When I was teaching full time, I used to miss out on the morning school run, on assemblies and sports days, as well as on collecting my little one from school. It made me sad to think I wouldn't get the opportunity to enjoy these things. So when I decided enough was enough and quit my full-time teaching job I envisaged how much easier, happier and better life would be. More time to get ready in the morning, meaning we weren't heading out the door in a mad rush with me screeching at the children, whilst they followed behind, coats half hanging off. Mornings would be spent playing on the park with my pre-schooler (Manchester weather put paid to that!). What I most looked forward to was collecting my eldest from school, to see his smiling face, happy that Mummy was there instead of another evening at the childminders. We would walk home talking about his day, then my boys would play happily whilst I prepared a lovely home cooked meal for my husband and children. Domestic bliss!
What actually happened was this.
Mornings are still a rush. Despite having more time and not needing to be out as early, I still find myself rushing around at 8.30 looking for a missing shoe, or the five year olds reading book.
I drop the eldest at school, and usually head off to the park/shops with the little one. We rarely actually get to the park because it rains and instead we end up sheltering in Costa where I spend a small fortune. To be honest though I'm actually not complaining about this one!
We spend the rest of the day at home, playing, cleaning, washing, blah, blah.
It's time to pick the five year old up.
I rush out the door at 3.20, wondering where the hell the day has gone and how on earth the house is still a mess, at which point the heavens inevitably open when I'm half way to school and I get soaked because I left my brolly at home (again).
The five year old comes out of school and I get a smile if I'm lucky. We walk out of the school gate with me asking questions like 'Have you had a nice day?' 'What have you been doing in school today?' and 'What did you have for lunch?' only to be answered with the odd shoulder shrug and a grunt. Half way home the 'Can we have a snack/treat/two bars of chocolate and a bag of Haribo? questions begin, which escalates to full scale whining and often a tantrum by the time we arrive home for them to find that the actual snack I have ready and waiting is a banana or packet of raisins.
We compromise on the snack front (usually said fruit followed by a biscuit) and then I suggest they go and play. This usually involves one of two things. They get ALL of the toys out on the dining room floor, play with them for two minutes and then begin lobbing them at each other, resulting in a full scale melt-down. They wander off to find something to play with and I find them ten minutes later (when I realise they are being too quiet) lay on my bed/their bed/the bathroom floor (why?!) with an iPad.
Anyway, moral of the story is, after-school time at home was not living up to my expectations, I felt like a failure and the house was chaos.
So six months in and I've finally taken back control. Now don't get me wrong, some days it's just too much effort and I'll happily chuck an iPad in their direction as soon as we walk through the door (yes, yes I know screen-time and all that, but there are some really good educational apps you know? More on that another time) but when I have my s**t together, the after-school routine looks a little more like this:
1. Provide a snack as soon as we get through the door to avoid major meltdown. I find healthy with a small treat works best, oh and a big beaker of juice or water as they're always thirsty (do they ever drink out of those water bottles in school?)
2. Have something set out on the dining room table for them to do. By having one thing set up and ready to go it means we don't end up with ALL the toys everywhere and it tends to keep their attention a little bit longer. I've been going for a mix of colouring, play dough, lego, or puzzles/jigsaw, in rotation.
3. Let them have a bit of down time. Whilst they are doing said activity I'm usually prepping tea. We are lucky to have a kitchen that leads off from the dining room so I can keep an eye on them at the same time. When I can tell they've lost interest, I usually suggest we put the TV on for a bit before we sit down for tea.
Just like that order is restored...
Well not quite, but I know from my teacher days that a little bit of preparation goes along way, and when I'm more organised things run that little bit smoother.
Now don't get me started on the post-tea, pre-bath 'witching' hour, that's a whole other story!
Do you have any top tips on keeping things calm after school? I'd love to her them.
I'm thinking I might do a little series of quick, easy activities for kids that can be done after school. Something fun and maybe even a little educational too. What do you think?