After years and years of life filled with childhood, sports, high school, college, marriage, kids, and a whole lot more, I can still clearly recall my after-school routine as a kid.
Perhaps it being a time free of "grown up" responsibilities helps it stand out, I don’t know.
Or, perhaps it’s an important, valuable time for all of us?
Anyway, after-school routines may seem simple from a parent's point of view, but they’re often some of children’s most treasured memories.
These moments are best when filled with positive family connections, tasty snacks, and conversations about the school day.
When done carefully, they transform the transitional time between school release and dinner into something that is comfortable, predictable, and purposeful.
What is an after-school routine?
An after-school routine is the daily plan or activity schedule that is put in place for your child to follow when classes let out. Just like most of us have instituted a “bedtime routine” to helps our kids get into nighttime mode and maximize their sleep - comprised of brushing teeth and perhaps story time, and more - an after school routine is implemented to maximize a student’s time away from the rigors of everyday schooling.
Pros and cons of an after-school routine
Some of the benefits are spelled out above, but mainly, an after-school routine provides a bit of structure at a time where a child could easily roam and wander free without any. An after school routine can also help ensure important tasks are accomplished, from proper nourishment to completion of homework, chores, and more.
On the other hand, some might say an after-school routine is too much structure after a day already full of structure. Some might also say that empowering kids to make their own, hopefully good, decisions is the way to go.
Either way, whatever downsides you feel an after-school routine may possess, there might be a few things you can do to overcome such challenges. For instance, if you feel kids don't need more structure, there is no harm in including additional “decompression time” into your routine; that is, versus abandoning a routine altogether.
Or, if you want to be able to empower your kids with the decision-making, why not plan their routine with them? Or, have them put something together for you to sign-off on? Knowing that it is their routine, and not something being handed to them, might actually increase buy-in.
All things said, a fully-structured after-school routine can:
- Provide purposeful activities in an otherwise commitment-free part of the day
- Offer time to interact as a family in a positive manner
- Set aside time for a healthy snack that refuels kids until dinner time
- Help children complete tasks like homework, chores, and more
- Encourage kids to reflect on their day and rest if needed
What to include in your after-school routine
Depending on who you and your kids are, and more importantly, what their needs are and the unique circumstances that shape their days, after-school routines are going to differ.
With that said, here are a few key elements you should consider including, and if not including, at least attempt to account for the underlying takeaway/result.
Need I say more? This point is reinforced daily with my near 4-year-old. On the weekends, he is constantly asking for a snack, so I know during the week when he has to eat an early breakfast and then have his snacks formally paced throughout the day, he is going to be hungry when we arrive back home. Plus, you add a full day of play and learning on top of it all, and you have a child who is ready to replenish.
And snacks are placed here first on purpose. From my experience, trying to get my son to do anything before snack time is a lost cause. And then I also think about my own tasks and responsibilities, and how it’s extremely difficult to focus or do anything at my best when hungry.
2. Daily recap and summary
I really like this piece for a few different reasons. One, I enjoy hearing about my son’s day, and more importantly, he gets excited to tell me all about it. Not to mention that giving kids the opportunity to talk about what they’ve learned might help with retention. (Here is a list of open-ended questions to ask your kids.)
And then, from a parent-trying-to-stay-organized perspective, going over the day and unpacking the backpack/take-homes can help the passing of important information from school to parents.
Sure, many things are emailed, but as kids get older, and homework starts becoming a bigger and bigger piece, you’re going to want to add this unpacking to the after-school routine in order to see what homework needs to be completed, and, to see how kids did in terms of completing assignments that are now being returned to them from their teachers.
3. Tomorrow’s schedule
As a parent, I hate surprises. Surprises lead to rushing, and sometimes important things being missed altogether. Plus, it can all be avoided, which is probably the hardest thing to swallow!
So, as part of your after-school routine, incorporate planning for the next day, and this includes looking at the calendar and seeing if it is a special day at school, what the sport practice or game schedule looks like, and more.
4. Homework time
A must, right? While snacks importantly come first, carving out time for homework is obviously an important activity. Not to get too deep into the "why" but homework influences grades directly and indirectly. Not to mention that if kids can really get into their homework, it might even make paying attention in class a bit easier.
