Finding an evening routine that works

IMG_0189Long time readers know that finding a good evening routine has been a work in progress since my now 8-year-old was born. At first it was about filling the long hours until my night owl child felt tired enough for bed. These days I am trying to figure out how to make all the puzzle pieces created by 4 kids fit together. Here is what we are currently doing.

Monday, the 8-year-old swims 5:30-6:30. P brings him, and I take the other 3 kids with me to pick him up. If my husband is home, he will go get him. If it is just me in the evening, I feed the 6-year-old and 4-year-old from 6-6:20, then we do the swim run (it is only 8 minutes away). I feed the 8-year-old upon return, a re-heated version of whatever the other kids had. (P feeds the baby at 5:45 pretty much every night). I tend to eat later.

Tuesday, the 8-year-old and 6-year-old have piano from 5:15-6:15, at the house (mercifully). I feed the 3 big kids and myself (plus husband if home) after.

Wednesday, the 4-year-old has art from 3:15-4:15. The 8-year-old has drama club until 5:15. I usually go get him, do a tiny bit of work after, then feed the kids and me (plus husband if home) at 6.

Thursday is swim for the 8-year-old again. See repeat of Monday. (The 4-year-old, incidentally, has ballet, but that is during the day, so it does not affect the evening routine).

Friday the 6-year-old has Lego Club until 4:45. I cover Fridays so generally I bring the other kids to go get him. Then we come home and all eat together when my husband gets back.

The question is when to fit in the other things that need to get done. The 8-year-old and 6-year-old need to practice the piano. They are not quite up to doing the 30 minutes most days I know they eventually should get to. Right now I am happy to get 10-15 minutes, 4 times per week.

Then there is homework. We had a bit of an incident last night when I checked what the 8-year-old had done. I know he is capable of doing a great job but this definitely needed some work. I think I need to start supervising this a lot more closely. I do not like the idea of supervising homework as I want my children to take ownership of their own learning, but it looks like this may be more of a process. It is one assignment a week (he gets it Monday, it is due on Friday), and will probably take about an hour total.

Both boys are supposed to be doing 15-20 minutes on Dreambox a few times (like 3) per week. The 6-year-old is also supposed to be doing a program called Raz Kids on reading and reading comprehension. I want the 8-year-old to be doing more reading in general, including some aloud to me so I can check thoroughness and comprehension.

I have started splitting baths/showers into two shifts. The older boys shower every other night and I give the baby and 4-year-old a bath together on the other night. The downside is that every night is bath night (well, unless I decide to skip it) but only dealing with 2 kids feels much more manageable than cleaning all 4.

It is difficult to do much active interaction with the older children while the 1-year-old is up. The good news is that he goes down pretty easy around 7:30. I usually give him a bottle around 7:15. Then I put him in his crib awake and he lets me leave the room without protest. The bad news is he has been waking up around 5 a.m. This morning it was 4:45. Blech. At least my husband is here this week so I tend to hand him over at 6:30 and go back to bed for 45 minutes.

In an ideal world I am getting the big kids their snacks at 8/8:15 and getting them up in their rooms for stories and teeth brushing by 8:30. The 4-year-old has lights out after her story (usually by 8:45). Then I read to the 6-year-old and put him in his room (with the sleeping baby) at 9. At some point the 8-year-old comes and chats with me while I am working or reading. I have no idea when he goes to bed. He still does not need much sleep. He can read in his room as long as he is quiet.

Anyway, no one individual child has a packed evening, but there are enough moving parts that I need to be supervising something much of the time. I know a lot of parents of older kids read this blog, as well as parents of bigger broods, so I would love to hear your suggestions for organizing the evenings to make sure everything gets done with a minimum of yelling.

In other news: Speaking of veteran parents, I am writing a Fast Company piece next week on time management tips from mega-families. If you have 5 or more kids and have a tip for keeping the trains running on time, I would love to hear it! As always, you can email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.

Photo: Wine can be part of an evening routine that works.

25 thoughts on “Finding an evening routine that works

  1. Given I have 1/2 the number of kids, I probably don’t have a lot of things to offer, but what works for us re: piano practice is to tell her to play her new song(s) 5x each and then an old song 3x. We do this daily, and upon suggestion of her teacher, call it “piano time” instead of “practice” to make it sound more fun. 😉

    From my own experience, it’s easier to do something a certain # of times than try to fill the space for a certain # of minutes. (My mandatory 20 min practice felt like ages, partially because I was always watching the clock!)

