For many families, the start of the school year can be exciting and challenging. It is a time for a change from the less-structured days of summer to more rigid patterns, including earlier bedtimes and homework sessions. In addition, new faces (e.g., teachers, classmates), new schools (e.g., the move from an elementary school building to middle school), and increasing expectations (e.g., introduction of letter grades, a heavier homework load) can trigger a mix of emotions in your child. A routine can offer a sense of stability during this transitional time.
More specifically, the time between when your child comes home from school and when they prepare for bed can be hectic. In these few short hours, many children have competing demands, like participating in extracurricular activities, completing homework, and sharing in household responsibilities. However, you may be able to control what activities you do during this time and have flexibility in the choices you and your family make. Creating an after-school routine can help you and your child feel organized and make the most of these hours together.
The Importance of Routines
Children feel more confident and secure when their daily activities are predictable and familiar. Structure in the form of routines can reduce struggles and provide a safe and secure environment for children. Consistent daily routines allow children (and parents) to feel in control of their environment by helping them understand what is happening next and what is expected of them. You can promote predictability and structure for your family by establishing an after-school routine.
Components of an After-School Routine
Every family has commitments or priorities that may dictate what each family member does and when they do it. An after-school routine will vary depending on these commitments or priorities, and it may take some time to figure out a rhythm that works best for your family. Below are some important aspects of a routine you may want to consider as you develop your own after-school plan.
Your child is likely searching for something to eat immediately after arriving home from school. A healthy snack can help manage your child’s hunger and boost their nutrition. Offer snacks that are low in sugar, saturated fat, and salt, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. Keep after-school portions snack-sized to not interfere with dinner time meals. Planning ahead for snack time and having snacks easily accessible can help your child make healthy food choices. For suggestions for healthy after-school snacks, review Thrive’s Cooking to Thrive resource.
Many children have homework, and younger students may need a parent’s assistance to complete some of their homework. However, as your child matures, they can often begin to work on schoolwork independently. Set a dedicated time each day, and allocate a specific location that is comfortable, has limited distractions (e.g., no television, no phones, no active siblings), and provides access to the supplies your child needs to complete their assignments. If possible, stay close to your child during this time so you can provide any support that is needed.
Students who participate in extracurricular activities may experience greater academic success, new opportunities for character development and positive social development and may develop an interest in community involvement (Christison, 2013). Further, participating in organized youth sports can lead to immediate and long-term benefits for children, such as lower rates of anxiety and depression, increased life satisfaction, and improved physical health (President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition Science Board, 2020). Extracurricular activities can help your child obtain the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity and can offer opportunities for your child to develop personal interests and discover their strengths and weaknesses. Since most extracurricular activities take place after the school day, be sure to take these activities into account when planning your after-school routine.
Regular physical activity benefits children in many ways. Benefits include improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness; opportunities to build strong bones and muscles and control weight; reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression; and reduced risks of health conditions such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity (Yogman et al., 2018). In addition, students who are physically active tend to have better grades, school attendance, cognitive performance (e.g., memory), and classroom behaviors such as on-task behavior (Rasberry et al., 2011). For some families, the period after your child returns home from school may be an ideal opportunity to encourage physical activity. You can help your child identify activities they enjoy that will keep them active for the recommended 60 minutes each day. Walking or biking to and from school or in the neighborhood or a local park, jumping rope, climbing on a play structure, and participating in a pick-up game of soccer can all count toward the 60-minute activity goal. Since physical activity can benefit family members of all ages, you might want to consider dedicating this part of your after-school routine to an activity your family can participate in together. Thrive’s Moving to Thrive resource can offer suggestions.
Giving household responsibilities to children can teach them important skills, such as time management, cooperation, and organization, and can instill life skills, such as knowing how to do the laundry, wash the dishes, and prepare food. In addition, household responsibilities can help your child learn personal responsibility, such as maintaining personal belongings and helping them feel like a valued and competent member of the family. Depending on your family’s schedule, the time after school may be ideal for your child to complete household responsibilities. Household responsibilities should be developmentally appropriate, and it may take a few attempts before your child is able to complete a responsibility independently. Household responsibilities can also be completed together as a family. Enlist your child’s help in identifying things they can do to that could benefit all family members, such as setting the dinner table, feeding a pet, or tidying up the living room.
