25 after-school activities and games for every type of kid
School may be out for the day, but your kids probably still have a lot of energy left to burn. The hours between school and dinnertime can be challenging — unless you have a few fun ideas in your back pocket. After school, some kids are raring to go and looking for high-energy activities, while others need something more calming that will help them unwind after a busy day.
Your kids might be happy to zone out on a screen, but 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."
Whether your child is looking to explore her creative side or expend some energy with a more physical game, after-school activities can be the perfect way to end the afternoon. And, yes, you just might want to join in on the fun, too!
Here are 25 fun and unique ideas that all kids will love.
If you have a budding Picasso on your hands, these activities will keep him entertained and stimulate his creative side at the same time.
1. Paint using objects from nature
Have your kids go outside and gather different objects to use in place of paintbrushes. The more often they do this, the more creative they will get with their choices as they learn how different objects create different effects. Visit Kids Craft Room for more details.
Who is it good for? Preschool- to middle school-aged kids will have fun with this one.
2. Use shaving cream to create a marbled masterpiece
Your kids can create beautiful works of art just by mixing some food coloring into shaving cream. Using a toothpick and paintbrushes, have them swirl the shaving cream until they create a pattern they love.
Who is it good for? This DIY art project will be a winner with little ones, who will love the tactile fun of it, and older kids, who will will take pride in their beautiful creations.
3. Make and get your hands in some rainbow foam
All you need is a little soap, water, a mixer and some food coloring to create this tactile activity. Change it up by picking up some unusual food coloring hues at a local craft store.
Who is it good for? This activity is tons of fun for the preschool to elementary school set, but you should keep an eye on younger children who might accidentally get soap in their eyes.
4. Make relaxation jars
Also known as “calm down jars,” these creations are as useful as they are lovely. Using warm water, glitter glue and a hot glue gun, your child can create a jar using their favorite colors. Relaxation jars are an unique way to teach your child how to self-regulate her emotions by looking at her jar when she feels overwhelmed and they are ideal for the anxious child.
Who is it good for? Since you do need warm water and a hot glue gun, this activity is best for elementary school children to create with adult supervision. You may even want one for yourself!
5. Try the “Three Marker Challenge”
Your child might be familiar with the many art challenges found on YouTube, and this one has taken off with kids of all ages. You’ll just need some markers and a few coloring sheets. Have your child close his eyes and then choose three markers at random from a pile. No matter which ones he picked, he now has to color one of the sheets in completely. Your child will have fun doing it on his own, but it’s more fun as a competition with a sibling, friend or parent.
Who is it good for? The 3 Marker Challenge is great for elementary- to high school-aged kids.
Writing and theater activities
These activities will thrill any kid who loves to entertain others and express herself through the arts.
6. Dress up and put on a short play
Give your kids a theme, such as a summertime picnic or a winter kingdom, and ask them to put together a short play to present to you later. It should have a beginning, a middle and an ending, but the rest is up to them. Encourage them to get into it by using whatever they can find to dress up as characters.
Who is it good for? This is best for elementary school-aged kids who are already able to dress themselves and work together to come up with a basic story structure.
7. Create your own movie
Yes, your older kids can create their own movie! Our kids are more adept at using phones and tablets than most of us are and can use free editing software to put together short movies. Depending on the software, they can create a movie using pictures, their own footage or cartoons. Try the Magisto Magical video making app or iMovie.
Who is it good for? This is best for older children, ages 10 and up, who are proficient with tablets, computers or phones.
8. Tell me a story
Put together a collection of storytelling prompts in a jar and have your child choose one to work with in creating her story. Encourage her to use as much detail as possible and maybe even create a picture to go along with it as her story’s cover.
Who is it good for? This activity works for younger and school-aged children. While the older children may enjoy writing out their tales and eventually creating a book of their own short stories, younger children can simply tell you the story aloud.
9. Make a rainbow poem
This activity uses the colors of a rainbow to help teach your child how to create a poem. Have your child choose the colors of his rainbow, and then come up with descriptions of each color. After all the descriptions are completed, he can line them up in a rainbow and will see that has created his own poem!
Who is it good for? This colorful activity is ideal for elementary-aged children, but it can work for younger children with a parent’s help.
10. Make your own puppets and put on a show
Help your children put together simple puppets using paper bags, and then encourage them to come up with their own puppet show for you to watch.
Who is it good for? Best for elementary school-aged children, this activity would also work with some older siblings who can help them out.
Cooking and food activities
These are sure to be a hit with the kid who loves to bake, cook or just get messy with food.
11. Make ice cream in a bag
Have your kids make their own ice cream in a bag in only five minutes. Using ice cubes, half and half, sugar and the flavorings of their choice, this one is as delicious as it is fun. The best part? Eating their ice cream straight out of the bag!
Who is it good for? This activity requires some supervision in the beginning for younger children, but it’s a winner with any kid of any age who likes ice cream. (That includes you!)
