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7 After-School Routine Ideas to Help Reduce Screen Time


At 4pm, my kids bust through the door.

They toss their shoes and socks on the ground, and if I’m lucky, their backpack and lunchbox make it to the kitchen somewhere.

They make a run for the TV, spewing out requests no one can seem to agree on. Blippi! No, Cars! Paw Patrol! No, Wild Kratts!

Sidenote: Can we all agree Blippi is absolutely horrendous?!

I’m just standing there, looking at the total trip hazard at our front door, the heaps of items now scattered on the floor, the baby having the 5pm meltdown, and that inner voice saying:

“Screen time is bad. I’m going to pay for it later. But I have to start dinner, and it’d be way easier if the kids were occupied.”

I’m so fed up with the whole thing.

Let’s start an after-school routine that chips away at the chaos and adds back some peace into our homes!

Why Worry About Screen Time?

When my kids get home from school, I’m mentally drained from the day. I don’t have the energy or willpower to start any big activities.

So… we resort to screen time. But it makes my kids TV-obsessed and irritable in the long run, leading to tantrums, listening problems, and overall bad behavior.

According to a 2015 study of schoolchildren living in Shanghai, an after-school routine that includes a lot of screen time can affect your child’s sleep and energy levels during the day.

Each additional hour of screen time increases the odds of daytime tiredness and difficulty maintaining sleep by 30% and 27%, respectively.

I took to the internet for inspiration for my after-school routine and came across some great ideas and advice. Let’s get into it.

1. Create an after-school checklist.

My kids love checking off boxes, especially since we introduced a chore chart. I don’t know why I never considered doing the same thing but for an after-school routine.

after school routine checklist on the fridge

Your after-school checklist would depend on your child’s age and their extracurricular activities, but for my preschool/Kindergarten-aged children, here’s what a checklist could look like:

  • Hang up backpack in your room.
  • Put lunchbox next to the sink.
  • Put socks and any other dirty clothes in your laundry basket.
  • Have a snack.
  • Do an activity (you can pick from anything in the idea lists coming in the next section).
  • Help mom prep dinner or clear the kitchen table.
  • Finish homework.
  • Read books or play independently.
  • Have a bath.
side view of after school routine checklist

You don’t need anything fancy to make a checklist, either. You can print and laminate a basic checklist and have your child make checkmarks with an Expo marker.

I created a free checklist (it’s part of a full after-school routine packet) to get you started:

I’ve also seen a lot of cute DIY options like these:

2. Help your kids decompress.

My kids are a little moody and resistant to following directions when they get home from school.

And honestly? I would be, too.

Their young brains have just spent a full day listening to their teachers and doing what they’re told – they need time to relax and decompress, just like us parents.

Many families allow their kids to unwind with screen time, whether that be a tablet, the TV, or video games. That’s the trap I’ve gotten into, which leads to cranky kids who have no attention span and absolutely freak out when I turn off the TV or take their tablet.

And as that study found, after-school screen time can lead to daytime tiredness and issues sleeping at night. It’s a vicious cycle.

So, for the parents who want to cut that down, here are some alternatives.

Indoor Calm-Down Activity Ideas

Get specific ideas on my after-school Pinterest board!

  • Reading books or listening to audio (Toniebox, Storypod, Yoto Player, etc.)
  • Sensory activities, such as lavender play dough, moon sand, oobleck, kinetic sand, or slime
play dough
  • Follow a kid’s yoga routine (available on YouTube)
  • Play with legos, blocks, or magnetic tiles
  • Any kind of independent play (my kids tend to whine for the TV when it’s a free-for-all, so if that’s you, focus their attention on one of the ideas above)
Screen time-ish option: tune in to live wildlife cams – the cam in the Penguin exhibit from the San Diego Zoo is my kryptonite.

Outdoor Calm-Down Activity Ideas

Get specific ideas on my after-school Pinterest board!

  • Riding bikes
  • Cloud watching
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Water table
  • Fly kites
  • Collecting sticks
  • Running around
  • Play toss and catch
  • Playing in the sprinkler or pool
outdoor water time
  • Water balloon fight
  • Playing with neighbor kids
  • Jump on the trampoline

3. Use a slow cooker or pressure cooker so you’re not bound to the kitchen.

You may have seen the list of calm-down activity ideas and thought, sounds great, but I can’t really watch my kids play outside if I’m cooking dinner inside.

That has been the bane of my existence for years.

However, try incorporating more slow cooker or Instant Pot meals so you’re free to play with or watch your kids.

get your add-ins ready for when the instant pot is done

I personally prefer the Instant Pot as our morning can be hectic as it is. Here are some of my favorite recipes:

Related: My 14 Secrets for Cooking Dinner Every Night as a Working Mom of 3

4. Use timers for easier transitions.

Timers are so incredibly helpful for transitions, especially for toddlers and elementary-aged kids.

If you want to include screen time but with a cap, as an example, try using a timer.

You could say, “When the timer goes off in 25 minutes, I’m turning the TV off. Then, it’s time to clear the table for dinner.”

Clock from Lovevery
Lovevery’s 20-minute timer is so useful for transitions. Whether it’s a 5-minute clean-up or a 15-minute window to play on the tablet, my kids can see the passing of time. It also beeps when time’s up!

I really like a visual timer, like this one from Lovevery, because it helps kids actually see and understand the passing of time.

Related: Our 5-Year Lovevery Play Kits Journey: 2024 Review

5. Look into more extracurricular activities.

Our kids are in dance, tumbling, and soccer, but we’ve tried a lot of different things. We used to do horseback riding, Kindermusik, and KidStrong, which were all a lot of fun.

After-school activities can be a great way for kids to decompress and get out their energy while building new skills and making friends.


Parents has a great blog post with tons of activity ideas, but here are a few to spark ideas:

  • Martial arts
  • Scouting groups, like Girl Scouts or Cub Scouts
  • Swimming lessons
  • Art classes
  • Music lessons
  • 4-H
  • Storytime
  • Sports, like soccer, baseball, hockey, ice skating, etc.

6. Prep weekly activity bins.

The Instagram account @celenakinsey has an awesome toddler bins series that’s perfect for after-school play.

I find so much inspiration from watching those videos, which include sensory bins, pattern practice, letters, color matching, and more.

The best part is you can prep these bins ahead of time and pull them out when your kids are home and settled from school. It will give you enough time to work on dinner – or relax yourself!

Related: Your Ultimate Guide to Preschool Busy Bags (15 Activity Ideas Included!)

7. Do something as a family after dinner.

After dinnertime is another screen time trap. Don’t fall into it!

Consider doing something as a family instead of resorting to the couch. Maybe it’s an outdoor walk, reading a book, a family soccer game, a Nerf gun fight, or a family board game.

family game night
Family game night on the Infinity table – I know this is a screen, but we were losing all of our board game pieces. This helps us actually play games as a family without realizing we don’t have the proper pieces.

I have young kids (preschool and elementary ages), so we’d be looking at games like:

But anything that can keep you from parking in front of the couch for the night is a success.


An after-school routine sounds like a lot of work to set up, but the stress starts melting away once it’s in place.

I made this after-school routine packet to give you a jumpstart – feel free to use my sample routine checklist or create your own with the blank page.

You can also use the week of planned activity ideas, but there’s also a blank planner you can fill in if your child’s age doesn’t match the activities I outlined.

Let me know in the comments: what’s your best after-school routine hack?

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