5 tips for surviving the playground with your kids after school

It’s September. The sun is shining. And my kids are back to staying after school and playing on the playground for hours on end.

Okay, “hours” is exaggerating a little, but with the nice autumn weather, I find myself in the school playground a lot. Most of the time, it’s pretty great, but I have learned quite a few tips over the years to make that time hanging out by the monkey bars a lot more fun.

  1. Plan dinner ahead of time. Whether you throw a healthy meal in the slow cooker or know exactly what you’re going to make when you get home, being prepared is key when you come home with your hungry (and, hence, complaining) little ones.
  2. Bring a high-protein snack after school. If you don’t already do so, the stay-and-play days are the time to bring something hearty for them to eat when they come bounding out of the school doors.
  3. Don’t forget the sunscreen. They’re going to be playing in the hot, afternoon sun. And even when I think we’ll only stay a minute, it usually becomes longer when I see what fun they’re having. Slather on the sunscreen when they’re eating that high-protein snack and you may even be lucky enough to avoid the complaints about how gross sunscreen is.
  4. Tell them ahead of time how long you’ll be staying. I’ve learned the hard way that they don’t always want to leave. In fact, my kids have it in their heads that if we aren’t the last family standing, we haven’t stayed long enough. A five-minute warning always helps, too.
  5. Bring along some extra items to add to the fun. If your kids love soccer, bring a ball. If they love skipping, bring a rope. The more kids you have, the more likely one of them won’t want to stay as long as the others. If you can whip out that skipping rope or soccer ball you might buy yourself (and your other kids) a bit more time at the playground.

Remember, no matter how long you stay, it probably won’t be long enough for at least one of your kids. And it will probably be too long for another. But that hour (or more) of playing after school is one of the easiest ways to keep kids active and practicing their different movement skills without them even realizing it. And, I’ll be honest, one of the best ways to avoid the before-dinner witching hour that usually happens if we head straight home.

I’m often surprised by how few families actually stick around after school. While there are certainly times I’m envious of everything those other parents must be accomplishing when they get home right away after school, the truth of what my children and I are accomplishing ourselves makes me so very glad we choose to stay and play.

3 responses to “5 tips for surviving the playground with your kids after school

  1. With a little one in a stroller, playgrounds are a bit more difficult, that’s for sure! But if, as you say, your little one is happy to be pushed around, that’s a pretty big win in my book. Find ways to make it challenging for yourself and you’ll have a built-in mama workout while your daughter plays.

    And if your baby wants out of the stroller, maybe it’s time for some playground exploration. It’ll be particularly easy for you while baby can’t walk, since there will be no sneaking away from you! Play in the snow, find interesting sticks to poke into it, crawl, roll, throw… it’s pretty much just a giant, frozen sandbox. Before you know it, it will be dinner time and you’ll be walking home with your rosy-cheeked duo wondering how the time slipped away so quickly.

    As for the book-reading? I think you’ve probably got a few more years before that returns! In the meantime, doing whatever you can to make the playground time fun for all of you is a great way to keep everyone happy and healthy.

    Have fun!

  2. An even greater challenge is sticking around on the playground in the winter, with a baby in the stroller. I wouldn’t mind if I could just hang out by myself with a book and do some stretching. But, my 11-year-old baby, who is not even close to walking, gets whiny unless I do the rounds up and down the snowy bumpy path, which means no reading for me, and time passing VERY slowly. BUT, I agree, if we go straight home, then it most likely means more TV watching, unless I am available to play with my daughter. The energy is often lacking me at this time of day (3-5pm) and all I want to do is curl up with a book or lie down. So, I try to hang out at the park after school as long as the other kids are there, it is somewhat boring for me and my baby, but really necessary for my daughter.

    Any tips out there for winter playground blues?

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