    I also recommend a book called The Learning Habit for their homework (non)-supervising strategy. It’s a great mix between teaching your kids to build the habit and become responsible for their work, without micromanaging.

    Can the older kids squeeze in their computer learning things (Dreambox, etc) during “waiting times” for something else, like a sibling’s lesson? We often take workbooks out to dinner for this reason – I can’t always make time for it at home but we may have 15 min to kill while waiting for food.

    I also have a chart for the girls with 8 things that need to get done after school/before they can have screen time (chores, piano, unpacking lunches, repacking lunches, putting away shoes and backpacks, etc.) They have to check these off with a whiteboard marker (I laminated it and stuck it on the fridge) and it works pretty well to make them a little more self-managing.

    1. @ARC- I think we may do a chart of some variety. I also have some chores I’d like the kids to start being responsible for. I am tired of emptying the dishwasher! But yes, the dream box stuff could definitely be switched off with piano practicing, or waiting for dinner or…

      1. Set chores help tremendously. My older daughter has dishwasher duty daily with no exception and my son is in charge of trash and cleaning out the microwave (my kids tend to “explode” things in there) and wiping down the counters daily. Then they alternate days with laundry folding and sweeping the kitchen and den area.

      2. I specifically re-organized our kitchen stuff so the kids can put away 90% of what goes in the dishwasher. I swapped the pots and pans from a low cabinet to a high cabinet and put all the dishes, bowls and plates that we use daily into that low cabinet. This weekend I removed the utensil caddy from the counter and stuck everything in a drawer they can reach. With the exception of sharp items and mugs, they can put away everything else. (I just don’t have a good spot for the mugs that they can reach.)

  2. So I am curious to know, this post reads pretty much as a description of the things you do to manage the evenings in your household, and those things you don’t need to manage/be involved in as much because (some of) your kids can manage them independently — in this description your husband appears pretty peripheral and/or uninvolved in the “doing.” It that because he is doing other things not included in the description? And is it a conscious decision on your (y’all’s) part, a matter of kid preferences, or what? I’m curious to know how these decisions get made, and patterns established.

    I’ve got no pointers to speak of, and indeed it is I who handle most of what you describe handling in our household (but with 1/4 the kids!), partly by choice (mine and our son’s) and partly not, though in the parts that are not I am working to effect change.

    1. @Alexicographer – that’s a good question. Partly it’s that I’m often on my own during the week — much travel. I am not happy about that but this is a longstanding issue and we have some ways of still splitting things. For instance, when I worked on Sunday, my husband took all 4 kids on an excursion from 7:30-6 p.m. I also have the option to hire a babysitter if I wish, and I may do more of that just to help with crowd control.
      The other is that I’m probably stricter and better at laying down the law on certain things. When we had the homework incident, for instance, I worked with the 8-year-old for an hour while my husband watched the baby and the other kids and got the baby ready for bed.

      1. Thanks, Laura, for your answer. The travel part sounds hard and is not something my household has to deal with at all, and I can certainly see where it would establish patterns & expectations that would be hard to shake up even on days/weeks when it’s not actually happening (assuming those exist). And I totally get the “stricter and better at laying down the law” part (I’d add ‘while also being sane and reasonable 🙂 ), me too!

  3. I think you are doing an admirable job considering all of the moving parts. I think it would be challenging to have a hard and fast schedule or routine with so many different activities. So, short of making the kids quit all of their activities I imagine there will always be a baseline level of chaos. It looks like everything is getting done though.

    I don’t know what mornings look like in your house but perhaps reading/Razkids/Dreambox could be shifted to the morning? Obviously, not if your mornings are already tight.

    Evenings are the roughest time of day in my house too and I only have 2 kids (but also have a husband who is not home to do evening stuff). There is a lot more juggling of things now that the kids are getting older (you know the ripe old ages of 6 and 4).

    Good luck!

  4. My kids are in high school. I had the benefit of having my husband home in the evening and two fewer kids, and I’d say you’re juggling everything pretty well.

