The after-school guide

The bell rings and the race is on — playdates, practices, homework, dinner, downtime. It takes some seriously fancy footwork to get everything done between school and bed. Randi Chapnik Myers finds out how three busy families manage to fit it all in

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Photo Credit: Venturi + Karpa

(Photo, left) The Readman household: Dean, lawyer, Helena, teacher, Catherine, 10, and Claire, 8. Hometown: Vancouver.

When the bell rings, school is done for the day, but your schedule gets downright hectic. Whether your kids head off to child care, playdates, activities or practices, you’ve got work to do — from planning, driving and supervising, to cooking, helping with homework and making sure there’s time to just kick back.

So we asked three busy Canadian families with very different schedules: When school’s out, what’s next?

The routine Living la vida local

Why it works “Keeping activities close by makes after-school programming easiest for working parents like us.”

How it works For a reasonable fee, the Readmans enrol their girls in a child care service offered at their public school. At 3 p.m., the girls go straight to the supervised program, and spend the next three hours enjoying healthy snacks, socializing and getting homework done. Then come the activities: Brownies (on school grounds) for Claire on Tuesdays, piano at a nearby location for both girls on Thursdays, and Monday and Friday hockey practices.

Parent take “The after-care program is a godsend for us,” says Helena. The arrangement bridges the hours between school and the girls’ activities, allowing Helena and Dean to finish their workdays before ferrying the kids around. When activities are over, it’s home for dinner — typically around 6:30. Then it’s play or TV time, piano practice, and reading before bed.

Being able to stay local is key because Helena can drop by the house for a quick snack with one girl, while another is at a lesson. There is one glitch in the schedule: When one parent works late and hockey practices are at different times. “One girl may get bored and start complaining at the rink,” Helena notes. Still, she says, “it’s really busy, but we manage to fit it all in.”

Expert take “These days, child care is available in many schools, but the quality varies,” says Annabelle Fell, a social worker in private practice in Toronto. While some programs engage kids and allow them time to do their homework, other programs are less organized.

Whether or not the program is ideal, stay in close communication with the people who run it, Fell says. Speak up if there are issues between your child and her friends, for instance, or if she needs quiet time to do school work.

Also, keep talking to your kids about their experiences at the program. “Like school, going to a child care program may be non-negotiable. But you’ll help your child enjoy it if you listen, teach her to problem-solve and be empathic,” Fell says. As for activities, make sure that your kids really love the ones they choose. That way, they’ll always have something fun to look forward to.

Kid’s rating (by Catherine, 10): B

Leisure I have enough time to relax after supper. I watch a TV show or just lie on my bed and rest.

Social I hang out a lot with my friends at my after-school program. If I have time when supper’s over, I’ll go down the street to a friend’s house and hang out more.

Food After our activities, my mom usually has a great dinner waiting.

Homework I do homework at the after-school program. If I have a big project, I’ll do it at home with a little help from my mom.

Wish list I would like to play with my own toys after school, but we’re not allowed to bring them to the program.

 

The Storm household: Rob, sales consultant, Lisa, marketing consultant, Ryan, 10, Joey, 8, and Andy, 4. Hometown: Toronto.

The routine Light on lessons, heavy on home

Why it works “Limiting the number of after-school programs keeps us all from getting overwhelmed.”

How it works Activities are scheduled so that the kids are at the same place at the same time: Ryan and Joey both take karate on Mondays and Thursdays, and piano lessons at home on Wednesdays. The family’s house is playdate central; the kids tend not to play elsewhere. Family dinners are at 6 p.m. There is lots of time for homework and play.

Parent take Since both parents work from home, their schedules are flexible. “We draw straws to decide who drives to activities,” says Lisa, although she’s often the designated driver, as Rob frequently travels for work.

Lisa enrolls Ryan and Joey in the same programs because it’s easier to manage. So is having the kids’ friends over. “Part of it is selfish,” she explains. “I can’t be driving in all directions to drop them places and pick them up.” Also, Joey has a nut allergy that makes eating at friends’ houses problematic.