In Thrive’s Branch Out program, you are reminded that every child needs time, attention, and affection from parents and other caring adults to feel a sense of significance and belonging. When your child feels as though they belong and they are cared for, they are more likely to have positive attitudes and engage in positive behaviors. Quality family time involves shared activities that provide you and your child an opportunity to work together, communicate with each other, and develop mutual admiration and respect for each other. When you engage in meaningful conversations, relationships strengthen. You can incorporate family time into mealtimes, such as dinner; during outdoor and physical activities, such as a hike or bike ride; when completing household responsibilities, such as raking leaves in the yard; and as part of a bedtime ritual, such as reading together. This time is most impactful in a screen-free environment.
Every day, your child encounters multiple demands for their time, attention, and energy. Protecting time for your child to participate in a screen-free, unstructured activity of their choosing can help them destress, encourage creativity, and allow their brains and bodies a much-needed break. Downtime activities may include spending time in nature, drawing, reading for pleasure, meditating, or daydreaming. Thrive’s Breathing to Thrive resource provides mindful strategies for you and your child to use to combat stress and support downtime.
Putting it All Together
Realistic expectations can help you make time for the activities that matter most to you and your family. Seek out individuals in your circle of support who may be able to help with tasks, such as carpooling to extracurricular activities, and search for resources that can help you become and stay organized, such as a shared family calendar app. It may take time for your family to develop and adjust to a new routine. If aspects of your routine are not working, revisit your plan, and enlist your child’s help to make adjustments that work for everyone.
You can use the following After-School Routine Planning Worksheet to develop a routine for your family.
After-School Routine Planning Worksheet
Use the outline below to create your family’s after-school routine. You may want to first make a list of all tasks and commitments your family has for each day after school, such as household responsibilities, everyday tasks, and/or recurring extracurricular activities. Enlist your child’s help to garner their support and encourage their participation. Once complete, post the routine in a common area for all family members to see. Revisit your plan when commitments change, and adjust your plan as needed.
_____ pm – Arrive home from school
- Unpack backpack, lunch box, and notes from the school.
_____ pm – Snack
- Offer healthy, snack-sized options.
_____ pm – Homework
- Offer a well-lit and comfortable workspace that has limited distractions.
- Make necessary materials accessible (e.g., calculator, pencil sharpener, notebook, computer).
- Ensure a parent or caregiver is available if assistance is needed.
_____ pm – Household Responsibilities
- Select developmentally appropriate tasks. Ensure your child knows how to complete tasks independently or family members may choose to work together.
_____ pm – Physical Activity/Extracurricular Activity/Family Time
- 60 minutes of physical activity each day is recommended.
_____ pm – Dinnertime
- Enlist your child’s help in planning, preparation, and dinner cleanup.
- Eliminate distractions, such as cell phones and television.
_____ pm –Downtime
- This screen-free, unstructured time may include an enjoyable or relaxing activity such as reading, drawing, journaling, appreciating nature, or daydreaming.
_____ pm – Bedtime Routine
- Your child’s bedtime routine may include tidying up their bedroom, packing their backpack for the next day, bathing, shared or independent reading, and quiet time.
_____ pm – Lights Out
- Strive for adequate sleep time for your child.
- A screen-free sleeping environment is recommended.
Christison, C. (2013). The benefits of participating in extracurricular activities. Brandon University Journal of Graduate Studies in Education, 5(2), 17-20. https://www.brandonu.ca/master-education/files/2010/07/BU-Journal-of-Graduate-Studies-in-Education-2013-vol-5-issue-2.pdf#page=19
President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition Science Board. (2020, September 17). Benefits of youth sports. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2020-09/YSS_Report_OnePager_2020-08-31_web.pdf
Rasberry, C. N., Lee, S. M., Robin, L., Laris, B. A., Russell, L. A., Coyle, K. K., & Nihiser, A. J. (2011). The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance: A systematic review of the literature. Preventive Medicine, 52, S10-S20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2011.01.027
Yogman, M., Garner, A., Hutchinson, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R. M., Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Council on Communications and Media, Baum, R., Gamdon, T., Lavin, A., Mattson, G., Wissow, L., Hill, D., Ameenuddin, N., Chassiakos, Y. R., Cross, C., Boyd, R., Mendelson, R., Moreno, M., Radesky, J., & Smith, J. (2018). The power of play: A pediatric role in enhancing development in young children. Pediatrics, 142(3). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2018-2058