    I felt like it wasn’t so much what had to be done in the evening that got me down, it was doing it with a “minimum of yelling” and nagging.

    I second the idea of having charts. I guess mine was more of a list – I didn’t try to get them to check off things and offer rewards if things were completed. The list served as more of a reminder because kids honestly forget things! I got sick of telling my kids of putting away their backpacks, giving me papers to sign, etc. so I had an after-school list and a before bed list. We built routines and eventually didn’t have lists. Eventually 🙂

    Other ideas:
    * Assign simple tasks to each child (like putting away the silverware, clearing the table, taking out the garbage.) It’s surprising how that made my life easier. Some of our favorite “family time” is still dinner prep and clean-up. We take turns picking songs on YouTube – my kids now appreciate the oldies and my husband can sing along to Taylor Swift (hilariously.)
    * Enroll the older kids in helping with the younger kids. To help sibling relations, I didn’t require it but I asked the older one if he would read to the younger one while I was making dinner. They bonded, I got things done… what’s not to like?
    * Combine tasks (when realistic.) Have the 6-year-old read aloud to you and the younger ones during bath time or while you prep dinner.
    * Ask your kids to help brainstorm solutions. You might be surprised at how much they will help if it’s their idea.

  5. As far as the homework, it gets better. Just when I thought there was no end in sight, my two older ones (who are now teens) became totally independent with it. They also began to develop their own study skills (evernote etc) and now require no assistance. When they do require temporary help (reviewing problems for a cumulative math exam) I pay another high school student who is a couple of courses ahead $15 per hour to handle that with them. They don’t need an adult professional tutor so a student seems to work just fine. Even better if you could find a student with an inexpensive rate who will come to your home. Just ideas!

  6. With half the number of kids as you, we still have these struggles, so I have no advice. The hardest part for me, is also trying to work around the kids’ moods/energy. There really is zero motivation to re-do homework that was completely misinterpreted at aftercare at 7:30 when I finally see it, and even reading a 4 page “book” leads to much grumbling by my 6 year old at 8:30. And our mornings are pretty tight, too.
    Its this kind of stuff that leads me to the “maybe I should work part time and have him come home at 3pm” kind of daydreams.

    1. Does your 6-yr-old really stay up till 8.30? Or do you mean in the morning? Mine need 11-12hrs a night or they’re super-grumpy (or I can’t get them up in the mornings)! Even teenagers need 10 hours (that’s why they lie in so late!)

      Maybe it’s just because my husband both like our 8hrs!

      1. @Katie- yep, at least 8:30. I have the 6-year-old in his bed by 9. He wakes up closer to 7:45/8 in the morning, so he is getting somewhere between 10.5-11 hours. Sleep needs vary by children/families. The 8-year-old truly does not need much sleep. I tend to average out somewhere between 7.25-7.5 hours/night over the week and that seems to be about right. My husband tends to get more like 6.5-7. So we are not on the high end genetically.

  7. I have children, ages 9 to 3. Afternoons into the evenings are by far the most challenging because no one day is the same. This in turn makes it difficult to establish habits and routines for things like practicing piano and regular reading. I am experimenting with moving things to the morning, which is also not easy because we have three different schools , each with different start times. But if I can make it work, it will be worth it, since right now I have to argue, plead, bribe them to do piano.

  8. Gosh that sounds busy! Here’s our routine for our 3- and 6-yr-old.

    Back from school/preschool around 3.40. Playing and TV till 5/5.30 while my husband cooks. Food at 5/5.30. At some point my eldest will practise piano (or in the morning before school) Upstairs for bath (most nights) at 6.15. Lights off for youngest at 7. The eldest can read books in bed till 7.30.
    While I like the idea of extra curricular stuff, gym and piano feel like enough for now for the 6yr old. And the youngest is tired after preschool. Swimming will return at some point too.

    I suspect our kids watch more TV than yours!

    P’s I keep trying to comment but WordPress just tells me my email is invalid and boots me out without saving my comment. Presumably it doesn’t like UK web addresses??

