After-school snack. As soon as we arrive home from school, the kids and I sit down together at the dining table to share a bite to eat, as well as bits of our days. The goal is for everyone to reconnect as a family and with our home (or second home in the case of my nephew who is with us daily after school). I find this is most successful when the snacks are really appealing; favorites at our table include apples & nut butter, popcorn & fruity water kefir, and, of course, cookies & milk. Sharing an after school snack with my mother was something I enjoyed all the way through high school. It's a memory I hold dear, of a time and place where I always felt safe, nourished and deeply loved.
Relaxation. The kids move from snack into an hour or so of down-time to play, read, do art... anything but TV or the computer, which are off-limits on school days. Whenever possible, we spend some of this time outdoors, playing in the yard or garden, or taking a walk. Often, I begin preparing dinner, or doing my evening chores, while the kids play.
Homework. At the same time every day - no exceptions - we start homework. Back at the dining table, or from the kitchen, I offer guidance, answer questions and keep everyone on task. Absolutely no grumbling is tolerated around homework, a rule I enforced the first week of school. There is now an understanding that homework is serious work, to be completed purposefully and efficiently, so we can enjoy our family time together.
Dinnertime. Everyone has a role in dinnertime in our house. The kids have rotating responsibilities posted on the refrigerator. They take turns, on a weekly basis, helping to set the table, clear & wipe down the table, sweep under the table, and load & wash the dishes. This way, everyone is involved - and invested - in dinnertime. Plus, by keeping busy, the children aren't squabbling in another room while I try and pull together, or clean up after, a meal for seven. After dinner and clean up we typically just hang out; the girls put on shows, or when it's nice out we'll go for a walk. Then it's right into our bedtime routine of baths, stories and lights out.
So that's it... the rhythm we strive for, but, admittedly, don't always hit. Because, you know, it can get pretty crazy here in the afternoons and evenings (just like at your house, I'm sure). As a multi-generational household of six, we have people coming and going on all different schedules. My sister picks up my nephew at varying times each evening. My husband works two nights a week. There's Girls Scouts every other week, and the occasional school or community function... But for the most part, we stick to it. And like the morning routine, its working.