After school time is probably the most unstructured time of my day. As a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer, I work hard to make the most of the mornings and the opportunities that come after lunch during nap time. I usually run a bunch of errands after getting my girls to school and breakfast cleared away. My son and I sneak in some fun playtime and before we know it, we are ready to eat lunch. Nap follows soon after the mid-day meal, which gives me some time to do a little writing. This set-up usually takes us right up to the bus arriving home, and voilà eight hours has vanished and all of my children are home again.
Life is so very busy that I think it is okay to try to find the calm and take a little bit of the rush out of what is typically “rush hour” in the majority of households.
The hours of 3:30pm to 5:30pm are almost like a twilight zone time period at my house because those two hours are so unpredictable. One day might involve a snack, homework, laundry folding, and a highly anticipated cartoon viewing of Ready Jet Go or my girls’ PBS favorite Odd Squad. Other days the weather may be wonderful, and my kids ride bikes outside with the neighbors while some of us stay-at-homies sit on tailgate chairs in our driveways to keep an eye on the kiddos while also mingling in the beauty that is adult conversation. There are still other afternoons, where extra-curricular activities override those two hours and I pretty much spend the whole time carpooling kiddos to different activities and wishfully thinking dinner would prepare itself.
My only real staple of duty for after school is checking school backpacks and making sure the girls put their shoes away and hang up their coats. I also try to have a meaningful dialogue about their day, which means getting creative with the questions I ask them. I have talked a bit before in prior posts about interpersonal communication, and the need to ask different questions to really engage kids to share details and actively converse.
Here are a few of my favorite things to ask my daughters and son:
1-What did you do at recess?
2-What did you do in your “specials” today? * Specials at our school include art, music, computer, P.E., library, and guidance.
3-What did you pick for lunch?
4-Who did you sit by at lunch?
5-Who did you play with at recess?
My kids are big talkers, but it still feels good to ask them about things in a way that mandates we will get beyond the standard: “yes” or “no” or “fine”. These one-word answers can be dominant when asking generic questions like: “How was your day?” or “Did you do well on your assignment?”.
Also, if I am being entirely honest once 3:30 pm rolls around I am pretty tired as a mother. I have usually been going full bore the entire day and really just want to enjoy my kids and relax a bit before the chaos of dinner and the witching hour that is known as prepping for bedtime. I probably need to be better about having a chore list and making sure my eight-year-old and six-year-old are aware of the responsibilities that go with keeping a house in order and a kitchen somewhat clean. But again, those two hours are not my strongest, and I just wanna relax or at the very least take my Type-A, over-scheduled self down a notch or two.
I think of the time between 3:30 pm and 5:30 pm as my auto-pilot. A sort-of calm before the storm that my family calls the ending of a long day. The quietness before my husband gets home from work and my kids turn into hyenas. The serene tranquility before the need to exercise, pay bills, empty a dishwasher, check the calendar schedule, and read an in-box full of email takes over my existence.
Really the only thing I hold sacred during the after school hours is snack time. My kindergartner has snack in the afternoon at school, but I still insist she have a snack at home with her brother and sister. I don’t know why, but some traditions can’t be broken. My mom always had great snacks for my brothers and I after school. If there weren’t fresh baked cookies or homemade sticky rolls, then there were yummy store bought treats and big glasses of ice, cold milk. My kids are not that lucky, because I only get into the cookie baking mode on stormy days. However, sometimes I bust out some “ants on a log” or “banana sandwiches” for their dining pleasure.
Ants on a Log
Cut and wash a celery stalk, then smear on peanut butter and add raisins on top.
**For those with tree nut allergies, consider using cottage cheese instead of peanut butter. This is my middle child’s preferred choice for ants on a log.
Peel banana and cut length-wise into two pieces. Smear peanut butter onto one banana length, than add raisins on top of the PB, and finally drizzle with honey. Add second banana length on top of the gooey goodness to make it a banana sandwich.
*For those with tree nut allergies, you can just skip the peanut butter.
**I also make these a lot for breakfast, as they are pretty filling with a glass of milk and tube of Go-Gurt.
The after school hours can be hectic, but I choose to make them as pleasant as possible. It doesn’t always work because deadlines, music practice, gymnastics, and seasonal allergies can wreak their own special type of havoc. However, it is the thought that counts…right?