it. I give them a lot of credit – and I got some really good ideas from them!

Feed the Kids

The number one thing I learned is – you do not want hungry children.  Hungry children are assholes and will ruin everything.  Feed them.  Feed them and then bring more snacks.  This move alone may save you from a massive meltdown. 

Bring Special Toys

Even if you feed them you will still hear “I’m bored”.  I carry a large bag around filled with coloring books, colored pencils, card games, reader books, and their vetch cameras which are equipped with video games.  The cameras are my last resort – but I’d rather have a little screen time than a meltdown.  We do homework, read together – and eat snacks.

toys in an activity bag
These are the toys currently in my activity bag – mad libs, coloring and activity books, pencil box, peanut butter and jelly game, UNO, V-tech camera, Dr. Suess books – Hark a Shark, Inside your Outsides, Wish for a Fish & If I Ran the Rainforest

But those moms I mentioned – the amazing ones with lots of little people.  They would bring all sorts of toys – mega bloks, superheroes, building toys.  And the trick I learned from these wise women is that these toys were ONLY for during activities.  They keep those toys in their cars – so the toys remain special.  Brilliant!

All kids will eventually get bored waiting so the best activities for siblings are the outdoor ones where we can go to the playground, play ball or just run around.  So much better than being cooped up in a small waiting room.

How can I make getting ready less stressful?

Now I had a plan for how to entertain myself and the kiddos while waiting at dance, but I still needed to streamline the afternoon so that we could get out of the house quickly with minimal nagging and arguments.  I made a few changes – which only involved a little bit of planning – and I have noticed that our afternoons are much smoother.

Feed the kids

First, I feed them.  I have decided this fixes everything.  But, seriously, they eat lunch at 11 and don’t get home until 4:30.  I’ve eaten multiple times in that time period.  They are starving.  On my best days I have dinner ready when they get off the bus and we just eat dinner immediately.  Otherwise I give them a healthy snack – yogurt, fruit, cheese etc.  I save the treats for at the ball field!

Prep the night before

The rest of the preparation occurs the night before when I am doing my school morning prep.  I get everything ready for the evenings activities.  This means making sure the baseball uniform or dance leotard is clean and laid out. I pack the swim bag – find the goggles, make sure the cleats aren’t double knotted.  All the little things that drive you crazy when you are trying to rush out the door. I also make sure we have a solid plan for the evening – so we know who is taking which kid where and attempt to eliminate all surprises.

Stay Calm

Finally, I do my best to stay calm.  If I am relaxed and a little silly, so are the kids.  I let the little stuff go.  I always plan to leave 5-10 minutes earlier than I need to.  Then I don’t care when someone can’t find a shoe or needs to go to the bathroom AGAIN!  Kids are slow.  And they hate being rushed.  Once I start yelling or trying to hurry them up – it’s all over.  And ultimately, does it really matter if they are a couple minutes late?  I try to teach my kids how important it is to be on time.  But, if rushing them is going to make us all upset – it is totally not worth it.  I would rather be late.

Oh, and if all else fails – I bribe them!

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5 Comments

  • Reply Karen November 1, 2019 at 4:21 pm

    This is a great post. Lots of really great suggestions. I feel like a lot of people overschedule their kids and then complain that they are running themselves ragged trying to keep up. I have been fortunate to have other parents to do ride sharing with. It makes a huge difference.

    • Reply Liz November 1, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      I agree – so many kids are overscheduled. All the organized activities seem so amazing. But, yet the kids NEED time at home to just play and decompress too!

  • Reply tam November 1, 2019 at 9:21 am

    Great post, I love the in-home piano lesson ideas thats gold, have them come to you, and definitely yes having kids doing the same activities makes our life a lot easier.

  • Reply Ro November 1, 2019 at 8:59 am

    What a great post! Thank you for sharing. 🙏❤

  • Reply With My Little Ones November 1, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Hi Liz, I feel your pain!! Here we have the same routine, it’s CRAZY!! The idea for private swim lessons is wonderful, we have been doing it for a year and it is amazing. The kids spend more time in the water, they both have the same schedule and we can choose the day and time that best suits us. Thanks for all the tips and good luck!!! PS: One day we will miss all this craziness!! 🙂

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