We’re going to cut right to the chase. When the kids get home from school, it can be a challenge for caregivers on so many levels. Between dealing with hunger and tantrums, cooking dinner, and doing laundry, the hours after school can be overwhelming to say the least.
To help make your after-school routine more enjoyable and less stressful, we’ve gathered 35 activities and ideas from almost everyone we know: friends, family, readers, colleagues, teachers, and of course, ourselves. The ideas below have helped us keep our sanity on busy school nights. We hope they do the same for you!
One very important tip is to make sure your little ones’ tummies are full. Give them a snack that you know they will really enjoy, like a warm cookie with milk (go for chocolate)! Not only will the snack make them happy in the moment, but it’ll keep them in a good mood until dinner. At the end of the day, no matter what fun ideas you have planned, no one’s happy on an empty stomach.
If you have any ideas that are not on this list, let us know what they are in the comments below!
Go through this list with your kids and let them pick an activity every once and a while, too.
- Fun with play dough:
“In our house, good old-fashioned play dough can occupy the kids for hours with the right tools. My boys get out toy dinosaurs and make footprints. My younger ones love using rolling pins to bake pretend pies, pizzas, and cookies. We’ve also used stamps to make fun designs!”
- Blow bubbles:
“Might sound simple, but my secret weapon is always bubbles. The kids love having contests of who can blow the biggest one!”
- Make a reading nook:
“My kids always expect me to sit on the floor with them and read all the books on the shelf, but when I’m scrambling to get dinner on the table (which is just about every night), I set up a cozy reading nook, and the kids love curling up and turning the pages.”
- DIY snow globes:
“My kids love watching Nosh and Nibble! A project that has been a favorite are Rylee’s snow globes. They get to watch the episode for instructions and then make the craft. Keeps them busy for a long time!”
- Play pizza shop and get dinner done at the same time:
“I always try to enlist the bigger kids with dinner prep and cooking. One of our favorite things to cook together is pizza. We all get toppings ready, and then the little kids join us for the actual topping of them. I have these pizza shop hats on hand to make it extra fun!”
- Bake mug cakes:
“My kids love to bake, but I try to avoid extra messes at all costs. These mug cakes fit the bill perfectly because they only require a mug, are baked in the microwave, are fun, quick, and delicious.”
See some yummy mug cake recipes HERE.
- Play with kinetic sand:
“This stuff is magic! If you don’t have kinetic sand already, treat your kids and yourself to some!
- Long baths with crafts:
“The most relaxing time for us is when my kids are in the bath! Sounds crazy, but my kids have a blast and I can sit there and watch them without being the entertainment. To make bath time even more fun, I buy bath crafts like this one. My kids go crazy for it.”
- Do the laundry together:
“My daughter LOVES doing the laundry with me. Okay, she mainly loves throwing the clean clothes in the air and rolling around in it. But she has a great time, and I get some folding done.”
- Dance party:
“My kids love the ‘freeze dance’ song. We all dance around the house together. The only downside is it can last a really long time! But it gets their energy out and gets them extra tired for bedtime.”
- Make cereal necklaces:
“I try to use things that I already have in the house to occupy the littles. One of their favorite things to do is make necklaces out of loop cereals. I also love that it’s a great fine motor skill.”
- Video chat with family or friends:
“One of the only times that I allow screen time is to call Bubbie and Zaidy. My kids obviously love using our electronic devices, and the grandparents get so much nachas from watching and talking to them. I always remind my kids what a mitzvah it is – which makes them feel extra proud.”
- Make a sensory bin:
“My son loves getting his hands dirty! I started containing the mess by putting anything messy in a large bin for him. We recently made this sensory bin + scavenger hunt, and he absolutely loved it.”
- Alternate toys:
“May sound overly simple, but alternating toys actually works! I leave my kids with about ten toys in the playroom at once and store the rest whout of reach. The following week, I’ll switch everything around. They love seeing “new” toys and games on their shelves, which keeps them extra occupied (giving me more time to do the laundry or cook dinner). This is also a great idea for those on a budget. My kids literally act like they’re playing with new toys each time!”
- Paint in a bag:
“One of my favorite Pinterest finds is to squirt a few colors of paint into a large zip top bag and seal it shut. I’ll even tape it to a higher surface for the little ones to practice some gross motor skills by pulling to stand and reaching up.”
- Make s’mores:
“When my kids come home, they are ravenous for food. Along with a healthy option, I usually offer a special treat. S’mores has been a favorite lately – it’s a project and snack all in one. Plus, if you think about it, we’re talking about two graham crackers, one square of chocolate, and one marshmallow. I’d much rather them eat that than donuts and candy when they get home.”