To keep the kids’ — and her own — schedules manageable, Lisa caps their activities at a maximum of three per week. When Ryan wanted to join the chess club at school, he had a choice to make — the club met on the same day as his piano lesson. “I didn’t want him racing to the piano bench without a second to wash his hands,” Lisa says. “I know my kids need downtime. They won’t be happy if they’re trying to act like Superman, making quick changes in the phone booth.” In the end, Ryan chose to stick with his piano lesson.

While Lisa makes family dinners during the week, the kids have lots of time to hang out with each other. After supper, there’s homework to do, piano to practise and more play time. “Andy goes to bed at 7:30 p.m, so if the other two were out at programs, they would never see him,” Lisa says.

Expert take When you’re planning after-school programs, it’s important to check your own stress level, Fell says. It isn’t good for anyone in the family if all of the activities are running the household.

At the same time, the after-school schedule has to grow with your kids. As kids age, they develop different interests and socializing needs. “If your son suddenly says, ‘I want to go to my friends’ houses,’ or ‘I don’t want to take activities with my sister,’ that’s when you have to reconsider the plan,” Fell says.

Kid’s rating (Joey, 8): B

Leisure I have the most time to relax on Fridays. Ryan and I take turns watching TV when the other is doing homework.

Social I like to play at friends’ houses, but I can’t because of my peanut allergy.

Food Our family dinners are fun. We all talk about our day, but sometimes Andy screams for attention.

Homework I do my homework at a table in the playroom or sometimes on the floor. Both are comfortable.

Wish list Instead of piano, I would rather take guitar, and I would trade one karate day for a playdate instead.

 

The Ghanthouse household: Steve, corporate president, Jennifir, psychology student, Vince, 14, Samuel, 10, and Jacob, 7. Hometown: Richmond Hill, Ont.

The routine Rocking the rink

Why it works “When school’s out, the boys want to be active and social.”

How it works During fall and winter, all three boys play competitive hockey. When playoffs end in spring, Vince switches to baseball. Year-round, Samuel and Jacob also play rep soccer (“because our lives aren’t insane enough!” Jennifir says), and Vince takes electric and classical guitar lessons.

Parent take “Hockey takes a lot of planning because it’s almost every night,” Jennifir says. Playoff time is particularly tricky because the schedule comes out last-minute and there can be seven games in a week.

During the regular season, the hockey mom (a psychology student by day) spends about three hours carpooling kids after school. She helps the younger boys with their hockey gear at one rink, then races with Vince to another, while Steve leaves work to pick up the first two. If he’s out of town, Jennifir relies on a hockey carpool. “The boys love it because they do most of their socializing with their team buddies,” she says.

Soccer and guitar night starts at 6 p.m., which gives the family almost two hours after school (“loads of time!”) for relaxing, supper and homework. On hockey nights, the puck drops at 5:30 p.m., and there is time only for a quick bite beforehand. School books get hauled to the rink (as does Jennifir’s laptop, which she pulls out while the boys skate). When the kids get home — anywhere from 8 to 10:30 p.m. — the first stop is the fridge. “With so much exercise, they eat a ton,” Jennifir says.

Expert take “Developing passion in sport is a healthy way for kids to discover personal talent, interact with peers and stay out of trouble,” Fell says. Still, competitive programs often get a bad rap because they can tire kids out.

The problem arises when there’s no passion coming from the kids. “Always check in with your kids to make sure they love what they’re doing,” Fell says. You also need to watch that other areas of their lives aren’t suffering, she adds. Older kids have more serious homework to focus on and also have to balance their social lives, while younger kids may need more unstructured time to play.

But if your kids love the action and you’re all managing well, then “go for it!” says Fell. “Just be sure you’re following your child’s lead, not the other way around.”

Kid’s rating (Vince, 14): B

Leisure For fun, I like watching TV or playing on the computer before we head out. My brothers and I fight over them because there’s so little time.

Social I hang out with my friends on Facebook or by texting because we’re away from home a lot. I carry my iPod everywhere.

Food Usually we have dinner right after school. I eat again later when I get home. I’m used to eating twice!

Homework I do my homework at the rink. I even study for tests there. Most rinks have a quiet space you can use.

Wish list I would like a little more leisure time but I won’t give up sports for it.

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