School night routines can feel like chaos!
You run from school pick up, back home, rush through homework, leave for some kid activity, return home for a thrown together dinner, and repeat “Hurry, hurry, hurry!” all the way to bedtime.
Thankfully, there is an easier way. It’s time to take your school night routines from chaos to peace.
What to include in an after school routine?
These are the top things I would consider adding to create a successful routine.
1. One touch drop station.
From the time the kids walk in the door, encourage them to use the “one touch” method. This means they should only touch their backpack one time before it lands at the closet or storage area.
Creating a “command center” where kids have all their shoes, jackets, backpacks and lunches makes it easy for kids to follow along.
2. Unpack lunches and homework.
I always have the kids unpack lunches and homework right away. This way you can sort of assess the situation for two things:
- How much they ate for lunch that day…and therefore, how hungry they may be after school.
- How much homework time needs to be blocked out for your after school routine that day.
3. Healthy snack and drink.
A hungry child is a child who eats.
If your kids are famished after school, this is a spectacular opportunity to get fruits and vegetables in them! I always have fruits and vegetables cut up in the fridge and ready to pull out after school.
This is called “Get Alone With the Vegetable” and it’s the BEST tip for getting kids to eat vegetables.
Put them in the center of your kitchen table and leave the rest up to the kids.
You’d be surprised how much they passively eat vegetables when they are right in front of them AND they are after-school-hangry.
(Smoothies are another go-to favorite in this house!)
4. Decompression rituals.
I highly recommend decompression rituals for your kids after school. Kids are sitting all day long, having to follow a lot of rules, and are putting HUGE mental energy into social emotional learning during school.
After-school rituals may include:
- Listening to music
- Playing catch in the yard
- Visiting with the family dog
- Writing in a journal
- Playing at the park
Doing one of these rituals BEFORE homework time makes such a difference. Kids are far more cooperative and ready to focus after some decompression time.
5. Homework time.
Encourage your child to do as much as they can on their own. When kids get stuck or say “I can’t” give this phrase a try. I do try to keep homework time as early in the evening as possible. The closer kids get to bedtime, the more their brains start to shut down.
6. Dinner time.
“[Kids] who sing, tell stories and eat dinner with their families tend to be emotionally healthier and better adjusted socially than kids who don’t have such routines.” (source)
Possibly use these conversation starters for more connection during family mealtimes.
What to include in a school night routine?
These are the top things I would consider adding to create a successful routine.
1. Clear dinner table.
“The longest longitudinal study of humans ever conducted is called the Harvard Grant Study. It found that professional success in life […] comes from having done chores as a kid, and the earlier you started, the better.” (source)
2. Prep bag for tomorrow morning.
Getting kids in the habit of managing their own stuff and taking responsibility for it will lead them to the greatest success in life. Using a visual routine or paper checklist can help even elementary kids feel successful with this!
3. Bath or shower…maybe.
Until kids hit puberty OR unless they are playing in the mud, they do not need a daily bath. My kids are 6 and 8 and they get a bath or shower on Sundays and Wednesdays. Now if one of my kids has a sports practice, they do get a quick shower on those dates.
Here’s an routine efficiency hack if you’re looking for one:
Sometimes my kids will sleep in their clothes for the following day. Saves time in the morning. Hey, they are already dressed when they wake up 🤩.
5. Bedtime snack.
This is a big point of debate among parents, and it comes down to what works for you. My kids are super slender and most nights we eat dinner fairly early and then need a bit of extra calories to help get them through the night.
6. Reading time.
If we are in a time crunch, I will move reading time around to other times during the day. However, reading really helps settle kids of all ages.
“Spending time together while reading aloud helps to create strong parent-child bonds and promotes healthy brain development. Children that are read to more often have improved language and listening skills, experience stronger emotional connections to their loved ones, and gain a lifelong love of reading.” (source)
7. Brush teeth and use restroom.
Teeth brushing hack for parents: If your kids are struggling to keep their teeth clean and brush well, consider “playing dentist” and having them lay down on the ground, while you sit behind them and clean them like the dentist would.
So much easier and keeps teeth clean!
8. Pillow talks.
Pillow talks with kids not only help meet the need for connection, they help the child get excited for bedtime. When my kids know it’s their night to have a 15 minute pillow talk with me, they practically race at warp speed to get ready for bed.
Here’s how we implemented pillow talks with kids in our home.
How to create custom school night routines.
- Simply grab our grab our editable checklist template here.
- Type in the exact routine you want for each individual child.
- Print as many times as you need.
We also offer 90+ visual routine cards to create all sorts of custom routines for your kids.
- Preschool and School-Age designed cards
- Print our pre-made cards
- OR use our template to create your own custom cards
- Create as many routines as you need
Sample nightly routines for school-age kids.
Make a list of nighttime tasks and a checklist of morning prep tasks.
Sample after-school routine.
- 3:00 pm get home from school, unpack lunches and homework.
