School's out for the day. But what should you do with the kids? Time to come up with some fun, creative ways to keep the kids entertained until dinnertime.
Of course, homework is waiting, but is it better to have kids start on it as soon as they get home? Or should they blow off a little steam before settling in? Experts agree that whether your child should play before or after homework depends on the child and what works best for your family, regardless of age.
Parenting expert Linda Williams, author of "Parenting From the Heights," says that when a child gets to play should depend on each child, but "age is irrelevant in that decision. I do think you need to set up some expectations about when it will be done. It doesn't have to be the same every day."
While your kids might be happy to plop in front of the TV, that doesn't allow for physical or mental exercise. Public school teacher and blogger Chelly Wood believes that "it's important for kids to get at least one hour of play time after school, regardless of age. That's 'real' play time, not computer play, video game time or TV time."
For fun suggestions, here are 10 creative after-school activities for kids.
And if you hired an after-school sitter, share them with her so she can enjoy them with your children too.
Grace Hawthorne, consulting associate professor at Stanford's Institute of Design and creator of the construction toy Paper Punk, suggests taking something from the recycling bin and making it into something else.
"Transform a cereal box into something that flies or into a mask," Hawthorne recommends. "Use the cereal box as a prompt to think through where the box came from and how it was made. This activity is great for understanding the world in which we live, how things are made, environmental awareness, art/design, making, manual dexterity, engineering, etc."
Design a Comic Strip
This is a great indoor activity for kids of all ages, and is sure to get the creative juices flowing as children invent characters and story lines. Artistic drawing skills can be honed by drawing and coloring characters and scenes. Measuring the strip boxes can also add an educational element to the activity.
Pick up Sidewalk Chalk
"Draw with sidewalk chalk," suggests Marina Koestler Ruben, author of "How to Tutor Your Own Child." Add an educational slant to this popular activity by, "do[ing] homework math problems in chalk on thedriveway."
Become a Scientist
Grab a notepad and pencil and head outside. Whether in your backyard, a park or a playground, spot a squirrel, chipmunk, bird or other animal and "pretend you're a scientist and track an animal, notingwhat it does from minute to minute," suggests Koestler Ruben.
Play Improv Games
"Improv games are effective for teaching initiative and expression," Hawthorne says. "They are physical and can be done indoors or outdoors."
She suggests playing the "I am a tree" game: "Someone stands in the middle of the circle and says 'I am a tree,' then a second person jumps in and adds to the scene and says 'I am the picnic lunch under the tree' then a third person joins in and builds on the scene with 'I am a hornet on the lunch.' The first person leaves the circle and picks either the picnic or the hornet to take out of the circle, then the cycle repeats as the scene continues to be constructed and deconstructed."
Or have your child pick up a hula hoop and figure out how many things she can act out with it.
Weave a Basket
A great activity for older kids that can be done indoors or outdoors, making a basket can help with dexterity and provides an active creative process, as kids gather the materials.
"Basket-making materials can include construction paper, grass reeds or even recycled plastic products," says Wood.
Get started with these easy instructions on how to weave a basket. Once the basket is made, send the kids outside to pick berries or collect rocks, autumn leaves or other natural treasures in the basket. Use these as creative inspiration: bake a pie, paint a pet rock or create leaf rubbings.
Create Sheet Art
Got an old sheet lying around? Koestler Ruben suggests you bring it outsideand paint on it. The kids can create murals or make a flag using non-toxic fabric paint. If the weather is icky, protect the floors with a drop cloth and bring the fun indoor or work in the garage.
Play Board Games
Williams finds board games are a great way to allow children to have fun, learn and get in some family time.
"The value in board games, [is they] develop the attention and focus of the child," she says. "They've got to stay with the game. It really is important for children to learn disappointment; they need to lose. Not all the time, but some of the time."
Games with dice are also great for allowing children to work on their math skills.
Stage a Scavenger Hunt
Have kids search for all sorts of items, indoors or out. If you have a large group, break them into smaller teams. Make the clues easier for the younger kids and vaguer for the older ones.
Do Something Nice
Are your neighbors celebrating or have they been sick or out of town? No reason is really necessary to have your kids do something nice for someone else. Bake cookies, make a card, plant some flowers in a pot -- the possibilities are endless.
Williams has a "Drive By Bakery," which involved baking a treat, tipping the recipient off with a phone call that a delivery is waiting in the driveway. Her kids would hand the treat off from the car window and they would drive away.
"It's got to be modeled and it's got to be taught, being nice, thinking of others, doing something for others," Williams says.
Read up on 6 Tips for Getting Your Kids to Volunteer.
When coming up with activities for your child think outside the box. Use these ideas, or use them as inspiration to get your creative juices flowing and fill your children's afternoons with fun activities that sneak in a few extra lessons.
Marcia Hudgel is a writer living in Cleveland, Ohio.