12. Make bread in a bag
Continuing with the bag theme, this activity is a good one for the colder months, when you’re stuck inside. Your child can make her own mini-loaf of bread by tossing the ingredients into a plastic bag and kneading it before baking. It’s yummy fun that is also a great tactile activity for your kids.
Who is it good for? This activity is a good one for toddlers up through high school-aged kids, but all younger children should be working with a parent on this one.
13. Bake something together
Children love baking with grownups, and they certainly love eating the final product. If you have the time to spend, come up with a treat your child can help you bake for the whole family. Cookies can be an easy and interactive baking project.
Who is it good for? Children of all ages love baking with an adult, and older kids may be able to take on the bulk of the work themselves.
14. Create snack art
When it’s snack time, put out some ingredients that your child can use to make her own art creation. Using tortillas as a base, kids can use bananas, raisins, tomatoes and more to create funny faces.
Who is it good for? This activity is best for younger children, toddlers through elementary school.
15. Make rainbow toast
Let your kids play with their food to express their artistic sides by painting their own toast. All you need for this activity is bread, sweetened condensed milk and food coloring.
Who is it good for? Rainbow toast is a sweet activity for kids of all ages, though younger children should be supervised by an adult.
Science and STEM activities
Let your kiddo explore her analytical side with these unique and brain-building activities.
16. Try the cabbage color experiment
Perfect for the little scientist, this activity is a fun way for kids to learn about how plants absorb water. All you will need is some cabbage leaves, water, food coloring and a few jars.
Who is it good for? The cabbage color experiment is ideal for elementary-aged children who are likely also beginning to learn about plants in school.
17. Make cloud dough
Using only three ingredients, creating cloud dough is a sensory activity that your kids will absolutely love. Change up the colors or use glitter to make this activity one you can return to over and over.
Who is it good for? Kids up through middle school will love to create cloud dough, but it’s especially fun for toddlers, preschool and elementary school kids.
18. Create toothpick towers
This two-ingredient activity encourages problem-solving as children try to keep their structures from collapsing. When the structures fail to hold, the real learning begins.
Who is it good for? This activity would likely be too frustrating for very young children so it is best suited for kids in elementary or middle school.
19. Make slime
Is there a child alive who does not love making slime? There are a million slime recipes to be found on the internet, ranging from the super simple to the somewhat complicated, but creating slime is fun and educational for kids as they learn the basics of chemistry while combining ingredients to create a new substance.
Who is it good for? Depending upon the recipe, making slime can be a fun activity for kids of all ages.
20. Create lemon volcanoes
This activity is full of frothy fun, and it smells good, too! Children will learn how the chemical reaction created by mixing citric acid and baking soda results in a bubbly volcano that they create on their own.
Who is it good for? This activity is a ton of fun for elementary aged-kids, but early middle school-aged kids would love it, too.
Physical games and activities
When your child needs to burn off some steam after school, these high-energy activities will do the trick.
21. Play the Movement Chain game
You’ll need at least two players for this game. The first person begins by performing a movement (jumping in place, doing the floss or anything else they come up with). The next person has to perform that movement and add on one of their own, forming the movement chain. The next person must do the two original movements and add on one of their own. You continue this until the movement chain is broken (someone forgets a move) and that person is out. The last person standing wins!
Who is it good for? This activity is best for elementary- through middle school-aged children.
22. Go on a Lego hunt
You’ll need four pieces of paper and an assortment of Lego blocks that match in color for this activity. Start by laying out the four pieces of paper and hiding the Lego blocks somewhere in your home. Your kids must then go find the Lego pieces and place them on the matching colored paper until all of the pieces have been found. Keep track of how long it takes them and then challenge them to beat their score.
Who is it good for? Going on a Lego hunt is a great energy-burning activity for preschool- to elementary school-aged children.
23. Have a dance party
What better way to get rid of excess energy than by having a dance party? Simply turn on some music for your kids and let them dance it out. Have your kids show off their new moves or switch it up by playing a game where everyone must freeze when the music stops. Bonus points if you join in, as well!
Who is it good for? This is a solid activity for kids of all ages.
24. Go on a scavenger hunt
Kids have been going on scavenger hunts forever, and with good reason — they’re fun! Give your kids a list of objects that they must find to complete the hunt, and let them know which areas are OK to search in. To kick it up a notch, use this pirate map to create an outdoor scavenger hunt where your kids search for their own treasure.
Who is it good for? Scavenger hunts are a ton of fun for kids of all ages. Simply adjust the objects and hunting areas based on what your kids can handle. High school-aged kids can also create their own hunts for younger siblings.
25. Create an obstacle course
Another oldie but goody, obstacle courses are challenges that kids love conquering. You can make this as simple or as complicated as you like, and some kids even enjoy creating their own. Use pillows, baskets and furniture for an indoor course, or go all-out and put together an American Ninja Warrior-style course for the kids outside.
Who is it good for? Kids of all ages love running through an obstacle course, and you should adjust the course to be age-appropriate for your children.
Read next: 10 options for after-school child care