The question is, should homework come before free time or after? You can make the argument that kids should be able to decompress after school before diving into homework, and that makes sense, but that can also be accomplished during snack time.
I was certainly the type who wanted to get homework out of the way early and as soon as possible. For your kids, doing so might allow them to enjoy their free time - when it comes - so much more. There is a lot to be said about unwinding and relaxing knowing that there isn’t something looming on the other end of it all. Homework can certainly loom, and can take away from the full enjoyment and benefit that free time should be providing.
If homework is light, you can always fill this slot with additional learning, from online private tutoring to other after-school enrichment activities or even "playing" with "toys" like LEGO coding sets and more.
Read More: Pros & Cons of Homework
5. Cleaning and tidying up
This is more important to some than others, but is a must have for me. I’m not saying a full house cleaning every single day, but there is a lot of value in ensuring the house is picked up and things are put away, and especially that homework areas are clear and ready to go for the next day. (The last thing you want when it comes to homework time is friction or any excuse for your child to not be immediately focusing on their work.)
At this point, kids can taste the free time, and know that it’s waiting for them just on the other side of their chores.
6. Free time before dinner
Now, finally, kids should have free time to unwind and do “whatever” they want, to an extent of course.
The danger here is that kids rush through their homework and chores to get to this point, so it might be wise to also institute some type of homework check before they “finish” and then, of course, if homework grades start to slip, it's this free time period that takes the hit.
Again, after-school routines will vary by family. The times that you do each activity will, of course, vary as well. Nonetheless, incorporating the above, we put together a sample schedule below to use as a starting point when you create your own routine:
Snack time — Again, our kids often come home from school hungry. They may have an early lunch period, or they may just not have enough time to eat while simultaneously chatting with friends at school. Offering protein and carbs here will help kids feel happier and more alert until dinner.
Daily recap and questions — As parents, we always want to know about our children’s day. And kids often get excited to talk about their favorite parts of their day as well. Do this during snack time or immediately after. You may want to consider choosing a few open-ended questions to get your child talking, or emptying backpacks and folders together in case there are important assignments or forms to be signed that your child could otherwise forget to tell you about.
Tomorrow’s schedule — It can also be helpful to talk through tomorrow’s schedule. Look at the calendar together to see if there are any appointments, sports games, after-school activities, or special dress-up days at school. Ask your child if they have any big assignments or tests coming up that they should be working on/studying for. This can help students feel prepared for the day ahead, as well as make sure no important events are forgotten.
Read More: When to Stop Studying for a Test
Homework time — In many instances, it can be helpful to get homework out of the way right after snack time. Your child’s tummy will be refilled. They’ll have play time or scheduled activities as motivators for when they’re finished. Our paying attention tips can help if your students are struggling to get through homework time or school classes without losing focus.
Clean-up/Chores — After homework is a great time for chores, because it gives children a chance to move their bodies after they’ve been sitting at the table for a while. They’ll still have that motivation from the fun activities to come, too.
Free time — Now for the fun part! Every kid needs some amount of free time in their day, where they’re able to choose exactly what they do. Of course, this will still need some limits. Those limits will depend on your family values and your children’s individual needs. Some examples of healthy and fun activities for this time frame include outside time, exercise, and practicing hobbies like sports, instruments, coding, etc.
Scheduled activities — If free time gets to be too long, or if you’re looking for a way to morph it into a fun learning form, online activities are an excellent choice. You can find classes on just about anything, from Minecraft to Photoshop.
Family dinner — Wrap up after-school time with a meal together as a family. At first, you can use this time to discuss what children enjoyed about their routine and what may need updating. Continue conversations about the school day and upcoming plans as well.
What makes a routine?
All in all, your after-school can be exactly what you need it to be. It will need to include two main pieces to be effective:
- A predictable series of steps and/or activities
This will help keep your child’s after-school moments comfortable, predictable, and purposeful. It’ll create long-lasting family memories and help support skills for both academics and overall life. And, of course, it’ll make it a little easier for parents to make it through until dinner time.