time management tips for families

A Balanced Day: Easy Tips to Teach Kids Successful Time Management

Helping our Children Thrive: Lessons on Molding & Managing Time  

Like the start of the new calendar year, the commencement of the academic year is an opportunity to set goals and revise habits. Amidst the chaos of school supply shopping, it is important we step back into an academic mindset and focus on helping our children thrive.  

Year after year, in conversations with students, parents and education colleagues, time management reveals itself as something people want to improve. I have learned to acknowledge that time is not on my side.

Time is in my hands, and it is my responsibility to mold her wisely. It’s an important perspective for children to internalize, and it has proven essential to our family’s time management success.  

Here, I share some time management practices our family has found helpful and some apps that might keep those feelings of “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date” at bay.  

Scheduling for Success  

During the early stages of working on my Ph.D., a mentor encouraged me to protect my writing time by putting it on the calendar like I would any other meeting.

This nugget of wisdom proved important, and I learned its applicability to family life. Our oldest child is a rising kindergartener, but even pre-school students have homework and need time to practice the concepts and skills they learn in school.

With an active toddler in the house, and a spouse with erratic work hours, I found myself at a loss for time to sit and focus on academics with our preschooler.

If I couldn’t find time for a weekly homework assignment, how were the next 13 school years going to work? As an educator, I felt ridiculous for being incompetent with our daughter’s academic time.  

Enter shared calendars.

Logistically, our family relies on calendar sharing. All professional commitments, social and extracurricular events, and health and wellness appointments are typed in and shared.

In real time, we see our family’s schedule evolve. It finally dawned on me that, given our reliance on shared iCals, I should schedule protected, academic time for our daughter. I sat down, looked at the big, monthly picture, and then the smaller, weekly ones, and scheduled academic time.

Since a challenge in our family was keeping the toddler entertained (read, safe) while working with the preschooler, I needed to find a weekly, thirty-minute-periods when (a) the toddler could be cared for and (b) our daughter would be as mentally fresh as possible.

Considering when those sweet spots of mental freshness occur takes thought; but, investing the up-front time to consider your unique constellation of factors minimizes future frustration and supports productive academic time. Formally scheduling the time also creates accountability.  

Mindful Multitasking  

While sustained periods of protected academic time are essential, it’s also important to recognize the need to multitask. We need to teach our children how to effectively multitask so that it is not a haphazard, scatterbrained endeavor. First, a few important points.

  1. Children need to learn that, sometimes, it’s important and necessary to simply sit and wait.
  2. Children need to feel that, sometimes, it’s important and necessary to simply sit and be.
  3. In teaching time management and multitasking, we must ensure we don’t create an undercurrent of anxiety. 

From a young age, my parents taught me to turn idle time on its head and use pockets of time wisely. While waiting for ballet to begin, I learned to complete assigned reading.

My disciplined relationship with time is now evident in my work ethic and how I introduce Father Time to my children.  

Keeping a collapsible cube in my car has helped multitasking efforts. It’s stocked with a variety of writing utensils and papers, allowing us to stuff pockets of time with productivity. Smart phones and tablets also help us multitask.

While a sibling is in an extracurricular lesson, educational apps can support learning. Accounting for realistic expectations regarding how long a preschooler can remain calm and focused on academics, these spaces of time worked. For us, they proved ideal for working on speech with Articulation Station.

I am confident that teaching our children to have productive relationships with time, and thoughtfully multitask, will help them thrive through their academic years and beyond.  

Relationships First  

As parents we are, undeniably, our child’s first and most important teachers. Still, the dynamic differs from the one they share with a classroom teacher.

When my daughter and I sit to practice sight words, she doesn’t care that I have a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. I’m just mom.

And while we don’t stop the first time she shows frustration, as I’m also committed to teaching tenacity, there are times when, after 15 minutes, I’ve had to recognize that stopping is a better choice than stressing.

We all have our moments and, as the parent-teacher, I need to respond and adapt appropriately. To, too and two can wait. The expectations set for academic time with our kids must be individualized, realistic and malleable.  

Holding to the perspective that time is in our hands, let this academic year be one during which we show our children, through example and direct instruction, how to shape time so that we can accomplish our goals and still have much needed spaces of time for play.  

Time Management Friendly Tech 

  • Learn how to share your iCal
  • Create different labels & color codes for added organization  
  • App to support family time management: Cozi (free) 
  • Sites to support family time management: Famjama (free); Two Happy Homes (suggested donation)  

Organization to Support Time Management  

  • Keep an expandable folder for each child 
  • Use individual, labeled filed folders within it 
  • Keep in easily accessible space to promote use 
  • Wipe-erase calendar that you can update as a family  
  • Use butcher paper to create monthly calendars  
  • Incorporate stickers
  • Create countdowns to help children understand concept of time
  • Have family members share notes across Apple devices

Originally published in August 2019. Updated in July 2022.