Activity Tetris

Parents of larger families often get the wide-eyed “how do you do it?” question. My usual answer is that zero to one is the lifestyle change. Everything else is just more juggling.

Of late, however, in dealing with the children’s schedules, I’ve been considering a different metaphor: Tetris.

In this beloved video game, various shapes — all composed of four blocks — fall from the sky. You turn the shapes and move them to fit them together. If you find the right spot and create a full row, the row disappears. If not, the pieces stack up and when they reach the ceiling — game over.

Anyway, this week I’ve been playing what feels like Tetris with my children’s activity logistics. Theoretically, we should be able to set activities on certain days and then just follow the schedule. But in practice, things shift week to week, necessitating a new round of the game.

For instance, in any given week, we aim to get the 12-year-old and 10-year-old to swim practice twice. The 8-year-old goes once. The 8-year-old goes to karate twice; the 5-year-old goes once or twice, depending on how things are going. The 12-year-old has an online tutoring session. The 8- and 10-year-old have an (in home) music lesson. There is early morning choir for the 12-year-old twice a week and the 10-year-old has a morning Reading Olympics practice. I sing in my church’s choir, which meets once during the week and then on Sunday mornings.

These things generally occur at certain times. However, the 12-year-old is also in his school musical, with after-school practices that run to 4:15 or 5:15 p.m., and happen (usually) 1-3 times per week, on different days each week. This week we have the Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby, which requires checking in our cars on Friday evening in anticipation of the Saturday morning event. Both of these mean moving activities from their default times to other times.

The good news is that many of our activities do have other time options. Karate meets most days of the week; you choose which ones to go to. Same with swim. This makes Tetris (turn the piece by choosing Thursday instead of Tuesday!) possible. I spent some time this weekend creating what I have to say is a pretty pro-level round of Activity Tetris for this week, moving pieces such that everyone gets to go to their things — well, most of their things; it was not possible to get the 10-year-old to swim twice within the game’s parameters — with the bulk of the activities happening on days we have multiple drivers.

Of course, Activity Tetris does take time and mental effort. But I’ve decided it’s kind of fun when I do see it as a game like Tetris. Because it’s really not a big deal if someone doesn’t make it to swim practice some night (the Tetris pieces stack up). And I can celebrate those rows that zip away as everyone — including me — gets where we need to go.

Is your household playing Activity Tetris?

Photo: My rendition of the Tetris shapes…

15 thoughts on “Activity Tetris

  1. Yes, Tetris! Good thing I loved it as a teenager. And Pac-Man, which resembles chasing the kids for toothbrushing, mittens, getting in the car to Tetris-activities…

  2. I had a major tetris win last week when I found a time when 3/4 kids could go to Martial Arts despite being different ages and belt levels! I love when these things work out.

  3. We feel so lucky that our two children have judo and swimming lessons on the same time this season. Playdates often take some tetris time. But my eldest can safely bicycle himself home in our neighbourhood when it’s light outside. So I welcome the lengthening of the days.

  4. I let my 11-year-old buy an electric scooter and now he is thrilled to “drive” himself to lots of his activities. This is my favorite “mom hack” this year. Carpools are also great. It is a drag when it is your turn, but then you relax the other 4 or 5 times.
    I have recently double-booked some stuff (including an expensive mistake involving plane tickets) and now am nearly paranoid about checking the calendar…

  5. Oh yes! We’ve got two hockey players each complete with trainings/games for two teams. Driving alone is a game of Tetris, e.g. Tuesdays I pick up the daughter directly from school so the son can make it to his practice on time with the daughter having to wait 15-30 minutes at the rink before her presence is needed for her training.
    The advance level was in August, when pre-season ice trainings were at an indoor rink thirty minutes away often on Wednesdays — a day that I work and that the son has a private language class (weekly) and religious education class (more or less every other week). I’m always in envy when folks say their weekly planning happens in less than fifteen minutes — logistics for two kids means my planning takes a lot longer.

  6. I feel like I might be the odd-person out here (and Laura’s case is exceptional in that she has FIVE children, so there would be way more scheduling than I face with just 2), but I feel guilt over how FEW extracurriculars my children are in. I come from a family of 4 and we had almost no organized activities as kids (a smattering of sports, church participation, a bit of music) and all turned out to be relatively well-adjusted, high-functioning adults. In my circles, it seems like a given that all my children’s peers are in constant motion. While I agree that it takes lots of creative work to juggle various schedules (and Laura seems to be doing it very admirably), I know a lot of parents who are running ragged (emotionally, physically and financially) to keep the proverbial ball in the air. Could taking a step back from the Tetris game be something worth considering?

    I feel like the few events my kids do participate are exhausting enough. I can’t imagine doing it with a seemingly endless stream of lessons, performances and practices (not to mention the birthday parties…which I also am selective about attending)!

    1. I am in this same boat and have so much guilt that my two children are not involved in many extracurriculars. They each do one activity one day per week on the weekends. My husband and I are both teachers and we have two children. Ideally, teachers have awesome schedules, however we both tutor and work extra jobs because teacher salaries are just not enough to subsidize a family of four in NJ. We don’t have outside childcare, funds or the mental capacity to figure out extracurriculars. So far, they don’t realize what they are missing. I think I have more guilt about it than they do!

    2. @Elisabeth – I think different people have different levels of tolerance for activity. That’s not good or bad, it’s just different. Though yes, with 5 kids, there is going to be a lot of stuff, even if each particular kid doesn’t have too many things.

    3. I am in a same boat, we have two kids and each is doing one extracurricular activity per week (on Saturdays). I am also very selective about Birthday parties, because i need my time to get stuff done on the weekends. My husband and i both work 8-5 five days a week with no flexibility to work from home. and the kids are in the before-and-after school care from 7 am till 6 pm. I can’t imagine driving anywhere after we all got home at 6!

  7. I love this analogy Laura. It’s such a great visual to keep when the overwhelming feelings start to trickle in.

  8. I wrote down my 5 kids weekly activities and then deleted it because I think people would be horrified by all we do. I drive kids 27 places every week, plus to 4-5 irregular activities each month. Sometimes I think we’re overcommitted, but a couple kids are in an activities they participate in 5-6 times a week, 2 have developmental disabilities, so their activities provide supervised social opportunities for them, and I included weekly medical, occupational and physical therapy appts. Somehow we’ve kept Weds evening, Fri afternoon & evening and most of Sunday free. When my husband couldn’t drive for 3 months last Fall it about did me in, but mostly it works for us.

    1. @Caryn – I don’t think it sounds crazy – different families have different tolerances for activities, and as you pointed out, there are some extra benefits for your kids with special needs. We have likewise tried to keep Wednesday evenings free — it’s now our “Wednesday night homework club.” But yes, all that driving on your own would be tough!

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