Ideas for planning the best after school activities for kids

Looking for new after school activities for your kids to do? It can be easy to get stuck in a rut as a family, and when TV shows and iPads are easier to access than ever before, lots of us find ourselves letting our kids entertain themselves in front of a screen as our go-to. There’s nothing wrong with that from time to time, but if you’re looking for ways to mix-up your kids’ after school activities, you’re in the right place!

How to Plan the Best After School Activities for Kids

We’ve put together some guidelines to help you plan the best after school activities for kids. These rules of thumbs will help you think creatively to ignite curiosity, creativity, and calm in your kids throughout the week. We also have plenty of examples of after school activities to inspire you. So let’s dive in!

A mom and her son walk on a trail in the woods while the sun is shining through the trees.

Plan After School Activities to Help Wind Down

Every child is different, but as a general rule, kids find their days of playing and learning at school both tiring and stimulating. They’ll come home keyed up with the energy of everything they’ve experienced, and it’s a good idea to plan after school activities that help them wind down. 

Instead of just turning on a show, try activities that use the body in gentle ways to help your kids ground themselves. Try to create a space where they can start to talk about their day if they want, or could choose to be quiet.

Here are some ideas:

  • Set up a watercolor paint set
  • Create a puzzle station with several easy puzzles to choose from
  • Go on a walk outside in nature
  • Offer to read a story together

How to Plan The Best After School Activities for Kids. Close up photo of kids' paint set with a kids' artwork beside it.

Plan After School Activities that Are Projects

It’s a great idea to plan activities with multiple steps or stages. These are not only more engaging, but they can offer entertainment for longer. Your kids can start on a project and come back to it. For younger kids, you’ll probably want after school activities that can be completed in a single afternoon, but older kids can take on projects that take all week, or even multiple weeks. This teaches them to stick with things, gives them the satisfaction of seeing their progress, and provides them with after school activities they can look forward to throughout the day.

What kind of multi-stage after school activities could you do with younger kids? Here are some ideas:

  • Create a storybook. You could write out sentence prompts on cards or pieces of paper and help your kids fill in the blanks to create a story, then they can go through and draw illustrations. As a final step, you could slot the cards into a ring binder or glue them together and decorate the ‘covers’ to create their very own storybooks.
  • Send personalized mail: First decorate cards; this can be as simple as some paper and a few markers, or you could get glitter, sparkles and pipe cleaners involved. Then take the time to write out some messages in the cards, maybe to Grandpa and Grandma, and then walk your children through writing the address, putting on the stamp, and dropping the letters in the mailbox. This after school activity has the added benefit of warming the heart of the lucky recipient of your personalized mail!

How to Plan The Best After School Activities for Kids. Little girl planting a small plant and learning to grow a garden patch.

For older kids who can take on projects that require more time, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Grow a garden patch: If you have the backyard space, this is a great project and learning experience for your kids. Everything from clearing the ground, maybe building or decorating some simple raised beds, choosing seeds, looking up how to care for the plants, planting and watering; all of it will teach your kids amazing things.
  • Make a ‘movie’: Story ideas, costumes, acting, and capturing it all; this project can be as detailed and serious or lighthearted and simple as you and your kids want. Challenge them to tell a story and capture it on a phone camera. There are plenty of easy to use video editing apps out there - but even if you don’t go that far, these are clips you’re going to want to keep forever.

Plan After School Activities that Activate the Senses

As you plan after school activities for kids, think about activities that involve the senses. Activities you can touch, smell, and even taste are so much more engaging than entertainment that you can only watch.

Father and daughter having an adorable bonding moment while making cookies on the kitchen counter

Check out our guide to 8 Things to Do with Family in Summer for some great ideas about this, but for now, here are a few examples:

  • Use water - whether that’s a paddling pool, a sprinkler, or, for young children, a deep dish of water with different cups and things to play with.
  • Set up finger painting.
  • Bake or cook something - tasting along the way!
  • Go explore somewhere new outside 

Plan After School Activities with What You Already Have

The best after school activities don’t require you to buy loads of supplies or set up anything extravagant; they use the things you have on hand to create new experiences for your kids.

How to Plan The Best After School Activities for Kids. Little boy enjoying himself while playing with his sensory bin of sand and toys.

Here are some examples:

  • Make your own trail mix - set out small bowls of whatever snacks you have on hand and let your kids mix up their own trail mix.
  • Old sheets, towels, or clothes that you intend to throw away could become the base of art projects: use markers, tie-dye, or acrylics to create something new.
  • Let your kids have the cardboard cereal boxes or glass bottles otherwise destined for recycling and challenge them to turn them into something else - some scissors, glue, and any other craft supplies you have on hand will work wonders.
  • Create sensory bins for young children to interact with using things with different textures - things like cotton balls, dried pasta, shredded paper, pebbles.

Planning the Best After School Activities 

Your after school activities should work for you, so these examples are all just jumping-off points to help you design your own. Think about after school activities that activate the five senses, that use what you already have, that have the potential to turn into projects, and that can help your kids wind down, and you’ll be set!

For more awesome ideas for things to do as a family, look no further than our Adventure Challenge Family Edition - a book with 50 scratch-off adventures designed to create fun memories for you and your kids!

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Father and daughter mixing the dough and preparing to make cookies; image overlaid with text that reads How to Plan The Best After School Activities for Kids