With so many activities to choose from, it can be tough for parents to figure out where to draw the line between beneficial extracurricular activities and piling too much on a kid's plate. Sports can teach children so many valuable lessons that they can carry into adulthood -- commitment, discipline, teamwork, confidence and coordination, to name a few. These can all add value to how kids approach their schoolwork, as well as their future career. But how do you make it all work without sending your active kids into overdrive?
--Prioritize. Before you even think about sitting down to schedule, have your children write a list of the classes and subjects they excel in and then write another list of the ones that are more challenging. That way, you can see which classes may need a little extra help or time for homework and preparing for tests, perhaps in the form of a tutor. Start another list and you ask them to write out their favorite sports and the ones they really want to participate in. From there, ask them to rank those sports by how much they like them. Once you have this in front of you, you can start to see what really matters to them and where you can encourage them to focus.
--Schedule. When you've narrowed down the priorities, you can start lining up the execution to see how all of these activities can work together -- and what you may need to give up. Take out a calendar -- and perhaps a dry-erase board to start -- and first fill in the nonnegotiable items, e.g., test dates and game dates. Once you've lined up all of the priorities, you can go down the list and add each activity, one by one, and then show your kids the results. From there, you can talk about what their day-to-day routine will look like and ask them whether they think they can realistically handle it all. Make sure you map out homework time with your kids ahead of time, as well, so they know when they're expected to get their schoolwork done every day. Obviously, they won't always finish it in the designated time, so you may want to leave an extra window of time after an athletic activity finishes or before it starts.
--Coordinate. Now that you've got the schedule, it's time to put it to work. If possible, you may want to work out a car pool system with some friends or neighbors who live close by. Befriend the parents of the other kids so you can make all of your lives easier with transportation to and from practice and games. The more organized you are the more flow your kids will have with transitioning from their studies to sports and back to their studies again. If it makes the most sense for you to stay for an entire practice or game, have your other kids bring their homework and find a quiet spot to work on it.
--Be flexible and communicate. Though the above steps may sound clear enough to create a flawless system, save yourself a lot of stress by expecting it all to change at any moment. The beauty of raising children is that they're completely unpredictable at times, so expecting the unexpected will help you to keep a cheerier attitude when things go amok. Make sure your kids know that there are certain times when they absolutely cannot break their routine or commitments, but remember that they're at a stage of life in which they want to have fun. Or maybe they have a little too much fun at soccer practice and suddenly the time designated for homework becomes time to rest and ice a sprained ankle.
With honest and open communication, you'll be able to consistently strengthen the most important team -- your family. Make sure your kids understand that if they are overwhelmed or feel as if they want to take on more, either way, they can always come to you and have a conversation in which they'll feel heard.