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After school in isolation…and beyond

With many of our kids back at school, it means afternoons after school are back.

Yes, that hectic time when you want to get dinner made and the kids need to wind down, eat afternoon tea, do homework, be occupied and all without watching too much TV!

In this time of social distancing and isolation it means many of our usual after-school sports, classes and play dates are out of the question, but it also gives us an opportunity for more family time and being present in our kids’ afternoons.

Here are some tips to consider when planning what to do with your kids after school.

Be available

Because more parents are working from home, more of us will be able to pick our kids up from school or be there when they get home. If your child starts to tell you anything about their day – DO NOT STOP THEM! No matter how busy you are, take time to pause and let them speak. If you interrupt them they will probably not offer that information to you again. Also if you do have time, get involved in what they are doing. Kick a ball with them, go for a walk, play a card game or board game. Get involved!

Instead of asking, “How was your day?” try asking questions that encourage them to give a specific answer.

They need to eat

Don’t be surprised if they are grumpy or “hangry” until they’ve eaten. You know your kid, what they like and what they are capable of making themselves. Try to keep it simple, not too filling (so they still eat their dinner) and as healthy as possible. Examples: cut up fruit, cut up vegies and dip, celery and peanut butter, cheese and crackers.

Let them wind down

They have had to behave a certain way at school for hours. Home is their safe environment, where they can be themselves and relax. Their bodies and their minds need to wind down. Sitting while eating afternoon tea, reading a book, having a set amount of TV/computer game time, cards, a game on a smartphone, Sudoku, a puzzle – these are all calm activities that can help their bodies and brains unwind.

Some screen time is OK

Let’s be honest – the TV, YouTube or a computer game can make awesome baby sitters. They occupy our kids, keep them settled, happy and entertained while we can get stuff done. Unfortunately, as I am sure you are aware, screens have many negative effects – especially on children and teens as their brains are still developing. Examples include attention issues, sleep problems, behaviour problems, effects on social development and classroom engagement, as well as being addictive. As a result, it is important we put a time limit on our trusty babysitter. It is recommended for children and teens to not have more than one hour screen time in a day, whether it be gaming or watching TV (one-offs are ok, like watching a movie, but not every day). If your teenager is already in a bad habit concerning this, it will be tricky to get them to stop, but it is extremely important. There are some helpful hints in these websites.

Choose activities with little to no prep time

Come up with activities that your child enjoys, get them moving and keep them occupied. This could range from sports (kicking a soccer ball or footy, shooting a basketball, going for a run/bike ride) to arts and craft (drawing, colouring in), cooking, connecting with others by writing a letter/email/call/video call, or reading. For your sanity try to find activities that your child loves but require minimal preparation and pack away for you at this busy time of the day.

Set time for homework and study

Kids as young as 5 will be bringing work to do at home. Allow time in your afternoon for this. Some people prefer to do it straight away after getting home from school so they can enjoy the rest of the afternoon/evening. Other may prefer to start at a set time, eg. Eat, then play until 5pm, then do homework before dinner. Either way,make it a routine, so you and your child know the expectation and that it cannot be skipped. Below is a table with my recommendations for homework based on school year:

Most importantly

I encourage you to actually enjoy the extra time you get to spend with your family and to make the most of it. We are in a unique situation and we don’t know how long that life will be like this. So read the book, throw the ball, sing the song, play the game, listen to the crazy story, be present and live life with your kids!