I recently read an article that said we spend about 3.5 hours a day with our kids (on a school day). It felt wrong, but as I counted up the actual hours we aren’t in swim lessons or soccer practice, it came out about right. Time is limited, lives are busy, and it can be hard to find the time, energy or enthusiasm to connect after a long day.

If your kids are anything like mine, they come tearing out of school at the end of the day starving and cranky. Sometimes they are in the mood to tell me about their day, and sometimes they want to space out and have some quiet time with a snack.

I’m no expert, but with a 2nd grader and a kindergartener I’ve discovered a few tricks to help pass the after-school hours and connect with my kids.

Get Outside!

One thing my kids love is to play outside after school, even if it’s freezing cold or windy or a little wet. Getting them the right gear, and letting them find ways to be creative and active outside gives their mood a boost no matter how tired or cranky they are. And I find it does the same thing for me!

We might take a nature walk looking for specific things, or they might ride their bikes around the park. If it’s nice enough we’ll find a group of friends and start a game of kickball or soccer, and I’ll join in the game. I’m not always the mom that will sit on the floor and play with hot wheels or barbies, but I am always up for something outside.

Visit their School

Another way I try to stay connected to my kids is by showing up at school.

I volunteer for field trips or in the classroom if the teacher needs extra help.

Sometimes I surprise my kids and have lunch with them and their friends.

I love being able to put a face to a name, and when I know their friends it’s a lot easier to stay engaged as they tell me about them later on. I can contribute to our conversation by saying things like “Did Grant have fun at his birthday party?” or “Whatever happened to Sam when he fell at recess?”

It’s hard to ask questions about people you don’t know, so making a point to get to know their friends and teachers helps me stay connected to my kids.

Snuggle

One of my favorite things to do with my kids is snuggle up under a blanket and watch a movie together. It may not feel like “connecting”, but sometimes we just need the comfort and down time that watching a movie together can provide. My kids are super active, so it makes it all the more precious when they slow down and sit still for a bit!

Disconnect

While I love a good movie and I definitely have a small social media addiction, I have been trying to be more intentional with my screen time. Do I “need” to check my email again? Do I “need” to text my friend back this instant?

If I’m in the middle of something with my kids, I’m trying really hard to disconnect from my phone. They notice when I’m only half listening to their story because I’m reading a text at the same time. They notice when I plop on the couch and scroll my social media feeds. There is nothing wrong with technology, or even mindlessly scrolling sometimes, but I am trying to give myself limits to when and where I do it. At dinner? No. While my 2nd grader is telling me about his day? No. 

Even though I’m trying hard to make sure I make our after-school hours count, I can always do better. I’m curious about how other families structure their time together, and how they are able to stay connected to their school-age children. Do you skip extracurriculars? When do you squeeze in homework? Do you have conversation starters that seem to help your child open up? If you have suggestions for things that have worked for your family, please share in the comments!