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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.