- 3:15 pm Feed your child a healthy snack or drink.
- 3:30 pm Have some sort of decompression ritual.
- 4:00 pm Complete any homework that needs to get done.
- 4:30 pm Free play until dinner time.
- 5:30 pm Eat family dinner.
Sample after-school routine with sports / activities.
- 3:30 pm get home from school, unpack lunches and homework.
- 3:40 Feed your child a healthy snack (smoothies are a big help here!)
- 3:50 Change for practice / activity. Get ready to leave.
- 4:10 pm Leave for practice.
- 6:00 pm Return home
- 6:15 pm Serve dinner (if you didn’t eat on-the-go).
Tips on after-school sports routine scenario.
- Have your child prep their backpack for the next school day right at 3:30 pm when your child gets home. This will help avoid the time crunch later.
- Prep lunch for the next school day while your child is getting ready for practice. At the elementary age level, I find it is just too much for them to manage on these busy days, and I pack their lunch for them.
- If your “practicing kid” has homework, have them get started on the drive to and from practice. They may surprise you and finish!
- With “non-practicing kids” who are with you, you can also accomplish reading time and homework during practice, either at the field or in the car and then skip it during your bedtime routine.
- On these nights, I always have dinner prepped in the Instant Pot or do a very quick sheet pan meal. OR I will pack a picnic dinner and we will eat in the car or at the practice.
Having quick nutrition available is key to avoiding chaos and rush on these evenings.
Sample bedtime routine for elementary kids.
- 6:00 pm Prep bag for tomorrow morning (use a checklist or visual routine)
- 6:10 pm Prep lunch for tomorrow morning (use a checklist or visual routine)
- 6:20 pm Bath or shower…maybe.
- 6:45 pm Pajamas.
- 7:00 pm Bedtime snack (if needed)
- 7:15 pm Reading time.
- 7:40 pm Brush teeth and use restroom.
- 7:50 pm Pillow talks.
- 8:00 pm Lights out.
Sample bedtime routine with for kids with sports / activities.
When kids are in sports or activities, you have a lot less time and flexibility. So I tend to skip aspects of the bedtime routine that are not necessary and just do the basics.
- 6:30 pm Practicing kid showers. No baths for other kids on these nights.
- 7:00 pm Pajamas, brush teeth and use restroom.
- 7:15 pm Double check all homework is done and bag is prepped.
- 7:30 pm Quick pillow talk
- 7:45 pm Lights out.
More tips for success with school night routines.
Over the years of helping my own kids through routines and working with hundreds of parents, here are a few ideas learned along the way.
1. Give your child control over the night time routine.
The more your child participates in crafting the after school routine and bedtime routine, the more likely they are to cooperate with it. Kids take ownership over what they create!
Brainstorm together with your child to create a routine that works for the both of you!
2. Help your child develop good sleep habits.
The importance of consistent sleep routines cannot be overstated.
“Research shows that children who follow bedtime routines are more likely to go to sleep earlier, take less time falling asleep, sleep longer, and wake up less during the night. These benefits to sleep quality are still seen years later in children who followed bedtime routines when they were younger.
In addition to improving sleep, bedtime routines teach your child self-care and lay the ground for working memory, attention, and other cognitive skills. They also foster parent-child bonding and may help improve mood, stress levels, and behavior.” (source)
3. DO make bedtime fun.
Bedtime fun does not need to mean being silly and getting the kids wild and crazy.
Think of ways to incorporate everyday rituals into your bedtime routine to help kids feel connected before they separate from you during the night.
- Special rhyming phrases when tucking your child in (e.g. “Snug as a bug in a rug.”)
- Create a bedtime playlist of songs for your child to listen to on a CD play in their room.
- Bear hug or a special named hug before bed.
- Brush teeth like the “dentist”.
- Pillow talks .
4. DO use visual checklists or routine cards.
Kids are very much visual learners. The more you can offer your child a tool (checklist or visual routine) the better then can work through school night routines independently. Less nagging, more cooperation ☺️
5. Keep wake up times consistent (even on the weekends!)
Keeping a regular sleep schedule—even on weekends—maintains the body’s internal clock and can help your child fall asleep and wake up more easily.
Want more on routines?
- 75+ Simple Ways to Promote Independence in Kids (aka Life Skills)
- Busy Stay-at-Home Mom? 7 Ways to Manage Your Home More Efficiently
- Best Morning Routine Tips and Tricks Your Kids Will Actually Follow
- The Brilliant Printable Daily Schedule for Kids to Boost Cooperation
I've created a free email series just for you! If you are struggling with finding a routine, rhythm or schedule, this email series will help you find one that will work for YOUR family. Yes, really. I've seen my sample routines work time and time again for parents. I know it can work for you too.
This free email series will help you:
- Free sample routines for your child
- Best morning routine tips and tricks your kids will actually follow
- All-time favorite parenting hacks for getting more cooperation at bedtime
- Step-by-step guide for using a printable daily schedule with kids