How We Changed Our After School Routine
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How We Changed Our After School Routine

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.

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.

how we changed our after school routine | parenting tips

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).

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.

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 🙂


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.


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?

how we changed our after school rou

how we changed our after school routine | parenting tips

32 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!

  12. 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!

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