- Sip hot cocoa:
“In the winter, my family has what we call ‘The Cocoa Club.’ We sip on hot cocoa and top with either marshmallows or whipped cream and just chat about our day. It’s something we all look forward to at the end of a long day apart.”
Take the Cocoa club a step further and introduce a hot cocoa board for extra fun.
- DIY a ball pit:
“My kids love taking all the couch cushions and pillows we have in the house to make a large circle with them in our playroom. They fill the inside with balls, stuffed animals, or bundles of socks and have a ‘ball.’ It’s so cute to watch.”
- Draw on giant pieces of paper:
“On one of our recent FaceTime calls, my sister’s kids were all lying on the floor around this giant piece of coloring paper just drawing and coloring away. I bought it for my kids too, and they have been obsessed. It’s great for keeping them entertained after school.”
- Practice an instrument:
“My kids love coming home and practicing an instrument. They put on concerts and ‘rehearse’ for a good while.”
- Scavenger hunt:
“I always loved the idea of a scavenger hunt for kids, but thinking of clues, riddles, and maps isn’t my thing, so I bought this kit. My kids love it! When it gets warm out, I plan on having the kids use it outside, too.”
- Play in the snow:
“My kids want to play outside no matter how cold it is. Even better if there’s snow on the ground! I bundle them up and they build igloos, forts – you name it. I bought these paints at the beginning of the season and they have really come in handy for added entertainment!”
- Write letters:
“My kids love to sit at the table and draw, so we recently started putting those skills to good use. When my kids come home from school they have a snack and get to work on a letter to a special person we know. I mail them out and the recipients (grandparents and cousins) get so much joy out of receiving them. It’s a win-win.”
- Paint objects from nature:
“We love going out in the back to bring some nature indoors to paint. We’ve painted pinecones, rocks, acorns, and leaves.”
- Ice cream in a bag:
“Ice cream in a bag is a great after-school activity. Once it’s ready, we put it in the freezer for dessert after dinner.”
- Play with foam soap:
“My kids love playing with their foam soap during bath time, so I figured it couldn’t hurt to bring the dispenser into the kitchen for some fun. The kids get the soap almost everywhere, which is my secret to such a clean kitchen. Shh! Don’t tell my mom!”
- Cloud paint:
“We tried this cloud paint a while back and can’t get enough! It keeps the kids busy while I get dinner on the table.”
- Scented play dough:
“We were home for Yeshiva week and this was one of our favorite projects – will definitely be bringing it out when the kids get home from school.”
- Clean and organize:
“My daughters love to feel like they’re helping Mommy and Abba with important jobs around the house. I give them ‘chores’ like putting all the folded clothing in drawers, or finding all the matching pairs of socks and they start working like little busy bees. The trick is in your delivery. I always make the task sound exceptionally important. They take their jobs very seriously, which is a hoot to see!”
- Play stoop ball:
“My dad used to play stoop ball with me and my brothers, and now I play it indoors with my kids. Look up how to play – it’s actually a lot of fun and all you need is a bouncy ball and a set of stairs.”
- Balloon rockets:
“This game actually happened by accident. We were blowing up balloons for one of our birthdays, and at one point a balloon slipped out of our hands mid-blow! It flew across the room, and my kids were on the floor laughing. Now we do it on purpose and have a blast with it.”
- Shadow drawing:
“We usually do this when it’s warmer out. We lay big pieces of paper down on a flat surface outside, place a favorite, standing toy on one end of the paper, and then trace the shadow. I admit, I sometimes join in. It’s a really cool project.”
- Put away the groceries:
“My kids help me put away all the groceries by playing ‘grocery store.’ They stock the shelves with new ‘inventory’ and make price tags for each item.”
- Build a blanket tent:
“Need I say more? All kids like a good old game of ‘taking all the blankets from around the house’ and making a tent.”
- Act out a story:
“This is basically a cross between charades and reading. Keeps us all busy and entertained for a good while.”
- Go for a walk:
Once the weather gets warmer, get out and explore the neighborhood. Kids thrive on a little fresh air. The outing doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be as simple as your tot pushing her favorite doll stroller, or your little guy holding a net to catch bugs.
- Scrub ANYTHING clean:
Give your kids some sponges, a bucket of soapy water and let them get scrubbing outdoors. Whether they want to clean the car, their playhouse, bikes, or even some rocks, let them have at it! Kids LOVE using adult supplies, and with just soap and water, this activity isn’t only budget-friendly, it’s helpful to you too!
Just remember that messes happen. If your couch cushions are used for a fort, or if there’s chocolate all over the table, just embrace it. You’re stressed enough – add some fun to your plate with the ideas above.
Originally published February 2022. Updated and improved May 2023.