    1. @Katie – I don’t know! I manually approved the comment and now that you have been approved, hopefully the filter won’t get triggered again. Thanks for the comment – my kids do watch a lot of TV though:)

  9. I have no kids and thus cannot provide a first hand parental experience, but I spent my school years helping other kids with homework and tutoring, and I’m a teacher now, so I thought I’d chime in on that. I’m always surprised when I find out how much time parents spend with kids’ homework. It wasn’t as common in the country I grew up in, but kids whose parents were very involved took longer to become independent. If the homework is badly done, the student should deal with consequences which will help build independence and responsibility for ones’ actions. If the assignment was misunderstood, that is the teacher’s failing, and they should deal with it (I always take responsibility for such misunderstandings). If the student is struggling it might help to have him/her do homework with another student from class who is doing well. I did this a lot and found that in some cases my classmates didn’t know how to figure out things independently because their parents were always helping and checking and seeing if they did anything wrong. Doing it collaboratively with me helped in most cases. Sometimes a professional tutor was needed, but rarely. It is really more important to teach them how to handle problems and when to ask for help (asking “do you need help” should happen often, but saying “let me check it so see if I need to help you” should not). I teach at the college level and it is incredible how many 20-year-olds still expect that I will monitor how they are doing and if they need help. I found I need to make it clear that their performance is their responsibility, they can ask for help, they can ask questions, but I will not check in on them. For tougher assignments, I’ll make sure to put them in groups which produces so much better work than having them always work independently. So I guess my point is to help less with homework but make help available, and perhaps arrange homework dates to see if that helps. I started helping classmates with homework at age 7, so it’s never to early for this. And it should save a lot of time when all four of them eventually have homework.

  10. Having 2 children under 2 I cant really chime in with much advice…but here’s my twopence worth. It could help to combine some activites – for example could the older boy read aloud a story for the baby’s bedtime. He might like the idea of being in charge of story time, you can eavesdrop on the quality of the reading and you’d be getting the baby ready for bed anyway. Also not sure if the boys can shower unsupervised but maybe one practices piano for the duration of the other ones shower and then vice versa. I’ve never known a child to actively want to practice piano (I know i certainly didnt) so you’ll probably have to stay on top of that. I imagine developing a love of reading etc would be a priority in your house what with you being a writer… But the computer stuff.. Theyll probably have enough outside influence etc re computers so personally I wouldnt stress on that one. I also think the above comment from Morana is really interesting. Homework checking was not a thing when I was growing up in Ireland either although my parents were always available to help if I asked. However the problem about lacking independence seems to have developed in recent years so much so that there was an article in the paper from 3 rd level institutes complaining that they had students who were completely incapable of doing their work independently and even had their parents ring the professor for extensions or to complain that the assignment was too hard! Ha! I totally agree with Morana that its probably better if the child learns the consequences of badly done homework (this presuming that theyve a teacher who cares enough to follow up on that and a parent who will ensure that they dont truly fall behind while learning this independence lesson)
    Anyway…my point is I would totally agree with Morana on the homework supervision stance.

  11. I only have a 9 year old boy who is in two activities, so many fewer moving parts.
    Young kids only need to be bathed every other night- no more- your every other night pattern is a good plan.
    My son has karate Wed 5:20-6:16 and Sat 10-11; choir on Thurs 6-7:30,
    My husband only infrequently travels for work.

    Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of “running” you do weeknight evenings?
    If not, more power to you.

    I do check in with my son at the start of homework. I do peek occasionally and would point out subpar work, but now that he’s in 4th grade I try to take a step back. Schoolwork, reading, and enrichment sights really get stepped up as junior high approaches. As I tell him, schoolwork is always the priority.

    1. @Kim – it honestly doesn’t feel like a lot of running. I think that’s partly because I don’t go many places during the day, and all the activities are very close. The elementary school is about 5 minutes away and the swim club is 8 minutes away. And piano comes to us! We switched dance class places in part because I found driving to the Y 20 minutes away to be a total pain. The new place is closer to 10 minutes. But I think things may get busier with spring sports.

  12. With 7 kids and a plethora of activities, we’ve learned to utilize the crock pot a lot, have fresh fruit ready to grab for a snack, keep a bag of activities packed and ready in case we get stuck waiting. And all the kids (4 and up) are responsible for all of the gear they need for an activity. They typically only forget knee pads or shin guard once and I haven’t stressed about running around looking for anything in years.

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