With six kids, two dogs, and a cat, there is always a lot going on in the Carpenter household. Add in the challenges that winter brings and it’s a wonder they’re able to manage the chaos. But they do—and quite well.

Chad and Allison Carpenter met at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The pair married in 2003 and moved to Rapid City a couple of years later; Allison is a South Dakota native, and Chad wanted to live someplace where he could take advantage of his passion for mountain biking. The Black Hills fit the bill perfectly. After graduating from dental school, Chad purchased the practice of Dr. Tom Udager, who was retiring, and opened Carpenter Dental in Rapid City. Allison earned a Fine Arts degree in Individualized Studies in Biology & Art before turning her attention to nursing. After graduating with a BSN, she took a job as an OR Circulating Nurse at Black Hills Surgery Center. Nowadays, she spends most of her time caring for the couple’s children: Elaina (13), Jack (10), Nicholas (9), Henry (7), George (5), and Evelyn (19 mos.). Make no mistake about it; that’s a full-time job in itself.

Like all families, the winter months can be chaotic for the Carpenters. Between preparing for the holidays, winter break, snow days, and extracurricular activities, managing such a large household requires time, energy, and patience. But Allison and Chad have a few tricks up their sleeves.

“Kids can be incredibly creative. Give them the time and space and a few tools and they can come up with great entertainment on their own,” Allison says. “Sometimes I will catch myself trying to find something to keep them entertained and that can start to get exhausting, especially on long breaks from school. The kids may complain that they’re bored, but a few minutes later, if I stay out of their way, they’ll come up with something really great on their own. Those creative activities oftentimes end up being the most rewarding for them.”

Chad acknowledges that having a lot of space helps. Not only are there plenty of nooks and crannies to explore inside—including a wallpapered hideout beneath the stairs that would appeal to Harry Potter—there’s a lot to do outdoors, as well. A fire pit on their property allows them to build campfires, even in the winter months. If the weather is simply too cold and snowy, there’s an art studio above the barn adjacent to their house. The kids retreat there to paint, work on arts and crafts projects, play cards, listen to music, or play with Hot Wheels—there’s a whole station set up for the miniature cars. Elaina is often the ringleader, encouraging her younger siblings to join in fun activities when boredom begins to set in.

Family time takes precedence in the Carpenter household. “I’ve re-prioritized my life,” Chad says. “The things that used to be important to me, such as competitive bike racing, just aren’t anymore. I’ve made a commitment to be home with the kids as much as possible. When you’re together, you can really impact their upbringing.” Traditions are an important part of the holiday season; the family enjoys carving pumpkins, decorating for Christmas, and baking cookies. Lots of cookies.

This doesn’t mean Chad and Allison never get time to themselves. They try to schedule a date night once a month, even if that means simply heading down to the basement, closing the door, pouring themselves a drink, and talking.

One thing that separates the Carpenters from many other families is the lack of organized activities such as sports, and that is by design. “Don’t feel pressured to have your kids in too many activities,” Chad advises. “We have time to be spontaneous because we aren’t tied down with activities.” That spontaneity might involve a trip to WaTiki Indoor Waterpark or Evan’s Plunge, a Rush hockey game, ice skating at Main Street Square, a getaway to Deadwood, or simply catching a movie. There’s boating and fishing in the summer months, skiing and pheasant hunting in the winter. The Carpenters aren’t completely against structured activities; Elaina plays tennis, Jack is in a running club, and all the kids have piano lessons. But at the end of the day, there’s much less stress without a full calendar. 

Allison has some advice for parents worried about keeping their kids occupied during the hectic winter months. “Go with the flow,” she says. “It’s the only way to maintain sanity. Don’t get worked up about chaos. It’s inevitable.”