Most parents I know try very hard to carve out some time after school for their children, whether that’s working fewer hours, or simply pushing bedtime back so that they get time after work. It’s a special time of the day, an opportunity to talk over things and to bond with your children.
I was very fortunate in that, when mine were at Primary school age and below, I wasn’t working, and could very often be there to pick up and go home with my little ones. I missed them on the few times I was out too late to collect them, and even more so when I went on supply work and had to arrange collection and care by someone else for an hour or so while I finished off at one school to race back home.
In conversation with a friend one day, she wailed to me that she hated the few hours between school and bed. She was hanging on by her fingernails just to be able to close the door and get downstairs to a glass of wine. I couldn’t understand her attitude… how could any one not enjoy it?… until I talked some more to her and realised why. In 4 out of the 5 weekday evenings, her children never stopped. She had them signed up to so many afterschool activities and groups that the hours of 4 til 7 required military precision, and a degree of organisational ability that I could only marvel at. I baulked at the thought.
Over-timetabling is a problem for both adults and children, and a common issue in today’s busy world. We want our children to do more, learn more, have more experiences and go more places than we ever did, but we forget that space, mentally and physically, is absolutely necessary to let our minds and bodies be calm. Perhaps I have wisdom beyond my years, or perhaps I just read the right parenting book at the right time, but I never wanted my children to live in a whirlwind of after school activities. I had a policy: one sport and one non-sport activity per child. With three children, that could be 6 activities a week for starters. I was also fortunate that the three of mine are spaced exactly 2 years apart, so very often the boys were in the same after-school activities anyway.
I wanted them to have plenty of time at home, plenty of down time, free time to play indoors or out and to be free (as free as they could be in a leafy suburb). Those precious hours after school don’t come again, and being with them when they wanted to be with me was important to me. As time went by, they wanted to be more separate, and what we did after school changed, but that peaceful rest between school and bed was a special time for hygge and happiness that I will always remember.
So, how do you hygge your after school routine? Here is my best advice.
- Always have something to eat ready for after school. A glass of milk and an apple or a cookie is enough. Or go french and have a slice of baguette and butter or honey, something to fill up the corner and enable the children to last until dinner is served as a family later on.
- Limit after school activities. We chose one sport and one non-sport activity, but for many years it ended up being two non-sporting activities for the sons because they weren’t natural athletes. And by the ages of 10, they had cut it down to one activity a week from choice.
- Don’t schedule too many activities at home either. Having a friend over to play sounds wonderful, but you don’t need to do it every day. I found trying to make sure that all three had a friend to visit at the same time was often a good idea, so that nobody felt left out. It did mean that sometimes I had 6 or 7 children running wild around the house, but as long as the weather was reasonably good, all I did was throw the doors open and set them loose outside.
- Homework to do? Set up a study area around the table, limit the time you spend and remember that for most children under 11, being read to and with is possibly more important than school homework. Never let your child stress over homework and if the amount they are being given seems excessive, go into school and complain.
- Make the most of any summer weather and autumn evenings to get outside. Use your local park, walk to the library, take an impromptu trip to the coast. You’re building memories and secure human beings: that’s not done by another page of multiplication.
- Make mealtime a family affair. From a young age, we encouraged the children to eat with us. It meant that we were eating tea at 6 most nights, but it was important for the children to see that meals were family affairs and enjoyable (The Husband and I had a candlelit dinner every Friday night when the children were in bed: we still try and do that, but the Children are now 20, 18 and 16, so the mealtime has changed from 8pm to 10 pm gradually over the years)
- Having trouble cooking? I found my babies always kicked off around about 5pm, just when I wanted to cook tea. We found a few easy-prep meals that were cookable with a child on one hip, and my freezer was my best friend, with pasta sauces and casseroles that just needed defrosting and heating up again. And remember to say through gritted teeth ‘This, too, will pass’. You don’t believe me, but you will look back on those times with fondness.
- Limit the tech. I can’t imagine how hard it is now that even toddlers get a tablet to play with automatically issued. For a couple of hours at least, put the technology aside: that includes yours. If you’re at the park, put the phone away except to use as a camera. Likewise, you don’t need to automatically switch on the TV and some evenings it can be fun to have a completely tech-free time. Turn off the lights, light the candles, and play games instead of watching TV.
- Don’t expect perfection, and don’t always take the blame. Bad moods affect everybody in a family. If you have more than one child, then at some point there will be an almighty fight going on over nothing. Separate, cool down, and communicate. And younger children will probably not settle down to anything for too long. That’s fine: let them be butterflies and hop from place to place. You can work on their attention spans until they can concentrate for longer as they grow older.
There we are: a few of my ideas to make after school happier and ready for more hygge. I hope it helps.
For more ideas on a happier life, my new book, Happier , is available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle version. My second book, How to Hygge Your Summer , also contains advice on having a hyggely time at home and outside, and is also available in ebook and paperback version. You can find details about all my books, and how to connect with me on social media on the Start Here page of my blog.