Structured after school activities have become increasingly popular over the years as families recognize the benefits of engaging their children in a variety of hobbies and pursuits. These guided activities offer children a chance to explore their interests, develop new skills, and make friends outside of the classroom.
However, kids also need plenty of unstructured time to allow them to develop imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills.1
So, how can parents and caregivers keep kids busy after school while also letting them develop independence and the ability to entertain themselves? Simple—just use our guide to after school activities for kids that support imaginative play, self-reliance, and social-emotional learning.
6 Types of After School Activities for Kids
From time to time, school-age children may have a lot of free time after school. If that’s the case, you may be looking for an after school activity for them to do. Fortunately, there are various activities that can help you connect with your child after school while teaching them new lessons and develop a skill or two.
The following connection and enrichment activities can be a great way to foster relationships with younger children once the bell rings.
#1 Feelings Games
Games that focus on teaching emotions and the value of emotions can help kids learn to identify and understand their feelings. Practicing how to identify emotions during playtime can help build emotional regulation skills for when a younger child may feel stressed, tired, or frustrated.
An easy way to get started is to add a feelings card deck to your board game collection. These playing cards can be used for a variety of emotional learning twists on classic games like memory, charades, and go fish.
#2 Partner Drawing
Partner drawing is a simple but highly entertaining art activity that will get kids giggling, communicating with their partner, and working on their collaboration and sharing skills. It’s easy to do:
- One person starts the drawing with a simple shape or even a squiggle or scribble.
- The next person adds anything they would like—they might add details that fit, like eyes on a face, or add something silly or weird.
- Continue passing the drawing back and forth until both partners are finished with their creation.
You can also try a family tree drawing to help your child understand how everyone in your family is connected.
#3 Make-Believe Games
Integrating pretend play and make-believe games into your child’s after school routine can help encourage creativity and childhood imagination. Children have most likely been playing make-believe as long as there have been humans—it’s a natural form of play that develops without any outside suggestion. Pretend play lets children learn social skills like self-regulation, communication, cooperation, problem-solving, and understanding of others.2 It’s also a wonderful way to explore feelings in a safe environment, as they imagine and inhabit different perspectives and experiences.
Children will usually guide pretend play on their own, but if you want to get the ball rolling, you might suggest:
- A pretend tea party
- Playing house
- Being an explorer or scientist
- Playing school
- Running a store or restaurant
#4 Narrative Play
Storytelling games are an easy way to help kids practice empathy, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills. You don’t need any fancy supplies to tell a story together, but if you want to add a twist, try these storytelling games:
- Purchase or make story cubes – These are sets of dice with different pictures on each side. Kids roll the dice and come up with stories to connect the pictures.
- Tell a folded story – The first storyteller writes a few sentences of a story, then folds the paper down so only the last line is visible. The next person continues the story for a few lines, then folds the paper again so only the last line is visible. Continue until everyone has contributed, then unfold the paper and read your group’s creation aloud.
It may not have the glamor of afterschool activities like gymnastics or martial arts, but reading for pleasure is key to your child’s development. It’s one of the best ways for kids to build vocabulary and develop the ability to imagine the world from other perspectives. Additionally, studies indicate that there is a positive and long-lasting impact on a child’s literacy when their parents are involved at an early stage.3 Reading emotional learning books can also be a great start.
If your child is having trouble finding activities that grab their attention, books like Dragon Gets Bored can help inspire kids to handle boredom on their own. And remember, child boredom isn’t a bad thing! Try encouraging your child to see how they feel about being bored so they can embrace their creativity as they brainstorm solutions.
Looking for an after school activity that gets your child away from screens? Gardening is a hit with kids of all ages. An activity that involves dirt, digging, splashing water around, and watching plants flower and fruit like magic—what’s not to like?
Gardening helps kids develop a sense of responsibility, a connection to the natural world, and patience. If you have more than one child in your after-school group, it can also be a social skills activity that encourages teamwork, communication, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.
How Parents Can be Involved
You can help your child use their after school time well by encouraging them to try different organized activities while also leaving some time unstructured every day for free play.
- Don’t over-plan – Over-scheduling kids’ activities and free time can rob them of the opportunity to guide themselves. Let them have some time to relax and self-plan. There’s no better way to discover what they're interested in and learn to handle boredom themselves.
- Focus on activities that build connection – Family bonding and connection is key for social emotional learning. Creative play activities like partner drawing, storytelling, and pretend play can help kids build connections with others.
- Set up the play space thoughtfully – How you arrange your child’s play area can go a long way toward encouraging imaginative and resourceful self-directed playtime. If you have the resources available, considering providing a variety of materials and toys that stimulate creative play, like:
- Dress-up supplies
- Puppets and dolls
- Building supplies—blocks, bricks, boxes
- Arts, drawings, and crafts materials—clay, paper, pens and crayons, glue sticks, straws, popsicle sticks, and so on
- Clean and dry recycling that can be used for building, stacking, and crafting—think egg cartons, water bottles, small boxes, bubble wrap, plastic lids, etc.
You can also visit a local community center or library and help your child explore their interests with the activities, toys, or resources they provide.
At the end of the day, becoming familiar with the importance of unstructured play and boredom can be helpful for your child’s development as it can encourage them to problem solve, embrace their own creative ideas, and help them add value when participating in more structured activities.
4 Important Skills They'll Learn
Activities like the ones above focus on social-emotional learning (SEL). SEL is a way to teach kids to understand and manage their emotions more effectively, setting them on a path to greater success and happiness as adults. Social-emotional skills include:4
- Effective problem-solving
- Impulse control
- Emotion management
Grow a Lifelong Learner with Slumberkins
After school activities are a perfect opportunity to let your child explore the world around them and learn more about themselves. While offering some activities can help get the ball rolling, be sure to allow your child plenty of free time to choose what interests them most.
Whatever activities your child enjoys, you can support their emotional growth through play with help from Slumberkins.
All of our characters, books, and activities are designed to help children practice valuable social and emotional skills—while enjoying lovable, unique characters and Snugglers like Otter Plush, Sloth, Dragon, and their friends. No matter what your child loves to do, Slumberkins is ready to join the fun.
- Creativity Research Journal. Does being bored make us more creative? https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10400419.2014.901073
- Early Childhood Research and Practice. The role of pretend play in children's cognitive development. https://ecrp.illinois.edu/v4n1/bergen.html
- National Literacy Trust. Why it is important to involve parents in their children’s literacy development. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED496346.pdf
- Committee for Children. What is social-emotional learning? https://www.cfchildren.org/what-is-social-emotional-learning/