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8 Steps for a Smooth After-school Routine

If getting your kids out the door in the morning is as tricky to coordinate as a rocket launch, it’s no wonder that coming home in the afternoon can feel like a crash landing. With so many distractions and so much to get done, you need to be strategic about your post-school schedule. Happily, your family can handle everything from snacks to chores to homework to playtime with these eight ideas for a smart after-school routine. Bonus: These tips might make for asmoother morning too!

1. Stash the stuff

In the mad dash to the playroom, your pipsqueak has left a wake of school-related flotsam and jetsam: backpack, coat, shoes, and books. Stem the tide by creating a drop-off zone where she can stow stuff as soon as she walks in the door. Set up a hook and a labeled bin, a plastic dish pan, or even a carpet square near the front door that can serve to corral clutter. While you’re at it, teach your little one to off-load her lunchbox near the sink — when she’s old enough she can also refill her water bottle and tuck it in the fridge. The result: a (slightly) tidier house and a less-stressed mom.

2. Serve up snacks

If your cutie’s been cranky since pickup, the situation calls for snacks, stat. Stave off meltdowns and supply a quick energy hit with a fast-but-nutritious after-school nibble that combines protein and carbs. Think cheese and crackers, sliced apples and peanut butter, yogurt and granola. Traditional milk and cookies may sound sweet, but they’ll cause a sugar high that will taper off into a mood swing, so save this treat for special occasions.

3. Tie up loose ends

Nothing upends a once-quiet morning quicker than a forgotten field-trip payment or an unsigned permission slip. Make it a step in your coming-home routine to sort through paperwork in your kid’s backpack while he’s biting into his snack. Fill out forms, slide in necessary money, and ooh and aah over your little one’s latest creations. Integrate some on-top-of-it organization at day’s end, and you’ll not only feel up to speed — you’ll also avoid before-school panic.

4. Move it

For little bodies that have been cooped up for most of the day, making an activity break part of the after-school routine can work out the wiggles and supply some extra energy. Send the kids out to the yard to play, take a quick family bike ride around the block, head to a nearby park, launch a game of backyard soccer or volleyball, or shoot some hoops in the driveway. If the weather is an issue, a fast round of Twister or a two-minute living-room dance party gets little hearts pounding. (It even tires them out for bedtime!)

5. Set up a homework station

For older kids, homework is often the dreaded necessity of the after-school routine. Whether your child needs a break first or does best taking on homework pronto, a spot to work makes it easier to focus. No room for a kid-sized desk? Simply clear the kitchen table and pull out a portable basket of supplies, including pencils, pens, rulers, scissors, and crayons. For homework-phobes, set a timer for 20 minutes, then allow a five-minute play break to keep her motivated.

6. Check off chores

Even toddlers and preschoolers can pitch in with age-appropriate tidying-up tasks. To squelch the endless nagging, create a daily chore chart — using pictures for little ones, words for older kids — with two or three simple tasks for each child, such as putting away shoes, feeding the dog, wiping the kitchen table, or emptying the dishwasher. Award stickers for a job well done. Enforcing an after-school chore routine may feel like its own chore, but it will help you to raise responsible adults — and make your home a bit neater while you’re at it.

7. Set the screen rules

Once homework and chores are out of the way, the decks are clear for downtime — and chances are your little ones are angling for a little one-on-one time with the TV or computer. But remember, when it comes to screen time, less is usually more. Limiting your little one to 30 minutes or an hour of video games or kid-friendly shows lets her wind down, but still allows time for outdoor activities and playing with friends. Even smarter: Have kids earn screen time by reading. Thirty minutes with a book can translate to 30 minutes of video games after dinner.

8. Get them talking

Even among the preschool and daycare set, asking, “How was your day?” is likely to elicit a shrug or an “I don’t know.” To make talking to your kids more productive, ask specific questions that should elicit actual answers, like: “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” “What was your favorite part of the day?” “What did you do today that was kind?” Or, “Teach me something you learned today.” The more interested you are in your kid’s day-to-day, the closer she’ll feel to you.

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