after school routine for kids

How We Changed Our After School Routine

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Is your after school routine not working for you? Do you ever feel like after school is the hardest part of your day?

This was absolutely true for our family.

Everyone came home overwhelmed and exhausted and there was still so much left in our day. Between dinner, homework and showers things got very chaotic.

When my kids started school I had visions of happy children coming home and sharing wonderful stories about their day while we packed away our lunch boxes and backpacks and sat down to a healthy snack while they did their homework.

In the early days, I tried oh so hard to make that vision a reality, but most days I was met mostly with grunts, sidelong glances, and even a meltdown or two.

I have realized over time that this picturesque after school routine just did not work for our family. While we still need a routine in order to accomplish everything that needs to get done after school, it needs to be less a routine and more a flow. Some days the kids come home and need a cuddle and quiet time. Other times, they need to get outside and run around.

Knowing this, I’ve developed some strategies that quell the chaos, provide flexibility to meet our children’s needs on that particular day, and still allows us to get everything done.

Related: 7 Simple Rules For A Great Morning Routine. 

The changes I made to our after school routine have resulted in happier kids and more relaxed parents. Here are the changes I made to our after school routine.

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1. Don’t ask too many questions

When the kids first started school and came home, right away I would ask them all sorts of questions about their day. (Apparently, I miss them quite a bit while they are at school and I wanted to know everything they did while we were apart.)

Turns out, the kids are usually not really ready to talk about their day. They need quite a bit of time to decompress and process what happened at school that day.

Now, I simply ask “How was your day?” I usually get an “It was good” and that’s it. But it’s fine, because as they process their day they begin to share tidbits and stories. By bedtime I have a full picture of what happened at school that day.

This after school routine is sure to make your kids happier. No more after school meltdowns and plenty of time for the kids to unwind and still get all the things done #routinesforkids #parentinghacks #afterschoolroutineforkids #afterschoolroutinetips

2. Free time

Once we are home and everyone has made it inside, we have free time. This is a time where the kids can choose what they want to play.

This free time also involves me actively spending time with them while they do their chosen activity. Even if it is just 20 minutes before I begin my dinner prep, this time is so important for our kids. When I spend this time with them, they are more likely to allow me the space I need in order to start my evening routine (cooking, cleaning etc).

Related: 20 Indoor Activities for Kids

Free time includes:
Sitting together and reading out loud
Outside play time
Board Games

We don’t do tv or computers right after school. I have found that this does not help them decompress and they still crave that quality time with me after the screens shut off.

3. Early Dinner

Our kids still have an afternoon snack at school, usually about 45 minutes before they get home. I don’t normally give them a snack unless they are hangry or missed snack at school that day. If they have a snack it is usually something small like a yogurt or a piece of fruit.

Instead, I have dinner ready early and we are sometimes sitting down at the table at 4:30 to eat.

Early on, I was pushing a snack when the kids got home as the first part of our after school routine. Then they would end up not wanting to eat dinner. So instead, I keep the snack small or non-existent and instead serve them dinner early. They eat a much better dinner this way (and complain less about the broccoli or other offending vegetable on their plate).

This is even more helpful when the kids have after school activities and they don’t get home until 4:30 or 5.

So how do I get dinner done early? Well, a couple of ways.

  1. Meal planning. I know exactly what I am having on which day so I don’t have to waste time figuring out what’s for dinner.
  2. The crockpot and instapot are our friends.
  3. I only make quick 30 minute meals during the week. Check out some of my favorites here.

Side note: as part of our dinner time routine, I always ask the kids to tell me the best thing and the worst thing that happened at school. They are always happy to talk at dinner 🙂

4. Homework

After dinner, the kids get about another 20 minutes or so of free play time while I clean up the kitchen and pack lunches.

Then it is time to start homework.

The little one doesn’t have homework yet but we do 20 minutes of reading with her right before bedtime. She will usually spend time with daddy or do her own “homework” while my son works on his homework.

I have found doing homework after dinner is the key to the kids being successful. The kids are well fed and they have had time to relax and decompress from the day. Moving homework towards the end of our after school routine has made a tremendous difference.

Related: How To Create a Bedtime Routine With Less Battles

We round out our evening with showers and a little bit of tv time before everyone reads and goes to bed.

Tell me what your after school routine looks like. What’s something unique that works for your family?

