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Perfecting the Juggling Act: 7 Tips for Managing Kids at Different Schools

kids at different schools"
kids at different schools
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

I have two kids, ages 2 and 8. During the summer, our routine is easy. Our toddler goes to a full-time daycare center year-round, and during the summer our older daughter is there too for the school-aged camp. We can drop them off together and pick them up together and check just one app for all communications. We only need to keep track of one set of closure dates and one set of procedures.

During the school year though, it’s a completely different scenario. Our older daughter is at the local public school, while our toddler is still at daycare. So everything multiplies by two. Two different drop-off and pick-up times (and locations), two different methods of getting information, two different closure calendars, two sets of procedures, and so much more.

It’s a lot to mentally keep track of, but I’ve found some ways to make the chaos more manageable. Here are seven ways that I make the logistics work:


7 Tips for Managing Kids at Different Schools


1. Split drop-off and pick-up duties fairly

It’s so important to have a conversation with your co-parent or partner before the school year starts to iron out transportation logistics in detail. It’s a lot of time and energy for one parent to do drop-off and pick-up each day, especially when it means going to multiple locations. That person doesn’t get any time to deal with work overflow, appointments, personal errands, or trying to fit in a workout.

Before school starts, review both parents’ schedules and determine how to split up the driving duties as fairly as possible. In our household, I do drop-offs for both girls and my husband picks them up in the evening. This means that he can start his workday earlier while I’m still driving around and can then wrap his day up earlier. I can end my workday later if needed or use the time that he’s doing pick-up to run an errand. The busyness of the morning is worth it knowing I have some flexible time in the afternoon.

Another option for splitting duties (in a scenario with just two different schools) is that one person does drop-off and pick-up for one location and the other does the same for the other location. This means that neither the morning nor the afternoon time commitment is quite as long. Parents can also go back and forth with who does drop-off and pick-up each day so that each person sometimes gets the benefit of more time in the morning and sometimes gets the benefit of more time in the afternoon.

Finding a fair split might take some time and shifting of people’s schedules but it’s worth it. I used to do all of the driving duties when we just had one child because my work location was in a more convenient spot, but I eventually burnt out from never having a buffer at the beginning or end of the day. Don’t be like me. Have the conversation about splitting duties up front—although I acknowledge my privilege in having a partner while sole single parents don’t have this option.


2. Set up a carpool if you can

At our public school, we live too close to the building to be eligible for a bus, but we’re too far for kids to be able to walk alone safely. That means a lot of people are driving in the same direction every day from our neighborhood to the school. During my older daughter’s kindergarten and first-grade years, we set up a carpool with neighbors where we traded off weeks of driving. It was great to only have to worry about the dreaded car line every other week, but it was tough to manage the mornings when someone was running late or if one family’s schedule changed. 

When that family moved away before second grade, we decided not to set up another carpool so we could just run on our own morning schedule, but we have had some conversations with neighbors about driving each other’s kids in a pinch when needed, which we sometimes might have to take each other up on when dealing with the schedules of multiple schools. Even if you’re not planning on regularly carpooling, I encourage everyone to at least set up backup plans for when it might be needed.


3. Be a calendar master

Once you know all relevant dates like closures, late or early releases, conferences, graduations, etc. reflect them on your family calendar or in your planner immediately. I like to use two different colors for the two different schools so I can easily differentiate the schedules. I then review to find any dates with scheduling conflicts that I might need extra support on, and I work on those backup plans immediately.



4. Use a productivity method like time-batching for reviewing school communications

One thing no one prepared me for about parenthood was how much paperwork it would require. There are different sets of registration forms, due at different times. Different online systems to register for school conferences, submit absences, etc. There are different field trip permission slips, dates for picture day, handbooks to sign, payment portals to use, and so much more.

For all of this information that’s thrown at me regularly, I do the same time-batching concept that I use when dealing with work emails. I go through all paperwork that was sent home in their backpacks on Fridays at one time, and I deal with any resultant tasks at that same time as well (like sending back a picture day order or putting a birthday party on the calendar) instead of letting them linger and get forgotten about. 

I also attempt to deal with all emails that come in during the week at once over the weekend. When I initially get the email, I browse it quickly to see if there’s anything I need to do urgently, and if there isn’t I flag the message for later. I go through all the flagged messages at one time over the weekend and deal with any responses required, forms to fill out, and information to reflect on my calendar or shopping list at one time.


5. Have an efficient way to keep important information and useful links organized

There is a lot of documentation to refer back to throughout the year that can get lost in the shuffle if you don’t have a clearly identified place to store it. There’s information on who is responsible for snacks and on which week and what the nutrition guidelines are, charts of contact information, and a calendar of school spirit days. There are also a variety of links for checking grades and paying for lunches and activities.

I have an email folder for all of this pertinent school information with subfolders for each school. Items I frequently refer back to are printed and in our “family command center” where I keep the calendar. I also bookmark all links on my browser with the passwords saved. (Otherwise, I know I’d be resetting the password every time I need to go back in and add more school lunch money.)


6. Perfect your morning and nighttime routine

In the summer we can be a little looser with our routines because in the morning we just have to accommodate driving to one place. But during the school year, there is no time to waste. The grade school starts at 7:55 and I also need to have the toddler ready for that drop-off as well so we can go to her school right after. Having a set morning and evening routine is so important to make sure we’re all out the door with what we need and with breakfast already in our bellies.

The evening before, I always review what’s going on the next day at school so I can make sure to have anything extra set by the door, like if specific gear is needed for a field trip. I make sure I know who is having school lunch and who needs lunch from home, and I also have my oldest daughter pick out her clothes before going to sleep (and after reviewing what’s going on that next day so she can pick her outfit accordingly- like if she needs to be wearing gym shoes for PE day or a specific outfit for a theme day.)


7. Focus your evening priorities

Don’t force yourself into busy evenings running around to different practices and rehearsals after long weekdays if you don’t have to. There’s a temptation to keep up with putting your kids in a variety of clubs and activities because it seems like everyone else is. But if the activities aren’t something your kids really enjoy, the extra running around just isn’t worth it. We attempt to limit our afterschool activities to one (and never more than two) at a time so that we have free space on our calendar. I want my oldest daughter to learn how to commit to something and follow it through, so I always make sure she is signed up for something regularly, whether it’s dance, gymnastics, or art, but we make a point to not overdo it.

No matter how organized you are, there will be some craziness to having kids at different schools. But with a framework for organizing all of the information coming to you from different places, it can be a manageable endeavor. 

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