Even though they go to school all day, many kids have a lot of free time. The Afterschool Alliance reported in 2009 that more than 15 million school-age children are on their own once school lets out.
If you're a parent, you might wonder about the best ways for your children to spend those hours between school and dinnertime or bedtime. Do you load them up with activities? Do you leave them to their own devices (maybe not the best idea)? Should you be involved with them during every free moment?
Obviously the answer lies somewhere in between. Today's kids have tons of after-school activities to choose from -- community programs or school-sanctioned activities. And if those aren't available to you, there are many things you can do with your child at home. The most important thing, after all, is making sure your child is always engaged, learning and having fun.
Read on to find out some ways to make the most of your kid's time.
Positive After-school Fun for Kids
Sitting in front of a TV or computer playing video games might be a way for your kid to kill some time. And although there's nothing wrong with those activities, they should be done in moderation. Here are a few ideas for more active -- both physically and mentally -- after-school fun:
If your child's school doesn't offer an after-school program (sometimes called aftercare), look around the community. Sometimes your local YMCA or church/synagogue will have good programs where kids are supervised and play games or receive help with their homework. And there are always the old standards -- music lessons, sports or dance classes.
Or, if you're able to be with your child after school, you can spend productive time together by planning out activities. Here's one idea to get you started: Each month of the year has a theme, and you can celebrate it in different ways. For example, the month of December has a lot of multicultural holidays. You and your child can learn about these holidays together, make recipes that tie into the festivities, and play themed games.
Also think about pooling your resources with neighbors of similarly aged children. Plan play dates, or take turns watching the kids after school. Whatever you choose, don't forget to incorporate some physical activity as well. Weather permitting, you can take bike rides or nature walks, or just run around outside to blow off some steam. During the colder, indoor months, you can keep your kids (and yourself) moving with active video games or even an impromptu dance party.
Next, we'll talk about how to get the most out of those after-school hours.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Kid's Time
Research shows that kids benefit greatly from participating in after-school activities. In a 2008 study, research found that the 17 percent of kids who didn't participate in activities were more withdrawn and socially immature and had lower self-esteem in comparison to their more busy peers.
Kids respond well to routine, so make sure you have one. Your child should know what to expect -- it makes him or her feel more secure and in control. Establish your own after-school routine together. One thing we recommend is an after-school snack. Kids come home hungry after a long day. The after-school snack ritual is a good way to establish healthy eating habits, and it also gives you some time to connect and talk about the school day.
Homework is also important. Some parents have their kids complete their homework first thing, before they're allowed to go play or visit with friends. Try to make yourself available to assist your kid if he or she needs it, and check the homework afterward. It helps you keep tabs on how your child is doing in school, and keeps you involved in the learning process.
Many parents also limit what they call "screen time." If you're concerned about your kids spending too much time with video games, the computer, or television, give them a time limit each day and let them choose which "screen" they want to watch.
The best way to make the most of your kid's free time is to keep a balance. Don't overschedule your child, or worse, pressure her or him to achieve too much. You don't want a fun activity to become unenjoyable. Remember, sometimes a kid just needs to be a kid.
For more about kids and family, check out the links on the next page.
- 10 Creative After-school Programs for Kids
- 5 Cool School Tools
- 5 Things a Teacher Won't Tell You about Your Kid
- 5 Things Parents Should Know: When Your Kid Goes to a New School
- 5 Things to Know About Managing Family Schedules
- 5 Tips for Keeping Kids Organized
- What are some good after-school jobs for tweens?
- "Afterschool." Thinkfinity. 2010. (Dec. 12, 2010)http://www.thinkfinity.org/afterschool
- Rhoden, Paula. "Parents & Kids: What to do after school?" The Daily Courier. Nov. 16, 2010. (Dec. 12, 2010) http://www.dcourier.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubsectionID=1&ArticleID=87554
- Shelby, Barbara. "Kid Activities." 2010. (Dec. 12, 2010)http://www.kidactivities.net/
- St. George, Donna. "For Some Busy Kids, It's All Good." The Washington Post. Sep. 28, 2008. (Dec. 12, 2010)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09/27/AR2008092702644.html