40 thoughts on “How We Changed Our After School Routine”

  1. Free time is essential to our after school routine. My oldest really needs time to just unwind from a day full of demands before she is ready to take on anything else!

    1. Trying to get too many things done after school just does not work for us. Keeping our after school routine less a routine and more fluid makes for much happier kids in our house!

    1. Sometimes it’s those little adjustments in an after school routine that can make such a big difference. I wish had figured it out earlier, we would have fewer cranky days and dinnertime battles.

  2. I love that you were willing to make adjustments for your children that might not follow the “typical” after school schedules I’ve seen! I’m a homeschooler but I think your routine can help any family!

    1. Thanks Maegan! I agree. Sometimes we have to listen to our children and focus on their needs to build routines that work for everyone!

    1. I’m glad it’s not just our kids! It’s definitely an exercise in patience to get the information out of them after school.

  3. Yes, yes and yes. Kids are worn-out from school and I remember my parents occasionally asking me things as they picked me up or when I got home. “Ok” or “Nothing” was my answer because I didn’t want to answer any more questions haha. All day long was questions I didn’t want any more. I love how you organized your evening to still keep the kids priority but with a casual loving motive. haha, when you said “hangry” did you mean hungry-angry? At least here that’s a term now, when you are so hungry and tired that you actually are angry and moody. It’s only the need for food that causes it.

    1. Rose, yes hungry-angry. My son gets it the worse, we joke it’s like watching one of those snickers commercials! I really like routine and regimen but our kids have taught me so much about being more flexible while still being able to get things done!

  4. YES, for making adjustment according to kids needs and wants! Love it! Everything does not have to be the “traditional” route. Great read!

    1. Thanks Shanophia. Parenting is sometimes full of all these ideal ways to do things and while they work for some I think it’s always good to know there are different right ways of doing things!

  5. I agree with not bombarding with questions! I found I get the most out of my son at BEDTIME!! He had time to decompress and rest and was then able to discuss the day’s events with me.

  6. I have found over the years that both my kids need different things after school. My daughter comes home talks about her day, has a snack and gets all her homework done. My son comes home wants a snack and then needs to unwind with a tv show or playing outside. He doesn’t talk about his day until we are at dinner and he likes to get his homework done after dinner when he has had time to relax.

    1. It’s amazing how different kids need different things, even when they are siblings. It’s so great you recognize their uniqueness and are able to have individualized after school routines for each of your children!

  7. Thank you for sharing this. My son is starting Kindergarten this fall and I got to figure out how to change our routine. He’s going to have one rude awakening, he has to be at the bus stop at 6:45 LOL.

    1. Kindergarten is definitely a rude awakening for both the kids and the parents! I hope your son gets into the flow of things quickly and has a great year!

  8. My kids aren’t in school yet, but this was a really helpful read for me. It helps even think about our routine once my husband gets home from work. Thanks for sharing what works for your family!

    1. Mary Leigh I’m so glad you found this helpful. I think it’s good to see lots of different routines and when the time comes for your children to start school you can try different things until you find what works best for your family.

  9. This summer I experimented with early dinners and we have had a lot of success with it, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to incorporate that into the school year. Now, I have a plan! Thank you.

    1. Hi Jenny, I’m so glad you found this helpful and have found a way to keep those early dinners. Small changes can sometimes make a big difference!

  10. We are now going to have 2/4 in school and I am so excited to get back into a school routine and for things to calm down. I really like these tips a lot

  11. My son starts Kindergarten this year, so this was a great read! I know we will be looking for a new routine in the afternoon/evenings. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    1. Hi Jessica. Starting Kindergarten is such a fun milestone but it’s also an adjustment for everyone! When my son started Kindergarten, it was such an eye opener when it came to our schedule. It took us a bit of time to get our footing and find out what worked for him. I hope he has a great year and you find a great flow for your afternoon routine!

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  13. I’m guilty of the 20K questions error, and you’re right – they DON’T want to talk then! This is a great reminder to curb that temptation and wait til dinnertime, where we all go around the table discussing our days. 🙂

    1. It took me so long to learn that one and when I finally changed my approach I couldn’t believe how much more willing they were talk about their day!

  14. Thanks so much for all these suggestions. I will definitely implement all of them! Unfortunately my daughter has Brazilian ji Jitsu twice a week where we leave the house only 45 minutes after she gets off the bus. Any thoughts on a schedule with extra activities after school?

