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Y’all – kids school and activity schedules are no joke. We have friends (bless their hearts) who spend them majority of the day shuffling from school > music lessons > sports > church activities > home, and then start the whole thing again the next day. Parents deserve a medal for the day-to-day hustle of raising well-rounded kiddos!
We aren’t quite at that level yet – I’ve tried really hard to keep our commitments to a minimum while the girls are young, and be intentional with extracurriculars. Still, it’s easy to come home and feel a bit depleted from drop offs and pick ups!
Since I know it’s not getting easier any time soon, and my girls are likely to just get busier (and I’m working more than ever), I set out to create a calm, connection-filled after school routine for our family.
In college, I studied Family Life and Human Development. A lot of the research we studied had to do with parenting: disciplinary styles, family dynamics, connection, and so on. I was always looking for practical ways that parents could be more effective in the lives of their children: that is, how do we raise confident, able adults who know that they are loved and cherished by their parents? Not surprisingly, there are a lot of techniques we can integrate as parents to achieve this goal. But one that always stuck out in my mind is this:
Capitalize on transition time
Transition time is when your kids, or your family, moves from one focus of the day to the next. For example: breakfast is the transition time in between home (morning) time to school/work (day) time. Some of us capitalize on this by eating breakfast together – I’m sure all of you have very calm, leisurely discussions across the cereal bowls (just kidding, we’re all a mess in the morning, it’s fine.)
While transition times can seem pretty ordinary, there’s a big opportunity to make an impact with your kids during this sliver of time! Think of it like being at the crossroads of different areas of their lives. You aren’t with them at school, so being there before or after and using that time intentionally is super important. Waking up and having a simple morning routine that gets the day started on the right foot is really helpful, and having family dinners is always touted as being super-good for kids.
Another natural transition time is coming home from school/activities (day) and transitioning into home (afternoon/evening). Since Eva only does a half day of school, we are usually home right around lunch time, which makes it a prime opportunity to take advantage of transition time. I break our routine down into three basic steps:
Yikes, not a great title. But I honestly don’t have a better word for it. We haul in (yes, haul) the several totes of STUFF that travel with us to and from activities. Jackets and accessories get put away, Eva’s school bag get’s emptied and paper work comes out (and almost immediately into the trash – more on that in this post.) And everything is prepared so that the next day we’re ready to go in the morning.
Both of the girls have chores pertaining to ‘unloading’ so that it’s not just me putting all of the gear away. Each have to take off shoes and jackets and empty bags before they can go play or change. Having it on their chore chart is super helpful to get them in the habit of getting things in order before rushing off to their next adventure. You can read more about our chore system here, if you’re interested.
I’ll take a few minutes here to look at school fliers, make notes of to-dos or school supplies we need for projects, and mark important dates to remember on my Google Calendar, before throwing excess papers into the recycling.
Then, I have both girls change out of their ‘school’ clothes and into a different outfit. This is a tip I got from our pediatrician, who recommended changing out of germ-laden school clothes during peak cold and flu season. We don’t make such a big fuss out of this in the warmer months, but my girls often do it on their own – sometimes changing into pajamas, princess dress-up clothes, or bathing suits (whatever works!)
At this time I’ll often take a bit of time to change out of my gym clothes and ‘refresh’ before changing into ‘work at home clothes’ – which is usually just fresh athleisure wear. I find that this ritual of ‘taking the day off’ and changing into home clothes – while very Mister-Rogers-Esque – is super helpful in unwinding from the day’s task and becoming centered at home.
After we’ve all changed into home clothes, we reconvene for lunch. We keep our day time meals fairly standardized – they pick from an almond butter sandwich with fruit and vegetables, or a ‘snack tray’ of healthy, mini proportions to choose from.
For a snack tray, think of it like kids charcuterie, or old school Lunchables, elevated. I like to use a muffin tin to serve up snacks. I like to pick from all different food groups to put together a yummy and nutritious tray.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Fruits and Vegetables
- Berries – fresh or freeze-dried
- Sliced apples or pears
- Bananas, sliced
- Apple sauce or puree pouches
- Watermelon, cut into sticks
- Orange segments
- Diced cantaloupe
- Baby carrots
- Bell peppers, sliced
- Petite bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Cucumbers, cut into sticks
- Persian cucumbers, cut into rounds
- Celery sticks
- Snap peas
- Broccoli florets
- Nut butters (Peanut, Almond, Cashew, SunButter – we buy unsalted, no sugar added nut butters from Trader Joe’s, and my girls love them!)
for dipping or rolled in a tortilla/serve on toast sticks
- String cheese
- Cream cheese/melted cheese on mini bagels
- Cheese shapes
- Deli turkey – served alone or in a wrap
- Left over roasted chicken, diced into bite sized portions
- Quesadillas with beans & cheese
- Babybell cheese
- Hummus for dipping
- Chicken nuggets or fish bites – I’ve bought Kid Fresh brand & the girls love them!
- Greek yogurt for dipping – I buy whole milk vanilla greek yogurt, or plain and jazz it up with honey and sprinkles just for fun
- Hard boiled eggs
- Multigrain cereal
- Tortilla chips
- Veggie straws
- Tortillas/Spinach wrap
- Mini bagels
- Toast sticks
- Greek Yogurt Ranch Dressing for dipping
- Ketchup/Dipping sauce, if you’re into that
- Graham crackers
- Small treats or a surprise goodie – I’ll sometimes put sprinkles on our greek yogurt or nut butter and the girls love it! Festive without a ton of effort
I practice intermittent fasting from about 8 PM – 1 PM, and then break by eating lunch at the same time my girls eat. Sometimes I’ll eat leftovers from the previous day’s dinner (you can find some of our favorite dinner recipes here) or throw together a salad for lunch. I’ve noticed that I eat a lot better when I’m dining at the same time as the kids – it makes me think more about the kind of behaviors I want to model for them and make healthier food choices.
Connect with Intention
I used to make the girls lunch, and then get carried away with housework or other tasks while they ate. Then I started eating lunch with them, which helped to spend more time together – but it wasn’t necessarily meaningful.
One of my favorite moms on Instagram, Merrick, shared that she plays a game with her sons every day after school, and I instantly loved the idea. For little kids, it’s a great way to get them to focus on the task at hand and not run away immediately after eating lunch. For older kids, it’s a way to get them talking without forcing it.
We choose from a few simple games and activities during lunch time that help us to make this time meaningful and connect on a deeper level. Here are some that we’ve tried & loved, along with a few that older kids might like:
- Candy Land (Disney Princess edition, of course)
- Go Fish
- Yeti in my Spaghetti
- Matching games
- Guess Who
- Let’s Go Fishin’
- Zingo (This is a great game of bingo for early readers!)
- Connect Four
- Chutes and Ladders
- Don’t Break the Ice
- Spot It
If you’re not into board games, puzzles are another good way to play together and connect. We love Crocodile Creek and Mudpuppy puzzles – the illustrations are cute and clever, and we never get sick of putting them together. Along the same lines, an interactive book like iSpy is a great option for connecting with your kids – we really love these search and find books geared toward younger kiddos.
After we eat, play, and chat, we’re all feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. The house is more calm, and I think we all feel that our emotional needs are met. My girls still take an afternoon nap (hallelujah!) and will happily go to bed after our routine, and then I get to work.
I notice a big difference in days that we do this and days when we don’t. It’s made such a big impact on our overall well-being. The house is more calm and organized, we all eat better, and if I get nothing else accomplished during the day, I know that I’ve filled their love tanks. Is anything else more important?
I would love to hear how you make time to connect as a family, and what routines you have in place to make life run more smoothly.