School still might look a bit different this year, but one thing remains the same—the after-school routine is in constant need of a tune-up to ensure kids not only stay busy until dinner, but that they stay busy with activities that are both engaging and rewarding.
Some families have it figured out, and use this time for children to either try something new or jump back into something that has long been forgotten. (Now is also a great time to brush up on time management with your kids.)
Either way, past success is not an indicator of future results! Whether you've had success in this area and are in need of a kickstart, or, have simply yet to master the after-school activity schedule, the following list could be a much-needed catalyst.
From entertainment to education, you’d be surprised just how much that kids can enjoy and accomplish with a few hours each day.
Engaging after-school activities for home
1. Learn to code
As a kid, I loved video games and board games (more to come on both) and was a heavy baseball card collector. But, I can’t really think of much else at our disposal back then! Fast forward to today’s after-school activities, and we are talking things like leaning to code?
Yes, it’s possible, and there are a number of different areas to explore when it comes to coding for kids or coding for teens. These opportunities include "playing with" coding “toys” like Sphero, engaging in online coding courses, giving after-school private tutoring a shot, and much more.
2. Create a movie
My son is obsessed with Toy Story. (Because really, how can he and every other kid not be?) After watching him pour his heart and soul into creating a "Toy Story parade," which was basically just a long line of Woody, Buzz, Bo Peep, and every other Disney/Pixar toy he owned, I thought he might enjoy giving them all a bit more life.
So, with the help of the Stop Motion Studio app available in the Apple app store, we set up and captured a few frames! Using the app to easily piece them together and add music, we created the following.
And when kids are ready to take their skills to the next level, learning how to use pro software like Adobe Premiere will continue the cinematic adventure.
I removed them here, but you can also easily add images, title cards, end credits, and more!
Now, if nothing else, the activity will at least give you a new appreciation for full-length animated feature films...as our 30 minutes of posing toys and taking pictures resulted in the 15-second clip you see above.
3. Keep math skills sharp
Think of the brain as a muscle—we should always be working on our learning to keep them in shape! The Yup App is a great way for kids to get on-demand math tutoring and homework help whenever they need it, and they can do so directly from smartphones and tablets.
The idea is simple: to use the app, a student snaps a photo of the problem they're working on and connects with a vetted expert tutor. Then, Yup tutors work with students for however long they need to reach a solution, using secure messaging, photo-sharing, and a live virtual whiteboard.
And that's just one option! iD Tech has just launched a number of online math tutoring lessons, including options with pre-algebra, algebra I, algebra II, geometry, and more.
Read more: learn how to make math fun, or view more after-school enrichment activities.
I fall pretty firmly on the side that video games aren’t bad for kids, and are actually good, with a number of advantageous benefits, especially when kids create their own games. Plus, they do what they set out to do—entertain!
So, there is no shame in having your child pick up the controller, and there is definitely no shame in you picking up the other controller and playing with them when time allows! As is the case with most things, it’s all about moderation.
Here are some of the best computer games for kids in terms of educational and entertainment value.
For a social component, new online after-school programs that are held virtually allow for kids to gather with friends - or to make new friends - while engaging in Minecraft's Sky Wars or battling it out with Minecraft Bed Wars.
5. Build with LEGO
I’ll admit, I wasn’t a LEGO kid. But now as an adult with my own kids, I’m totally bummed I wasn’t a LEGO kid!
It’s amazing the opportunity - and challenge - a LEGO set can provide—you’re telling me all of these tiny pieces can be fastened together to create The Wizarding World of Harry Potter? No way!
Seeing these sets through to completion helps build perseverance and strengthens skills in areas like fine motor skills development and problem-solving.
Not to mention the benefits of robotics for kids, which can be gained through LEGO sets like MINDSTORMS or other sets like VEX and a number of others.
6. Clean and organize
If you’re like me, the thought of deep cleaning and organizing your home is one that often pops into your head, but is quickly squashed by the thought of having to “waste” a weekend day to take it on.
So, use this after-school time to tidy up, organize, and...
7. Gather and donate
While you’re at it, now’s the time to go the extra step and figure out where you can purge non-essentials. Clothes, toys, and everything else that might be spilling out of your closets.
Explain to your kids the idea behind donating items to those in need, and go through the exercise of deciding whether or not you really need all of that stuff that you haven’t touched in ages.
8. Read a book
When is the last time you read with your kids? I bet many of you would say “last night, before bed” and that’s great!
But do you feel it was quality reading time? Habits are good, and that includes nighttime routines, but sometimes activities become more of a “going through the motions.”
