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Strategies for schoolchildren : Coping with school paperwork, Organising after-school activities

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Coping with school paperwork

There are peak periods — such as the start of the school year — when, without a system in place, I used to feel in a complete mess with all the school paperwork. After missing a couple of important notices, I realised that to stay on top of things I needed to develop a way of coping with the constant influx of slips, forms and newsletters that are very much a part of school life.

Allocating time for paperwork

One of my biggest time wasters with paperwork was handling the same items several times. When the kids brought me their notices after school, I’d read them and decide whether they needed action or not. If they needed action I’d put them aside for later. However, when later came, as I had only skim-read the notices I’d have to read them all over again and then action them.

Now the kids put their notices in a folder on the kitchen bench. I don’t worry about them until the kids are in bed. I then read them once and action them straight away.

The school newsletter

Our school newsletter is the main source of information we receive from the school. To help me keep track of all the school events, once I receive it I write all key dates on the calendar, complete the required tear-off slips, then hang the current newsletter on a clip on the fridge for future reference.

Sending back forms

Each child has a communication pouch that they keep in their school bag for the exchange of notices between home and school. In the evenings when I fill in the forms that need to go back to school, I place the completed forms in the kids’ lunchboxes for them. The lunchboxes sit open on the kitchen bench each morning for the kids to collect. It’s the kids’ responsibility to ensure the completed forms make their way into the communication pouch and back to school.

The child information sheet

I picked up this tip from another mother at school, so thanks to Danielle for sharing it with me. There are a series of forms that have to be filled in at the start of the year for each school child — for example, the Neighbourhood Excursion form, which gives the school permission to take the kids on a walk around the block. The forms all require particular details to be filled in, such as the date of the child’s last tetanus injection, our Medicare number, and our doctor’s name and contact details. This information is also needed for other forms throughout the year (school camp permission forms, for example).

I’ve compiled a child information sheet (see table 1) so I don’t have to find the kids’ Maternal and Child Health books and all the relevant cards needed to complete these forms. As this information doesn’t change very often, I can continue to use it in future years as well.

Table 1: child information sheet

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Organising after-school activities

As each of our children starts going to school, the number of after-school activities we have to juggle increases. If not managed well, the after-school run-around can severely impact on my busyness and that of the little ones.

Tip: Juggling after-school activities

The following tips have helped us manage after-school activities more effectively.

No after-school activities for preps in term one

During term one preps are busy adjusting to attending school for long days, five days in a row. Preps are generally very tired in term one, even if they’ve attended childcare full time in the past. A tired prep means an emotional child, so I find the less for them to do after school, the better. Even if a prep child has to come along to their older siblings’ activities, at least they’re not having to listen to and follow instructions in a structured environment.

Sharing the driving

Once the kids have settled into their new after-school activities, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to find another family with whom I can share the drop-offs and pick-ups. For example, I only take my daughter to her dance class once a fortnight. Another lovely mum, Kate, and I alternate bringing the girls home from school and then taking them to and from dancing.

Playing in the park

I’ve noticed that I take my younger children to play in the park less often than I did the older ones. Training grounds for cricket and football are usually located near a playground so I make the most of these opportunities by playing with the kids at the nearby playgrounds.

Playing games

One of the items I keep in my everyday bag is a pack of cards. If we’re attending an after-school activity for one child at an indoor space, it’s an opportunity to sit with the younger children and play cards. Pencils and paper or a colouring book are also handy for making the most of our time together.

Limiting the number of activities

Children can often overestimate their energy levels so we limit the number of after-school activities they participate in. Education consultant Kathy Walker recommends only one to two activities for children aged four to eight.

We restrict the number of after-school activities to two per child. With three children who currently participate in after-school activities, this means we can have up to six scheduled events after school. Thankfully, all our children have chosen swimming as one activity and we have them all enrolled on the same day at the same time. Even with this efficiency, some terms we only have one school night per week with no scheduled activity.

Dinner comes first

As the children get older, the after-school activities start later, often around 5.30 or 6.00 pm. By the time they’ve finished, it’s very late for the younger children (aged six and under) to eat dinner. So on the days when we have late finishes I swap afternoon tea with dinner time.

When the children come home from school, they just have a piece of fruit and then I serve their evening meal at around 4.30 pm. I then pack a healthy snack for them to have on the way home from the after-school activities. This change in routine has two advantages: the children actually eat all of their dinner, and I don’t have hungry (as well as tired) children waiting at after-school activities.

Having dinner prepared

When I do my menu planning, I make sure I factor in after-school activities. On days when we’ll be out and about straight after school, I make sure I prepare something earlier in the day — or a plan for a very quick meal — so we can eat at the usual time.

Completing homework

I encourage our children to do their homework on the nights when they don’t have after-school activities. This prevents situations where they’re up late finishing homework because we’ve arrived home late.

Ensuring enjoyment

It’s important to stop every so often to check that your children are actually enjoying their after-school activities. We keep it simple for our children: they can choose what they want to do, but if they start an activity they must see it through to the end of the term or season. If they no longer want to do that activity once the season or term has finished, they can stop.

Booking after-school activities early

It’s important for us to book or rebook after-school activities as early as possible. For after-school activities such as swimming,

doing so means we have a greater chance of having all our kids in the pool for their lessons at the same time. One swimming time compared with three different ones makes my life much easier.

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