Back in 2020 when the world went on pause, we saw a massive decrease in structure. Schedules were wiped clean of any obligations, games, practices, and extracurriculars in general, leaving wide open spaces on many calendars. For some, it was relaxing at first. It was a reason to step back and take inventory of what was important and what could take a backseat. However, as time went on, it became apparent that too much free time was detrimental for many people, whether socially, mentally, emotionally, or physically.

People with children in school see this phenomenon on a smaller scale as well during winter breaks, spring breaks, and summer breaks. Without structure, kids can get restless and unproductive, which often leads them to act out in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise. On the other hand, too much structure can be detrimental as well. When kids’ schedules are too rigid, there is no room for creativity, hobbies, or self-expression. Finding a balance of structure is one of the best things you can do as a parent.

Structured family time is a great way to grow closer as a family and learn more about one another. If you feel like you need more structure in your home and you’re not sure where to start, use these three tips to start structuring your family time and maximizing it to your advantage.

1. Schedule Family Time and Free Time

Whether you consider yourself a “go with the flow” type of person or a planner, keeping a loose schedule can help you structure your life as well as your kids’ lives. Kids thrive with schedules and structure, so this will benefit them as well. Schedule out your family time and free time so your kids know when it’s happening. This will help in more ways than one—first off, they won’t be surprised when you announce that you’re having a family night right after they make plans with their friends.

Second, if they know when family time is happening, they will be less likely to try getting out of it because they knew in advance that it was on their schedule. In general, they’ll be happier about the family time because they will be expecting it. There are exceptions to this, especially with teenagers, but your efforts will be worthwhile and leave a lasting positive impact.

In addition, scheduling free time will give your kids the opportunity to do the things they find interesting. They can use this time to be with friends, develop a talent, participate in a hobby, or do something creative. Or, if they’ve had a long couple of days, they can take this time to unwind. Having structured free time will give them a sense of freedom while encouraging productivity.

2. Plan Activities Everyone Enjoys

If you have multiple kids, chances are they don’t have all the same hobbies or interests. This is one reason many families shy away from structured family time. No one wants to do the same thing, everyone complains, and it becomes easier to let everyone be on their own. However, if you plan out your family time correctly, differing hobbies and interests can actually be a huge benefit.

Your family time doesn’t always have to surround an activity—it can simply be a meal together around the table, a family game night, or a movie night. If you do want to plan some activities, planning them around your kids’ interests is a fun way to bring everyone together and learn more about one another. If one child is into painting, have a family painting night. If your other child is into baseball, have a family baseball game the next week. Taking turns trying out each others’ hobbies is a fun way to bond and learn new things.

3. Start a Google Calendar

If you don’t have a family Google Calendar, now is the time to start one. Especially with the new year approaching. Each family member can have a designated color, and you can put everyone’s activities, meetings, commitments, and obligations in one place. That way, you can see when everyone is free and physically schedule in your family time and free time. Everyone can see it, it’s easy to use, and no one will question what’s happening and when.

If you have older children, create a Gmail account for them and allow them access to the full calendar as well. This will give them a sense of responsibility, and it will be helpful for them to see the full schedule with their busy lives. If you have small children who don’t know how to read yet, both parents having access to a Google Calendar is a great way to stay on the same page and stay organized.

If you like these tips and want to learn more about structuring your family time, you can listen to the Not By Chance podcast with Tim Thayne. This episode has many more tips on how to make the most out of your family time and become stronger than ever.