    1. Hi Catherine! After school schedules get tricky when the kids start getting more involved in activities. We had a similar scenario when my son was in 1st grade and he had Tae Kwon Do shortly after getting home from school. A couple things I did that helped was 1. Gave him a snack. While most of the time I skip the snack and opt for the early dinner, when the kids have an activity (especially something physical) snack is a must. 2. I always made sure I had everything packed and ready to go before he got home. This included making sure his clothes and belt were ready for him to get changed. Having all the stuff ready to go allowed me to spend some time with him and help him wind down. Plus I wasn’t running around stressed which in turn would stress him out! We would also use that short time to play go fish or another quick card game or just sat and read books together. Those 15 minutes were a great way to decompress. 4. Keep dinner simple and have it mostly ready so when you get home it’s easy to serve. For us, this meant a crockpot meal or just planning ahead and cooking a double batch of something earlier in the week so I could reheat leftovers. Sometimes we just had sandwiches for dinner. Keeping dinner simple also made sure we had time for homework and showers before bed. Sometimes finding a good routine just takes some trial and error until you find what works for your family! I hope this is helpful and your daughter has a great school year 🙂

  15. So happy I found this post! We are 2 weeks into kindergarten and my 5 year old is having a meltdown everyday. I was doing a snack and then homework. I see now I was not listening to her behavior. Thank you Jill!

    1. I’m so glad you found this helpful. I’m sorry to hear she’s having a rough start, but kindergarten can be so overwhelming. I hope you both find your best after school flow!

  16. What time do your kids get home from school and what time do they go to bed? I love all of what you said just not sure how it would all fit within our 3 1/2 hour time frame between getting home and going to bed. My kids are in school from 7:45-4:00 do we are home by 4:15 and try to get them in bed 7:45/8pm

    1. Hi Aly! We get home around 3:30/3:40ish (depending on where I end up in the car line) and we’re reading bedtime stories with my youngest around 7/7:15 so I think we have about the same 3 1/2 hours. I will say that this routine came about after lots of trial and error but we got into a groove! As with any new routine it takes time for kids to learn it so don’t worry if it doesn’t look like this immediately for you or if some of this your kids just flat out don’t take to. For example, I know some moms say their kids are total chatterboxes and they can ask all the questions right at pickup and that is awesome. Take what works from this routine and leave the rest!

      A couple of tips or hacks I use are: the first 20 minutes or so I don’t do anything else but get the kids settled and started on some free time activities. I try to be really present and intentional with them. Once we’re settled and they are set with an activity, I’ll get into the kitchen. I try to make really easy dinners so my time spent cooking and prepping is minimal. A lot of the times the kids will join me in the kitchen to cook. For my youngest (she’s almost 6) that means I give her some bowls, spoons and veggie scraps and she mixes and “cooks” her own stuff. Or, they help me make brownies or cookies or something. Eating the actual dinner takes the most time so we’re usually not done with dinner until about 5:45-6:00ish. After dinner, my youngest gets in the shower while the older child works on his homework. That’s also the time I clean the kitchen. He does his homework at our kitchen bar counter so I can answer questions while I’m washing up from dinner. Then the kids flip flop, and the oldest goes in the shower and I help my little one with any homework she might have (which usually isn’t much). They end up with maybe only about 20 minutes of TV (sometimes none) before we start getting to bed.

      I hope this gives you a better feel for how we make this routine work in our house!

  17. After school routine in our house includes computer time. My daughter gets off the bus, we jump into the car and drive back to her school to grab her brothers (Tae doesn’t want to stop riding her bus, and since the bus drives by my house anyway I allow it, however we live too close to the school for the boys to take a bus so they are walkers). We grab the boys, and drive back home. The four of us attempt to get in the house without the dogs escaping *L*.

    From 2:40-3 everyone grabs snacks. 3-4 Tae uses the computer and I help Tony with his homework. From 4-5 Tony uses the computer and I help Taelin with her homework. At some point between 3-5 I also help Davan. From 5-6 or 6-7 Davan uses the computer. While I am helping the kids do their homework I am also checking their folders. While making dinner unneeded papers go into the recycling bin, pictures/work goes in a pile until I can discreetly place it into the recycling bin (I made the mistake of getting busted once, hooboy).

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