It’s important to maximize after-school time with our kids in order to encourage free play time and enjoy quality time together as a family.
I stare down at her smooth skin, her blonde hair flowing across her shoulders, her eyes closed tightly, and I realize that even though she’s right here in front of me, I miss her.
This is the first time I’m seeing, truly seeing her today. The hours since she got home from school have been jam packed and overwhelming. Seeing her so still and peaceful makes my heart flutter a little bit faster.
As I’m tucking my kids into bed at night, I often think back over the day and wish I had been more intentional with the time we had together after school.
Watching them smile as we played a board game or card game.
Seeing the pride in their eyes over their latest art masterpiece instead of their eyes glued to a screen.
Squeezing their little hand in mine as we kick up fallen leaves during a walk after dinner.
My husband and I have made the intentional decision to send our kids to public school, so we accept that they are away from us for a good chunk of the day.
And as my kids are getting older, we’re also getting busier after school. We have soccer practice and dance class and church gatherings. The time can seem to slip right through our fingers.
So the hours when we are together are precious, I want to maximize after-school time to actually enjoy that time with my kids. I also want my kids to have time and space to reconnect with the family, and to benefit from playing and just being kids.
How To Maximize After-School Time With Your Kids
1. After School Snacks
As my kids stumble through the door after school, backpacks and shoes flying in all directions, the very first thing they need is a snack.
They’re hungry, right on the edge of being hangry, if we wait too long to eat.
In order to avoid the serious meltdowns and poor behavior that make me want to hide in my closet with chocolate, I give them a healthy snack to fill them up and fuel their bodies, as soon as they walk in the door.
I’ve found the best way to give my kids a snack is to just set it out on the table and let them discover and eat it on their own. When I ask them what they want for a snack it becomes too much of a struggle for them to make a decision.
So I usually set out fruits or veggies with a healthy dip. And they devour them all on their own!
But, a few nights a week we have the mad dash to get out the door to soccer practice or dance class on time. So we’ll grab a CLIF Kid Zbar® on our way out the door. These have become our go-to snack for fueling up on the go.
CLIF Kid makes nutritious snacks with organic ingredients that are perfect for active and growing kids. My kids love the delicious flavors and I love knowing they’re getting nutrients they need.
2. Free Playtime
We’ve avoided the blood sugar crash so we can all enjoy our time together for the rest of the evening. I want to encourage my kids to use their time for free and active play. I don’t want them to miss out on playing even though they’re in school for most of the day.
I’ve shared before about how I manage after school screen time for my kids. But after too many doors slamming when I’ve told my kids screen time is over, I’ve decided to discourage screen time as much as possible on weeknights.
It takes too much time away from other things we could be doing.
Time we could be enjoying together as a family.
Time my kids need to use to be active and playful.
With a little planning and creativity, we’ve established a good routine that will help my kids to be healthy and thrive throughout the school year.
- Playing outside. As often as the weather allows I get my kids outside to play. Practicing soccer or basketball in the backyard, riding bikes, or swinging on our backyard swing set.
- Creative play. We value toys that encourage open ended play in our house. Building with LEGO, playing with wooden blocks or magnetic tiles, or creating art are favorite after school activities. My kids can do these either together or alone, depending on how they’re feeling.
- Guided play time. Playing a board game or card game together is a great way to teach our kids how to follow rules, to be good winners and losers, and how to get along with others. It also allows me to spend quality time talking and playing with them.
For more on the importance of play, check out the book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul* by Stuart Brown M.D.
3. Family Time
After dinner, we have one last chance to connect with our kids before bedtime. On evenings when we don’t have other activities, we enjoy a family walk around our neighborhood. We often stop at a place for our kids to play where they can run laps on the track or play a pick up game of soccer with neighborhood friends. It’s a great way to keep our kids active and playing outside, even on busy school nights.
Other nights we might stay home and savor our time together by getting involved in play time with our kids. As often as we can, we make the extra effort to stop and simply delight in our kids and spend special time with them.
It’s incredibly fulfilling to see the contentment of the day in my kids eyes as I’m tucking them into bed at night when we’ve been intentional about our after-school time together. They enjoyed healthy food, played, created and stayed active, and reconnected to the family.
They’re filled up physically and emotionally and ready to tackle the day that awaits for them the next morning!
*And just in case you’re thinking that my family is perfect and you want us to adopt you, please know that this is just the way we try to intentionally maximize after-school time. But, our kids are still just kids, and we are still imperfect parents. We definitely have our fair share of crying, fighting, tantrums, and meltdowns even on our smoothest of days.
How do you intentionally maximize after-school time with your kids? What are your kids favorite ways to play, or your family’s favorite activities to do together? Share your ideas with us in the comments!
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I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.
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