Three times a week they take karate. That's their favorite class. But the 12-year-old boy also loves football. And the 10-year-old girl also loves soccer. He likes wrestling, too. And they both ski, of course. But those things don't happen until winter.

Their mom is not worried about wrestling and skiing right now. Right now, she's only trying to figure out how they are going to survive the fall. Because in addition to soccer, football and karate, they've got piano lessons. (Which they'd both like to quit, but mom won't let them.)And her son needs a French tutor. And her daughter needs speech therapy. And he wants to try debate. And she wants to take a photography class with her best friend. She's also thinking about the flute and he's talking guitar.

The main thing they've got to do is get organized, the mom says. Because once school starts and she's driving all those car pools, the kids will have to change clothes in the car and do their homework at each other's games and practices. There's going to be no time to go home after school. They've got to have all their uniforms and all their books in the back seat.

They both love drama, too. They just can't be in a play this fall, their mom says. Maybe in the spring. At least her husband isn't working Saturdays anymore. They are going to need both parents and both cars on Saturday mornings because the kids will each have a game at a different place at the same time.

And while she's on the subject of their fall schedule, the mom reminds herself to have a talk with the mom of her daughter's best friend. That mom refuses to let her child go to slumber parties, which are held regularly on Friday nights, and which is the only time, other than recess, that the girls are all free to get together.

That's the girls' special time and it kind of sums up what it means to be a small kid with a big schedule. On Friday from 8 p.m. to midnight is really the only time you have to play.

Children need time to do nothing, says Stephanie Williams, a social worker at Eisenhower Junior High. "On the other hand, some kids have too much time to do nothing." Unsupervised kids, with too much free time, tend toward trouble, she says.

If your children are compulsive - wanting to fill their every moment with something important - the stress can get to be too much, Williams says. They can become depressed.

A psychologist at Primary Children's Medical Center, Cheryl Kuehne says she not only sees kids in over their heads, but parents, too, who feel overwhelmed by their chauffeuring career.

She agrees that fall is a good time to get organized. However, she advises starting with a blank calendar.

Call a family meeting, she says. Talk about what everyone would like to do and figure out how much of it fits with family and school priorities.

As parents, you know how many hours of homework your children will have each night. You know how far the family budget and your nerves can stretch. You know what time you get off work, what time their practices start.

So, start with an empty calendar and the family gathered around the dining room table. Then fill in the non-negotiables. For some families, church youth activities are most important, Kuehne says. "And then the parents say, `You can choose one other thing besides church.' "

For some, piano lessons are a must. If they have a required activity that they don't enjoy, they ought to be able to have an elective, too, she believes.

But how many electives?

If you have one child and two parents, your child can probably take several classes or sports. If there are five children and one parent, you'll be doing well to let everybody have one after-school activity.

And what about over-sched-ul-ing? What if you find that you can, financially and logistically, accommodate six different activities for each child?

Resist the temptation. Keuhne says, "Start slowly. Be successful with one activity before you add another."

Some kids thrive on a busy, hectic pace. Others feel stress because they are overprogrammed. Some may welcome any number of classes and sports, but neglect their homework because of it.

"I think it depends on the personality of your child and your personality,' Kuehne says.

Don't forget that families need time together and that many children are overwhelmed by school alone. Don't worry that you aren't giving your child enough opportunities to excel in enough areas. Kuehne says she's seen children burn out on everything when they do too much.