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Calming Activities for a New School Year: Sensory Play

Sensory and pretend play combine for after school fun for kids

Sensory play is one of my favorite after school activities for kids, and it ranks high on my list of calming activities for a new school year! I have learned that our afternoons go much more smoothly if I have something planned for the kids when school gets out that helps them decompress. Sensory play instantly helps my kids relax, and we add small toys to inspire pretend play as well as to provide props if they want to work through confusing or intense scenarios from their school day.

pretend play as a great after school activity for kids

I will often set activities like this up before Lily, Anna, and I head out to pick up the two oldest kids (Lily gets home a few hours before them, as a kindergartner). The kids love coming home to a ready-made activity like this, even if we decide to stay at the playground for a few minutes (or an hour) before continuing on home. I will start off with a few basics, and they add whatever else they like.

storytelling with sensory play as an after school activity for kids

On this particular day, I had set out colored sand and florist gems (affiliate links); they added the small plastic toys.

sensory play is a wonderful contemplative activity for kids

Anna doesn’t do a lot of plot work so far (her guys will say hi to each other), but she really enjoys this as a sensory experience as well as an opportunity to be one of the kids.

sensory play for all ages

They are all sitting around the same table, with the same materials, but they each play so differently! I love seeing both how their own personalities come out in their play, as well as how they influence each other’s play.

The kids play together while I watch and get things of my own done that have been waiting for doing. When it is time to clean up the kids are refreshed and ready to face homework and chores.

How do you help your kids ease back into home life at the end of the school day?

MaryAnne lives in Silicon Valley with her Stanford professor husband Mike and their four children. She writes about parenting through education, creativity, and play. Mama Smiles - Joyful Parenting is a space to share crafts, hands on learning activities, and family outings that enrich lives and bring families together.

14 thoughts on “Calming Activities for a New School Year: Sensory Play”

  1. That sounds like a good way to let them ease back in. I remember my Mom letting me eat a bowl of cereal and watch 1 cartoon or TV show before heading out to play. I don’t remember having lots of homework in elementary school.

    My kids get lots of decompress time during the day, but they always seem to think they don’t get that much.

  2. Great idea. I’d love to try this and I am sure you are right that sensory play helps to decompress. We usually stay and play at the school playground too, then there is lots of conversion and always something to share in the backpacks.

  3. I totally agree that having everything set out when the kiddos walk in the door makes the transition from school to home SO MUCH easier. I rarely do sensory play, but I can tell from the photos of your kids that my boys would both absolutely LOVE this!

  4. What a great idea to set up sensory play before heading out for the pick up! My kids need to eat immediately upon coming home. We seem to be in food mode for the first half hour after school and then I have to usually take one of them to something or we will have a friend in tow from the pick up.

    I noticed that my son needs to do physical play directly after school (and before eating) at the playground with the boys. They wrestle, pig pile, throw a foot ball, kick a soccer ball or play in puddles and/or mud. They are crazy and the moms look on concerned to make sure no one gets hurt, but surprisingly, no one seems to.

    My girls were more focused on getting home to eat. They decompress through the act of making food and eating it; usually with a friend. Sometimes, they will make more elaborate food like baking brownies but usually it’s something hearty like pizza or pasta or a bagel with cream cheese and lox.

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