It’s that time again: back to school. Whether kids are heading to the classroom or opting for a remote-learning school day, the adjustments they’ll need to make have the potential to be incredibly stressful. One surefire method to keep kids grounded is to create—and stick to—a regular after-school routine.
Finding the Right Rhythm
Research acknowledging that regular routines are essential to positive child development (and parental mental health) abounds. Although every family’s schedule will look different, there are some basic guidelines for creating the foundation of an effective after-school routine.
Some kids need to run around outside for a big energy dump right after school. Others want to focus on getting homework out of the way. What they all need is to refuel. It’s important to have healthy snacks available when they walk in the door or shut down the laptop.
Again, depending on the child, this could be right before bed or in preparation for diving into homework, but all kids need time to decompress. Parents can use this time to go through backpacks or to sign papers.
Assign chores daily or weekly. Research shows that children who learn the responsibility and regularly contribute to household chores have a greater sense of self-esteem and confidence.
Experts agree that following a set bedtime routine ensures a great start to the morning. This may include choosing snacks, packing lunch or organizing tomorrow’s ensemble.
Opt for a routine that’s adaptable and fluid, rather than a rigid, strict schedule. And prevent your routine from becoming the dreaded “rut” by including regular activities that are fun, interesting and engaging.
Creative & Crafty
Crafting may not be every child’s forte, but these projects, designed to do as a family, result in a sense of accomplishment. Plus, children are rewarded with the positive feelings gained from doing something for someone else.
Decorate the inside of boxes (paint, stencils, stickers, printed quotes), creating secret surprises inside for the receiver. Take an entire week of nights or one day a week to make packages for upcoming occasions: birthdays, Grandparents Day, teacher appreciation or a new arrival.
Use this activity to teach kids how rewarding it can be to bring sunshine and happiness to a shut-in neighbor, deployed military personnel or a hospitalized church member. Search Pinterest or Google for “care packages” for more ideas.
For a more budget-friendly option, designate one afternoon a week for designing homemade cards. Kids will learn how to plan ahead by having cards ready for the next holiday, birthday, graduation, wedding and the like.
Let’s face it—there’s only so much counter and fridge space available to display of your kids’ art projects. If you have crafty kiddos, keep the glue gun going by making crafts for others. Check out organizations like createtodonate.org.
Another proven method for reducing stress and anxiety, mandala coloring books are available for any age. Have the family color one. Frame them together in a poster-size family mandala collage. Everyone will look forward to Mandala Mondays!
Become An Action Hero
Physical activity is an absolute necessity in daily routines. Intersperse all-family-on-deck activities with unstructured, self-driven free play. Mix it up by choosing a different “workout” each week:
- Take a family bike ride.
- Create a backyard obstacle course.
- Fly kites or play kickball at the park.
- Play tennis (enclosed outdoor courts are a blessing, and you don’t have to play actual tennis).
- If you have access to a basketball hoop, try H-O-R-S-E, around the world or knockout.
- Write the classics (hide-and-seek, freeze tag, follow the leader, blind man’s bluff, hopscotch, jump the river) on slips of paper. Pick one from a basket every Tuesday.
Incorporate appreciation for and connection to nature into your routine.
A large plot isn’t necessary to enjoy the benefits of gardening. Container gardening and indoor herb gardens achieve the desired effect. Don’t have a green thumb? Start with easy-to-grow plants such as basil, kale, radishes, peppers, mint, zucchini or yellow squash.
One activity that’s really taken flight during COVID-19 is birdwatching. The National Audubon Society’s website (audubon.org) offers resources and information on how to get started. Also, Google “easy ways to get kids birding” for tips and advice.
Have a bug lover? Send them outside to find what new creepy-crawlies have appeared since last week. Or create a giant nature mural, using a long stretch of butcher-block paper. Have kids attach the unique nature they find. This activity stays fresh and new, because the outdoors changes from week to week.
Food for Thought
Regardless of age, every child can benefit from spending time in the kitchen. Use these ideas to add a culinary component to your daily, weekly or monthly routine.
Waffles for the Week
Once a week, whip up a double (triple, quadruple?) batch of batter, create an assembly line, and make enough waffles to freeze for next week’s grab-and-toast DIY breakfast.
Grab-and-Go Breakfast Assembly
Tired of waffles? Same idea. Different food. Gather in the kitchen every Wednesday night to make on-the-move breakfast muffins.
Winner, Winner, Let’s Do Dinner
Every family’s calendar should have a designated night or two when kids cook or help prepare dinner. Perhaps their reward is a pass on after-dinner cleanup that night.