Sometimes our kids need quiet downtime after school and sometimes it seems like they could run a 5km race. When you need ideas for how to channel that energy (ideally not in your living room), go through this list for some inspiration. From simple ideas to make use of the empty schoolyard to bigger adventures further afield, your kids will get the active play they need—and you’ll hopefully get the peaceful bedtime you need.
1. Visit the skate park with scooters or bikes
If your kids need a lot of movement after school, consider a visit to the closest skate park for a fun way to channel all that energy. Fun tip: Get yourself an adult scooter. You might just end up having more fun than your kids.
2. Bike to a nearby green space for a dinner picnic
If your kids need some motivation to get moving, choose a fun destination or switch up your usual evening routine. One of my favourites in the fall is dinner at the park, where kids can roam freely (and as a major bonus, I don’t get frustrated by the constant tipping of their chairs, getting up from the table, and demanding other dinner options).
3. Play street hockey together
Especially as the weather gets cooler, street hockey is a fun option near home that can include the whole family. All you need is a few hockey sticks and a ball. Nets are nice to have, but a couple of pylons or other objects can serve as a net in a pinch.
4. Register for rec swim at your closest community centre
Family swim is available at most community centres at convenient times for families during the school year, and it’s a great way to enjoy joyful movement together and tire everyone out for bedtime.
5. Find a nearby basketball court and play a round of 21
Playing a casual game of 21 (or another basketball game) is an opportunity to practice taking turns, connecting after a day of work and moving your bodies as you run after the ball.
6. Go for a child-led hike
After listening to rules all day, you’d be hard-pressed to find a kid who wants to go on the adult version of a hike: Walking, walking, and more walking. But a child-led hike is one where they get to make the rules. Bring them to the destination, and they get to stop as much as they want to climb trees, look at bugs, or play in the dirt. You might not make it very far past the parking lot, but that’s okay—they will love having an opportunity to explore without cajoling or rushing.
7. Check the drop-in programs at your local community centre
When planning for after-school play, take a peek at the weather. If it looks like weather your kiddo is not likely to tolerate, check your community centre for drop-in programs. There’s often basketball, badminton, free play gym, or other options for families to get active together.
8. Bring a fun outdoor toy to the school yard
If you have some time right after school to stay behind and play in the school yard, use it as an opportunity to surprise your kiddo with a fun outdoor prop. A kite, sidewalk chalk, or giant bubbles all have surprising staying power
9. On a hot day, pack up the water blasters or head to the closest splash pad
September (and even October) can have some surprisingly hot days. Combined with a lack of air conditioning in many schools, our little scholars are ready to go cool off as soon as the end-of-day bell rings. Pack up some water blasters and bathing suits and towels and take them to the closest splash pad (or your backyard sprinkler) and let them go wild.
10. Have a weeknight adventure
Schedule a visit to one of these outdoor adventure courses across Canada for a wild exploration that’s a big departure from the confines of a classroom. It’s likely to be much less busy on a weeknight than on the weekends, so take advantage of having the space to yourselves.
11. If you need to stay home, add props
If rushing home from work and trying to get dinner on the table is what most weeknights look like for you, invite active play at home with a few well-chosen props. Some stepping stones for a game of Floor is Lava or a doorway swing (if you’ve got the space!) are active kid magnets.
12. Play family track-and-field games
Head outside to a field (or your yard). Take turns jumping high, running fast, and playing traditional track-and-field games together. This simple setup is surprisingly fun for everyone.
13. Garden together
Fall is the perfect time to plant bulbs, native plants and trees, and other perennials. Yard work is a great opportunity to get moving and feel accomplished. But you don’t need to clean up everything. Leaves, for example, provide a cozy habitat for creatures in the colder weather and will biodegrade on their own.
14. Go on a fall leaf hunt
Once the leaves start to change colour, go on a nature walk to collect some leaves for an art project. (Or create one on your walk.) Fun books like Look What I Did With a Leaf! provide the perfect inspiration for making cool creations out of all the leaves you find on your treasure hunt.
15. Bury a time capsule
If your kids are into dreaming up big future plans, have them channel it into a time capsule project—then bury it in the yard and plan to dig it up one year later. Some fun things to consider: What do I want to accomplish this year? Who do I hope to spend time with? What is my favourite meal? What is my favourite activity to do as a family?
16. Clean the garage or yard together
Having the kids “help” with garage cleanup is basically one big invitation to play. As you declutter, kids will discover long-forgotten toys and games that have been neglected. The novelty value of that alone is enough to get them moving on an old skateboard or dreaming up new games to play with all those tennis balls.
17. Walk, bike, or scoot to the local library
The library is a place where my whole family can happily spend an hour searching for books before bringing them home for one big reading session. To make it active, we always walk, bike, or scoot over with backpacks or a bike trailer to haul home our books.
18. Go for an evening walk with headlamps or flashlights
As the weather cools down, evening walks can become a bit less enticing as it gets darker earlier. But that doesn’t mean we need to stay indoors! Encourage your kids to go on an evening walk by offering headlamps and flashlights, so they can search for creatures that come out at night and feel like brave explorers in the neighbourhood.
19. Make a DIY chalk obstacle course
When we were kids, my siblings and I would use our large driveway as a base for an intricate chalk pathway that offered directions like “jump like a frog,” “twirl like a ballerina,” “go backwards,” and other active instructions. We spent hours on rollerskates doing the course over and over again. Today, my family doesn’t have a large driveway, but I’ve set up active and fun games with chalk with a similar idea in mind in our smaller space. We also take advantage of sidewalks so we have more space to move.
20. When in doubt, have a dance party
It’s easy to take ourselves seriously when we’re in the school rush/commute to work/get stuff done mode that is frequent in the fall. But there’s nothing like a fun playlist and some good dancing music to get the whole family moving and laughing together.