My brother-in-law calls the hours of 4-6 p.m. on a weekday "vodka hour." He doesn't drink, he just has kids in school. Most of us have been there, or are there. Kids need help with homework, chauffeurs to drive them around, we need to tend to the baby, while fixing dinner and answering the phone. Crap hits the fan at our house during that time daily too. I'd go for a little vodka now and then just to get through those hours if I could, but I've seen what alcohol does so I settle for a large Diet Coke.
There is no easy way to organize all of the chaos that comes through the door during after school hours. Here's some random thoughts that may help.
1- Work with each kid one-on-one. Give them 10 minutes to go over their day, have you sign stuff, work out any issues, and prioritize homework. The other kids can grab a snack while they wait and start reading.
2- Each kid has a plan or a list. My house resembles a circus after school. I've got 5 tiny clowns all yelling over each other, getting frustrated, they are tired and hungry, backpacks and shoes thrown every where, folders scattered. I've found this year if they get in the habit of expecting one-on-one time, they are more relaxed. If they are waiting for me, they are engaged in something else productive. Type them a list of things to do each day and they will learn responsibility and self direction.
3- Have a system. Using either binders or folders have the kids put stuff where it goes. You should have a specific location for notes, homework, checklists and other "things to do" so you are aware of things going on at school or with activities. Read the notes from school every day. Ask your kids if they have anything for you and check bags if necessary. Experiment and find a system that works for you.
4- Dinner is my frustration. I know what I am making, but sometimes it doesn't get done. I love the Make Ahead Meal plan. One day a month I buy chicken, beef, pork, etc. and either cut it up for a specific recipe and/or marinate it. I also chop the veggies or other ingredients for the week so it's easier to pull a meal together while doing fifth grade math, spelling second grade words and assisting in reports on Marco Polo or Magellan. If you don't want to make it ahead find quick meal ideas and have a menu so you know what's in the house to make for a dinner. Remember, circus.
As winter approaches I am trying to master the crock pot so I won't have to be in the kitchen every night. The husband in this house also cooks one night and the older kids have a night to cook with me. This part of the plan is exhausting, but I am convinced if trained well, by the time they are 14 they will have a night they can cook by themselves, and I can relax....we'll see how it goes.
Maybe "vodka hour" won't be eliminated completely, but it may be toned down a little with some planning and rationale.