So, maybe you’re reading the same short story over and over again, or perhaps you only get a page in before your child falls asleep. Either way, use after-school time as an opportunity to get kids to crack a new book; maybe it’s a lengthier and more detailed title that really gets the imagination going.
(And, if books really aren't a consideration, how about engaging with a science website to engage your kids?)
9. Build a fort
Speaking of imagination, sometimes it’s hard for kids to see past the fact that home is boring because they know its limitations...it’s a bunch of bedrooms and bathrooms, sweet.
So how about building up alternative worlds in the form of a pillow fort castle, or cardboard box amusement park? Add a nerf gun or two and you’ve got the makings of an epic battle.
One of those benefits of playing video games is that it can get kids thinking about what they’re playing on a much deeper level. As in, how do you make a video game? How do you design and animate a video game character? What is a game designer?
If that’s the case, another after-school activity can involve letting your child loose with a design program like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, or on more of an entry-level with Canva. Give them a task like design your birthday party invitation, or, create a flyer for a business, etc. (Learn more about our Photoshop tutoring lessons.)
And let’s not forget about our offline gaming friends like Monopoly, Candy Land, and Chutes and Ladders! Board games are the ultimate low tech go-to, and have stood the test of time.
Online chess strategy, for instance, provides a lifetime of strategy and fun. For a new twist, try a gateway game like Catan Junior.
12. Watch a movie
And right behind the board game on the traditional indoor activity scale is the movie! Not much more to add here, and I’m sure you’re aware of all of the available movie streaming options—Netflix, Disney Plus, and the like.
Read More: 15 STEM Movies for Kids & Teens
Don’t let the close quarters fool you—there is still plenty of exercising that can be done at home. And don’t let the word “exercise” fool you either!
While jumping jacks and push-ups are perfectly fine to engage in, I’m not sure you’ll get the desired buy-in from your kids. But chasing a balloon? Or stomping on bubble wrap? Not a bad workout, and fun to boot.
14. Listen to a podcast
Podcasts are no longer reserved for parents seeking self-improvement, or for those on long car rides needing to pass the time. There are a number of podcasts for kids, ranging from learners like But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids to serials like The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian. Don't worry, mom, we have you covered too with our best podcasts for moms.
Depending on your child’s desired involvement, dancing at home can range from an impromptu boogie-down when their favorite song comes on, to a choreography lesson thanks to YouTube. And of course, dancing is another form of exercise, so two birds here.
16. Create arts and crafts
If you’re stuck inside and weren’t given the opportunity to prepare, you can still find crafting options!
Have kids stick toothpicks in marshmallows to construct an object. Or how about simple thumbprint art with the help of rubber stamp ink (here’s a cool thumbprint family tree)?
17. Show puppets
You’d be amazed at how many household items can be turned into puppets when needed for a puppet show.
Brown paper bags are a natural fit and can be easily drawn on and crafted in order to spruce up. And of course, tube socks are the home puppet show standard.
For those interested in taking their performances to the next level, many kids get a kick out of raiding their parents’ closets, playing dress-up, and putting on their own improvised shows.
19. Do a puzzle
One of the hardest things about keeping kids busy after school during the day is the fact that if you’re home with them, they want you to participate! This is great, don’t get me wrong, but all parents can attest, there is only so much puppet-showing one can take.
Not to mention a little thing called work!
Thus, a puzzle is always a welcome activity because it’s something creative, fun, and educational that kids can carry out on their own.
20. Play hallway soccer
It doesn’t have to be soccer, but from experience, I’ve found it to be less destructive than other sports!
Be sure to take the pictures off the wall, and use a soft, non-regulation soccer ball while you’re at it.
Beyond that, don’t be surprised if your kids get wrapped up in an hour of dribbling and shooting through doorway goals.
21. Do a scavenger hunt
To really get the creative juices flowing, prepare a home-based scavenger hunt for your kids to embark upon. If you’re short on time, craft something based on how your house stands as-is, giving creative clues on your basic household items, like “I’m in the kitchen, and you’ll never eat me, but Scruffy the dog loves to greet me” for your stored dog snacks.
(Check out our list of scavenger hunt clues for kids.)
Or, if you have time to actually hide treats and trinkets, you can go that route as well.
It’s all about frame of mind
With after-school time, try and get kids to take advantage of the new opportunity that awaits! Encourage them to try something new if that has traditionally been a struggle; dive deeper into a school topic if a certain area is now proving to be a challenge.
Whether it’s through one of the after-school activities above, or something entirely different, try to embrace the scenario presented and push yourself and your kids to come out better, stronger, or smarter on the other side!