It comes weekly without fail: the after-school or nap hours of 3 pm to 8 pm. The kids have rebounded every ounce of energy (can I get a smidge of that, please?), and sometimes you can’t help but count down the hours until bedtime. I’ve been both a stay-at-home mom and a full-time working mom, and either path brought the same feelings. While my heart craves connection with my kids in those hours before they are sweetly tucked in, my brain and body might scream for downtime.
It was easy for us to fall into the routine of walking in the door and immediately turning on the TV. Or, as soon as a kiddo walks out from naptime to ask, “What do you want to watch?” I found myself zoning out to the TV with them or scrolling my phone rather than spending quality time with my children. Don’t get me wrong; there are days and times when the TV is my best friend and a great tool for my parenting. But I was over it being a crutch in those evening hours and something my kids expected. It usually resulted in more outbursts (on both of our parts), later bedtimes, and overall more energy (on the kids’ part), and we needed a change.
Here are seven things to do after school instead of turning on the TV:
Create a daily or weekly ritual.
Maybe Mondays are board game days, Tuesdays are Taco Tuesdays, or Wednesdays are WrestleMania. Brainstorm ideas based on what your family loves and write them on the fridge calendar. Whatever rituals you decide on, they can be something consistent in your schedule to look forward to.
Play hide and seek.
This game might be changed for different age levels, but my younger boys love to play hide and seek! I sometimes count a lot slower than necessary or goof up the numbers as a joke to “waste” more time, but we always end up laughing and getting out some energy together.
Bust out the sensory play.
Sensory play is one of my favorite activities because it keeps my kids occupied for longer than 10 minutes (which is like three hours in toddler time). I always have playdough, slime, or a themed sensory bin on hand. It’s an easy grab and (usually) an easy clean-up compared to getting out a gazillion craft supplies.
Make a snack.
Who can be in a bad mood after having a delicious snack? I know that I’m often hangry after work, and the kids act as if they’ve only been fed crumbs in the days before. Nothing cures that better than getting into the kitchen and grabbing some grub. Some days we create an elaborate feast of ants on a log with a mandarin orange sun and Pirate’s Booty clouds. Other days it’s a grab-from-the-Costco-snack-drawer kind of day. Either way, we’re all happier with full bellies.
Have a dance party.
Sometimes we turn on the TV for this one to jam to Kidz Bop music (“Whoomp! There It Is” is a current favorite). Or we’ll open up a special playlist on Spotify we’ve created together of songs we love. It’s a great way for kids to get their wiggles out after school and for me to release some of that built-up work stress. My kids love it so much more when I participate instead of being a bystander to their silliness.
Take a walk, or get outside.
Family walks, hikes, outdoor exploration, or good ol’ backyard playing are great times for connecting. We may visit a local park or grab the soccer ball to kick around. I’ve learned to embrace the weather in any season and love the chaos that can ensue outside the walls of our house. Fresh air does the body good.
Construct a fort.
We love to use our Nugget for this one. It’s an activity that never gets old for my one-year-old or my five-year-old. This one can also double as, “Mommy is going to rest her eyes in the fort while you play/read/brush my hair.” Win, win.