Planning Around the School's Schedule : Incorporating School Activities into Your Family's Schedule

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Once children enter school, their time no longer belongs to them and their family alone. Just as jobs place restrictions on adults' lives, schools place restrictions on students' lives, and all of those restrictions impact the way the family can schedule its time.

Adjusting the Family's Schedule

When a child is ready to start school, we tend to put all of the focus on how this new phase will impact the child's life. But the first changes you'll really begin to notice probably are the ones that affect everyone. Many families with only preschool children choose to vacation in the autumn months when the weather is cooler, the attractions are less crowded, and the hotel rates are lower. Except for the weather, those advantages exist, in large part, because families with school-age children can't travel then. After any of your children are in school, your family will be unable to vacation then as well. Likewise, a midwinter break to a warm, sunny destination for people living in areas where the winters are very cold or to snowy mountains for families who like to ski may have become a welcome routine. Once the children are in school, you'll be confined to one of the couple of weeks of winter when almost everyone else is trying to get away, too. You can avoid any bad feelings that come with these realizations by taking a super vacation during the summer and booking any winter travels well in advance—after checking the school's winter and spring vacation schedules.


Most school districts set their calendars three years in advance. Even if they haven't been published yet, you can find out when the school's vacation breaks have been scheduled by calling the school district's central administration office.


Even something as simple as eating lunch takes on a whole series of scheduling issues when school enters the picture. The first question to answer is this: Will the student purchase lunch at school or bring a lunch from home?

You and your student should take into account several considerations when answering this question:

  • Does going through the cafeteria line at school leave your child with enough time to eat at a reasonable pace? Some cafeteria lines are so long that some students aren't able to sit down with their lunches until five minutes before they need to get back to class.

  • Does your student like any of the food available for purchase at school? If not, then packing a lunch every day will be your best option.

  • Does your student like some of the food available at school, but not all of it? If so, then you'll want to review the published lunch menu to determine what days your child will buy her lunch and what days she'll carry it. You'll need to factor these choices into your grocery list for each week.

  • Does your student like almost all of the food available at school? If so, then you and your student may decide that purchasing a lunch at school—and coordinating the school lunch menu with your family's dinner menu—is the easier solution.

After the decision has been made to pack lunches—and the grocery shopping list and schedule have been adjusted to make sure you have the right foods (and paper and plastic products) available—you still need to decide

  • Who will make the lunches? Will one person make the lunches for everyone? Will the same person make all of the lunches every day, or will the job rotate? Will each person make his own lunch?

  • When will the lunches be made? Making them in the evening has the advantage of avoiding the morning rush, but it has the disadvantage of making the lunches a little less fresh-tasting come noontime the next day.

  • Will the lunches be packed in disposable paper bags or reusable insulated bags? The insulated bags will keep the food better, especially if the lunch contains highly perishable items or needs to be stored in a hot locker, but the student will have to take responsibility for bringing the bag home every afternoon.

With all of these factors surrounding just the scheduling of lunch, is it any wonder that coordinating your family's schedule with the school's schedule requires serious concentration?

You'll find you also have to start scheduling other more routine activities around the school day as well. If you want to avoid having to make your child miss school for doctor and dentist appointments, you'll have to book them much further in advance to get time slots during the more scarce after-school hours. And, even if you're willing to let your child miss school, you'll find it's difficult to make sure that you don't schedule the appointment during an important test, assembly, or field trip.


To make the transition to the school schedule easier, change your family's sleeping and eating patterns to match the school-year schedule a week or two before the start of the school year.

One way to avoid this type of scheduling nightmare altogether is to plan to make all annual appointments during summer vacation. Early summer appointments are probably easier to get than late summer appointments; plus, they have the added bonus of being taken care of earlier rather than later. Make a note in your planner to book these appointments in January or February to ensure that you can get the dates and times that won't conflict with your other summer activities (camp, swimming lessons, vacation, and so on).


Before rescheduling all of your child's current activities around the school day, don't forget to take time to evaluate whether he should be continuing with all of them on top of his school responsibilities.

While you're at it, you'll want to reschedule private music lessons and other such activities well in advance of the start of school. After-school and weekend spots fill fast, so there's no question that the organized family is the one that will get the most desirable time slots.

To do list

  • Fill out all of the forms the school sends home

  • Schedule back-to-school shopping excursions for clothes and supplies

  • Make arrangements to attend school events

  • Find time to talk about school with your child

  • Set aside time for doing homework

Adding in the School's Schedule

After you've rearranged your family's schedule around the standard school day, you still need to add into your schedule a wide variety of items that are tied directly to attending school:

  • Meeting the school's administrative requirements. You'll need to begin this task before the school year by making sure that you've filled out all of the necessary registration forms and provided the school with documentation of your student's immunizations (getting the immunizations first, if necessary) and proof of residency. Then, at the beginning of the school year, set aside enough time to fill out emergency notification forms, student directory forms, teacher questionnaires, and any other paperwork that gets sent home. Finally, set up an ongoing system with time allotted to fill out permissions slips and other requests that come home throughout the school year. Designating a place for your students to put forms when they come home from school, coupled with places where you'll put completed forms for each student, will go a long way to keeping this administrative task running smoothly. An occasional reminder to each student to use the system wouldn't be a bad idea either.

  • Making sure your student has the right tools. Back-to-school shopping has become a sort of national tradition. Whether your child wears a uniform prescribed by the school or a personally selected wardrobe, schedule the time for clothes shopping into your family's planner as soon as you've established your summer schedule enough to know when you'll have a block of time available. Many teachers now send home school supply requirements—or put them on file at local stores—sometime over the summer. As soon as you receive the list—or sooner, if you know when teachers at your school send them out—block out time for this shopping in your family's planner, too. Also, block out time in the evening of the first or second day of school to make another trip to the supply store; no matter how well-equipped your student is on the first day of school, something always needs to be exchanged or added!

  • Attending school events. Study the school calendar carefully to see when must-attend events will take place for both parent and student. Look for things such as parent open house, assemblies, awards programs, concerts, plays, other productions, field trips, and parent-teacher conferences. If you're not sure what an event is, don't hesitate to call the school office and ask. If there's an event that you should attend as a parent, make sure you get it into your planner and make the necessary arrangements to take off from work or get a babysitter for younger children. Never assume that your child won't get an award or participate in a project; keep your schedule as flexible as possible around any possible event. Also, if your child is in elementary school, you might want to find out early on if the school offers opportunities for you to volunteer in the classroom, and plan ahead if you're interested. The more years your children are in school, the easier it will become for you to review the school calendar and know what dates and times to enter into your planner.

  • Talking about school. Your child needs an adult to talk with about school situations—both the good and the bad. Make sure your schedule and your student's schedule have room in them for these conversations. This time may be as simple to find as talking with your student when you pick her up at school to take her to a music lesson, or you may find that you need to do a little more planning.

  • Setting aside time for homework. The amount of time the student needs to set aside for homework will depend on how much the teacher is assigning (which may depend on the student's grade level) and how long the individual student takes to do it. The family can help by scheduling homework time into the family's planner. You can't realistically expect a student—especially a young student—to concentrate on a homework assignment if the rest of the family is doing something that he finds more alluring, such as having a water fight in the backyard or eating fresh-baked cookies.


If you live in an area that has year-round school, then slot the school's annual administrative requirements and your family's “back-to-school” shopping into the breaks between terms that are most appropriate to your school's calendar.

To do list

  • Create a visual representation of time for your young student

  • Show your student how to break down long-term projects into reasonably sized steps

  • Choose planning tools with your student to keep track of chores and school work

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