It wasn’t too long ago that I had one son in high school, one in primary school, two in another primary school, and my youngest in preschool. Complicating matters, all four schools were in different towns!
Here are my top tips in case you find yourself in a similar situation.
Kids at different schools? 9 tips to make it easier
Make yourself as redundant as possible.
In our house, this means equipping the older boys with bus passes and inexpensive phones. They also get Band-aids, ibuprofen, umbrellas, and just enough cash to cover the unexpected raffles or bake sales that crop up like weeds every season.
The younger boys keep spare hats, rain ponchos, and “emergency” muesli bars at the bottom of their bags.
Encourage personal responsibility
If one of my children forgets his backpack, I’ll do an extra trip to deliver it; however, missing hats are not my problem. Our schools have always had a “No hat, no play” philosophy and spending recess watching everyone else run around has proven very effective in teaching individual kids to be more mindful of belongings.
Of course, if a child is conscientious 99% of the time, I’ll cut him some slack on an off day. The same goes for a bout of anxiety. But exceptions aside, it’s natural consequences all the way.
Build a tribe of fellow parents
Doing multiple drop-offs doesn’t leave a lot of time for chatting at the school gate. It can be tough getting to know other parents, particularly once children are older and organizing their own lives.
Volunteering is a great way to connect. Alternatively, if you’re attending an event, turn up ten minutes early and talk to the person beside you. See if anyone wants to grab a coffee when you’re spending your weekend on the birthday party circuit. Keep putting yourself out there, even if it feels slightly awkward.
At the very least, this gives you someone to call when you’re running late to pick-up. Really invest yourself, and you might make some genuine friends while you’re at it.
Get to know teachers and staff
My husband and I make a point of introducing ourselves to teachers and telling them a little bit about our family at the start of every school year. It helps contextualize our kids’ behaviour, explaining why, for example, our five-year-old might be more inclined to play with the ten-year-olds he’s known since birth than a mob of kindergarteners he just met.
I also let teachers know if something stressful happens at home, such as a relative being hospitalized, so they don’t have to guess why a child seems tired or teary. This doesn’t take a monologue or essay—just open channels of communication and a quick word as needed.
Schedule a time for paperwork
Hands-down, the hardest part of having kids spread across schools is the never-ending paperwork.
Not only does every note come home on paper, we get email copies as well. Then there’s a ping from the corresponding app; at last count, I had eight apps for five kids, plus four group chats and three Facebook pages to follow!
In the early days, I would sit at my desk like a switchboard operator desperately trying to keep up. Now, I peek at things as they come in, but only fill out forms, make payments, and sign things once a day. This makes it easier to discount duplicate information and helps avoid scheduling conflicts.
Pick a system. Any system
Figure out what’s best practice for you and maintain it.
I am old school and like pen on paper and a big wall calendar with Post-It notes so I can track everybody’s movements at a glance. Perhaps you prefer to keep a digital diary that you can access from any device and sync with a partner or other family members.
There’s no such thing as the perfect system. There is only the perfect system for you. Decide how you’re going to get organized, spend some time setting things up, and then stick with your decision long enough to make it work.
Choose your commitments
It isn’t possible for me to attend everything my kids are involved in, especially towards the end of the year when there seems to be a special performance or assembly every hour.
What I do is invite each child to pick the events where my presence matters most. Maybe this means skipping the annual Athletics Carnival and going to Friday interschool games instead; the stakes may be lower, but the team gets a cheerleader, and I get some good photos without anyone blocking my view.
The important thing is being there for kids when it counts in their eyes.
Know when to outsource
It is your job as a parent to ensure your child’s needs are met. Nowhere in the guidebook does it say you have to meet all those needs yourself.
If you work full-time, you’re already familiar with the concept of hired help. I’m a stay-at-home mother, but that doesn’t mean I’m at my family’s beck and call 24/7. The older my kids get, the choosier I become about where I put in face time.
I’ve taught Ethics, helped with kindergarten literacy, and run poetry workshops, among other things. These activities capitalize on my individual skills, and I can see how my effort adds value. I have zero interest in stitching sponsorship badges onto sports uniforms, so I leave that to someone else, paying when required.
Lower your expectations
Even if you’re a professional events planner, you will mess up when it comes to coordinating your family’s timetable. Just ask me about the time I dropped three of my kids off at school on a pupil-free day…
Your kids will mess up too, sending you out at 10 PM on a Monday evening to buy a folder they cannot live without for Tuesday, only to leave the folder sitting on the kitchen counter come Tuesday morning. Mistakes like this will cost you time and money; don’t let them take your sanity too.
Organisational skills are a constant learning curve for all of us. Keep plugging away, and model resilience so that everyone can cope when plans inevitably fall apart.
Nothing is easy about juggling multiple schools, but with forward thinking and flexibility, it is doable. When all else fails, remind yourself it’s a situation that usually only lasts for a couple of years tops; eventually, at least some of your kids will overlap. In the meantime, just do your best!