We’re back to school and into fall. This means cooler mornings, alarm clock wake-ups, packing lunches, and bus rides. I remember last year when my oldest started kindergarten. Getting adjusted to being “on” five full days per week, tolerating the bus ride both ways, eating in a lunchroom and navigating a huge school building took everything out of him. The emotional meltdowns once he got home were fierce. The sibling issues got intense and frustrations were high. The dinner couldn’t be made fast enough. It was hard to know how to help him decompress from the day.
I found it easy to turn on the digital babysitter and let my son “unwind” on the couch. I often hit that power button way too quickly, because it made my house quiet again. After awhile, both of my children seemed to expect it as part of their routines, and became little addicts. Watching too much TV on the daily started to work against me. This wasn’t what I had envisioned in adjusting to the new school routine, and it was making me cranky, too.
I am a pediatric occupational therapist.
A child’s occupation is to go to school. This includes being able to unwind from it, transitioning back into “family” mode at home. It’s important to have some tricks in your back pocket that are calming and organizing, below I’m sharing mine.
**This is after I check the lunchbox, of course, to gauge how ravenous my little animal could be – I swear some days he ate NOTHING. And it showed.
5 Screen Free After School Activities
1. Get Outside
I know, it’s another transition and step that takes you away from whatever you needed to do at home. Often I would meet the bus with a snack in hand and go straight to the park. If we could swing it, a walk in the woods was WAY better. They aren’t getting enough outside time at school, we know that. Nature is calming, we know that. Give them some more “green” time instead of “screen” time. Of all my suggestions, this is at the top of screen free after school activities.
2. Easy art projects
Make these no screen after school activities repetitive, visual simple. Water colors, paint by number, mandala coloring books, Buddha boards. I especially love those foam mosaic sticker sets. You can even do these art projects outside if you want to get a little messy. And don’t let the cold weather stop you! I’ve got a roundup of cold weather gear recommendations that can help!
3. Sensory stuff
Even if your child doesn’t have sensory processing disorder, you should think tactile input. Shaving cream, play doh, putty, kinetic sand. I hide small Legos or Lite Brite pieces in the putty/playdoh and have my kids find them. If they’re both home, I pull out two sets and have each child make a “hiding challenge” in the putty for the other one to find.
4. Make Space
Make a fort with sheets, pull out a play tent or tee-pee and create a ‘peace’ corner somewhere in the house. Having an enclosed area to wind-down in is key. Layer the floor with soft pillows or blankets, put some stuffed animals in there, line the space with a soft fabric or something comforting. Put some books inside, or a picture album to look at. Maybe even a lava lamp or a glitter stick. Consider putting headphones on with some calming music or playing an audio book. Let them have snack inside, chew a piece of gum – whatever. Just make it a space that screens out environmental stimuli that’s distracting.
5. Together time
Get out a puzzle, a board game, or card game. Go ride bikes together or bake a treat. Work on a Lego project. Carve out a little bonding time to connect and relax, sometimes putting in some time early in the day makes for a smoother evening.