My family life went through a huge change this year when my two sons both entered new schools. Those schools are in different directions, neither is close to our house and going into the year, we knew just a handful of families between the two.
Both boys are discovering things they love and are flourishing in their activities. And … every time they want to try something new, I have to figure out how to get them there and back.
We moved back to Sarasota, Florida, almost three years ago, but we don’t know a ton of other families. As the kids grow up, we’re finding it harder to really get to know the parents of their friends, or even have an idea who the other parents involved in something are. (Side note: Remember when schools published directories with everyone’s contact info? Whatever happened to that?)
I don’t have a village. I have many thoughts about why that is and what needs to be done about it. But I’m trying to be proactive about filling some specific voids. And one void is that I feel alone when it comes to transporting my kids. My husband has a job that doesn’t allow him any daytime flexibility, and I work at home. So when Thing One wants to stay after school for History Bowl practice (But Mom! Think of all I’ll learn!) or Thing Two wants to be in the spring musical (Mom, I told the teacher I could practice any day of the week. That’s okay, right?), I block out time on my work schedule to drive back and forth.
Sometimes the activities aren’t optional. Thing One’s mandatory freshman band camp last summer involved a midday pickup. When my travel interfered with that, I had to email a few parents I hardly knew from his middle school and basically beg for help.
All year, as I’ve waited in car line after car line, I’ve wondered where all those other parents lived and if they could use a little help, too.
So I turned to one of my favorite work tools, came up with a system, and pitched it to the middle school musical theatre teacher. It worked like a charm, and next year I’ll put it to use with the high school marching band of 200+ kids.
If you want to coordinate (formally or informally) with other parents, all you need is their email addresses and a google account.
1. Create a Google Form.
Google Forms are really intuitive, but here’s a how-to just in case. Think about what information you need to collect: address, parent name, kid name, contact info, etc. I like to also ask who will be doing the driving. If a teenage sibling will be driving and other families wouldn’t feel comfortable with that, it’s easier to get it out of the way ahead of time. Here’s a sample form I created.
2. Send the form out to the families.
It’s a good idea to share the form through official communication channels if it’s part of an organized activity (school, soccer, church, etc.). Have the organizer send it through whatever email list or app is most often used. It’s more likely to get seen that way, I think. That doesn’t mean the school is organizing it, just that they’re enabling parents to connect with each other. Make it clear that it’s optional. Some people won’t feel comfortable sharing their address and phone number (or their kid!) with people they don’t know. No problem. This is for people who are.
3. Watch the responses roll in.
From the edit view of the form, select responses. Click the green button shown below to create a spreadsheet from the responses.
4. Create a Google map.
Creating a Google map is pretty darn simple. Here are instructions. On your blank map, click Add Layer, and import the spreadsheet you created in Step 3. You can bring it in straight from Google Drive. If you want to delete or hide columns that don’t need to show on the map, feel free.
During the import process, you’ll be asked which column should be used to position the placemarks. Choose the street address. You’ll also be asked which column to use to title each mark. I’d choose either the kid or parent name.
You’ll end up with a geographic look at all the participating families. Clicking on a placemark will bring up that family’s info.
5. Share it back with the families.
Under the title in the top left, click on Share. Paste in the email addresses of everyone who’s participating. Make sure the settings show that the map is available only to the people you share it with, to prevent everyone’s personal info from getting published widely. Select “only specific people can access” and “prevent editors from changing access and adding new people.” After sharing, you’ll likely get a few requests to have access from new email addresses, as people realize they use a different address for Google than the one they gave you. I’d recommending verifying who they are before granting access.
That’s it. Let them do the rest.
I haven’t actually coordinated anyone’s rides except my own. This is a discovery tool — a way for people to know who lives near them. It’s up to them if they want to talk on the phone or meet in person before sharing rides. It’s up to them if they share rides regularly or just keep phone numbers as backup in case of an emergency. For musical theatre this spring, I found three families who live or work within a few miles, and each of us basically drove a quarter of the time. Taking three other kids added probably 30 minutes to the drive home. But for each time I did that, I gained an hour of work time on another day while I waited for someone else to drop Thing Two at home. The four of us created shared calendar events that said who was driving when, but we really relied on text messages to coordinate and confirm each day’s plan.
For Thing One, who doesn’t start driving for another year, the fall will bring a new marching band season and all the related practices. The school is a 40-minute round trip from my house, and 200+ kids will need to be dropped off at the start of a weekly two-hour evening practice and picked up two hours later. Why should that dictate my family’s schedule every Tuesday evening? I, for one, can’t wait to line up some help.