I began my work-from-home journey a few years ago when my first child was in school full-time, and the second one was so young she spent the majority of her time sleeping. When my youngest was old enough, she went to daycare while the older one continued in school. It was blissful, and it worked well. Cue 2020, where my solo, at-home work hours were suddenly filled with two little girls looking to mother to keep them busy all day long.
Working from home had its own unique hurdles, but coupling those same hurdles with a few children? It was downright terrifying. I struggled through interrupted conference calls, 4:00 a.m. work hours, and Zoom meetings in my car. I kept handing my kids’ tablets and turning on the television, hoping that this phase would end and that everything would go back to normal.
With no normal in sight, I realized that I needed to make a good family routine. I couldn’t just always rely on a device to keep kids busy every day, nor could I keep getting up at 4:00 a.m. to complete my projects. Just as I came up with a plan to keep my household organized, I had to do the same with my kids.
After some time and some growing pains, I eventually found some of the best things to keep kids busy. Over the past few months, we have done every one of these 15 activities and I can personally attest to how they have saved my sanity and kept my kids happy, healthy, and learning. I hope that some of these things to keep kids busy will find their way into your schedule and give you some time to get work done and keep your kids entertained!
Always a crowd-pleaser, coloring is the old standby. After many colored walls, hands, and legs - we are a strict non-marker home. However, it is very inexpensive to get a new coloring book, crayons, or even some twistable colored pencils. For a fun project, get a set of twistable colored pencils or fun-shaped pens and ask your child to draw something in the shape of whatever the stylus is. We have many pictures of lemons and strawberries!
A few years back, my daughter's friend gifted her with a "pen pal box" for her birthday. Inside the box was a handful of cards, envelopes, stamps, pens, stickers, and the address of the friend who gave her the present. I still think it was the most creative gift, and I love how our kids wrote letters to each other. To this day, my daughter still writes letters to her pen pal on the other side of the country.
I'll never understand the fascination with stickers, but my toddler loves them. She will sit with a pack of stickers for an hour if she could, just stacking them on top of each other like that's how they are supposed to look. If you want to keep kids entertained with stickers, make sure you set some ground rules about not placing stickers on the walls or pets. That was a fun lesson to learn.
I'm going to begin by saying that watercolor paints are the only paints allowed in my house. Every time I have tried to keep kids entertained using any other type of paint, I'm left with a handprint on the sofa or a stain on the carpet. After years of my kids redecorating my furniture with new colors, anything non-watercolor is banned. However, I have discovered the beauty of watercolor paints and a roll of paper towels. These two coupled together have provided hours of safe and easy cleanup painting fun!
With my first kid, we always used store-bought playdough. It was convenient, cheap, and came in a variety of colors. As the first one aged and the second one came around, there was an interest in making our own. After some online research, we came across this playdough recipe and fell in love. It's so simple that my 8-year-old can make it independently, and the two of them will spend an hour or more making, folding, and playing with their dough.
In my opinion, slime is pretty much the worst thing you can give to your children. It is messy, icky, sticky, and can literally cling and stay on any substance in your home forever, leaving its mark. I am only mentioning slime on this list for the sheer fact that my kids LOVE slime. They are obsessed with slime. Making it, playing with it, or even watching people use slime on TV is their ultimate desire. While I am a Scrooge when it comes to slime, I will occasionally let them make their own and play with it. I just watch them like a hawk!
This one was a blast, and we were able to get the whole family involved! To start, purchase popsicle sticks from a craft store or eat up a box of popsicles. Collect tape, paper, drawing supplies, and scissors. With your kids, draw people or scenes on your paper, cut them out, and tape them to the popsicle sticks. A miniature puppet show is always the result, and my toddler slept with her dog puppet for a couple of weeks!
I've never seen someone clean a toilet with more vigor and glee than my 3-year-old. Once I showed her what the toilet bowl brush does, cleaning toilets became her favorite job in the house. While cleaning is intermittent with my kids, it is something that they love to help out with.
I used to play this game with my sisters when we were younger, and I was so happy to see my kids bringing it back. This game typically involves taking every couch cushion, blanket, or pillow and running all over the house trying not to touch the floor. I recommend not doing this game during conference calls - the screaming and overall fun had by all can be difficult to explain!
“The floor is lava” always turns into forts. There is something about seeing all of the pillows and blankets already out, which makes it such an easy transition into a fort house. We love forts, and they are a very common occurrence in our home. You can typically find a kid, stuffed animal, or even a dog in a fort at any given moment.
A while back, a friend came to share a cup of coffee while our kids played. As kids often do, they repeatedly kept coming up to us asking for this or for that until my friend suddenly announced, "please go find me a yellow leaf." Delighted, the kids found and returned the leaf and asked for a new task. The tasks soon became more and more challenging as they went on. From a leaf to a "three spotted rock with a crack," the kids spent a solid hour trying to find nearly impossible to find yard items.
I remember reading an article once about a mom who would split her children's toys in half. One half would stay in their rooms, and the other half, she would store in the garage. After a few months, she would swap out the toys, giving her children a fresh set of toys to play with. Of course, I scoffed at the idea, thinking that the best way to keep kids busy was with a ton of toys. However, this mom was on to something. According to this study, children with fewer toys can learn to focus and engage with more creative, imaginative play.
While I typically prefer to read books to my children, they are finally getting to the age where they want to read and look at books independently. My eldest loves graphic novels, and my toddler loves anything by Dr. Seuss. I try to set up a 30-minute mandate of reading per day. We don’t always hit it, but at least we get our hands on a book every day!
Depending on where you live, playing outside can be the ultimate way to keep kids entertained. Telling your kids to play out when you live in an apartment building versus living in a home in the country can produce significantly different results. However, if you are fortunate enough to have an outside space to safely send your kids into for a few hours, make it a priority. The outside air and sunshine will do them some good. Indeed, the benefits of playing outside are numerous and important. Get them on bikes, blowing bubbles, or creating mud pies. Outdoor play can have unlimited possibilities.
A fun way to make memories, movies are enjoyable for everyone. These days, you can make a move with a computer, tablet, or even a cellphone! My daughter has made a multitude of movies with her tablet and I always find ways to save and upload them. I want to make sure that they are saved and stored for years to come, so I recommend that as a parent you find a secure location to post these videos. Using applications like Rosy Go or Rosie Console, you can save videos of your children for years to come. You will never regret hanging onto these videos and showing your children these moments in time years down the road!
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About the Author
Julie Simpson is a freelance writer and SEO consultant from Mobile, Alabama. She also loves paddleboarding with her husky and spending time in her garden. You can see her work at spilledcoffeecontent.com.