Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Work from Home Parents: How to Keep Your Kids Busy

My amiga, Melanie, from Modern Mami, wrote a post yesterday about how she's looking for tricks to keep her five-year-old busy during the day. Melanie is a work from home mami, who recently had a baby. She's cut back on the hours that her daughter attends a local preschool, and is now struggling to find time to get her work done.

Wow. Sounds really familiar. I'm jealous that she even gets 2 hours to work! But I think that whether or not you work at home, mamis often struggle to find some quiet "me" time at home. Is it really important to have your own quiet time? ABSOLUTELY! Not only does it help you to stay sane, but it allows you to take care of your own desires and reduce any frustration or resentment that comes with ANY job you work 24/7. And it is important for your children to see you as a person - not just a dishwasher/chef/butler/maid/chauffer/etc.

Before I give my own secrets away, I think it is important to say that once you have a child, your entire world changes. (I know you already know this.) And they always, ALWAYS come first. Work has to take a backseat. So if you work from home, expect the road to be rough. You can't expect your routine to be set in stone, though you can - with a little work - establish a regular schedule. Just remember that to have harmony in your home, you have to be flexible and not sweat it too much when your schedule changes.

Parents who are homeschooling more than one child may find themselves in a similar situation. Next year I'll begin homeschooling my son, but even now, I find that I have to find him some "busywork" to keep him entertained while I am working with my daughter.

For the most part, I work at night after the kids have gone to bed (needless to say they are usually in bed by 8 or 8:30!) but there are days when I am on a deadline or need some time to work. To help me get some (relatively) uninterrupted time here are a few of the activities or methods that I use:

Set aside special toys. Buy a tote/chest/box and keep some fantastic toys in it - but the key is that the kids can only play with them during the hour or two that mami is working. These toys can be exciting ones like a Leapster or even a vSmile, or simple ones like puzzles, boardgames, dress-up dolls, legos, etc.

Assign an official Movie Day. In my casa, movies are a no-no during the week. I only allow the kids to watch an actual movie on Saturdays. By the end of the week, they are excited beyond measure and work really hard to be good. If they have worked hard during the week on school and chores, and their behavior has been great, I may even allow them to watch two movies. But the second is usually a family movie that we can all watch together after dinner. The first movie almost always takes place after lunch.

Create a "Special Space" or activity. If your child has a playroom then only allow them in that room during your work time. This falls along the same lines as having special toys set aside for work time. If they are only allowed in there from say 1 until 3 pm, you can bet your bippy they'll take advantage of that time. Although we usually have some sort of craft or art project every day, my kids don't get to paint on a regular basis so it is a novel activity. In the spring and summer, I set them up on our side porch with easel and paints. Then I get an hour or so while their imaginations take flight.

Take advantage of on-line learning opportunities. Allow your kids to learn on their own computer at the same time that you are working. My daughter thinks this is the best and like to pretend she is at the office. Some of my favorite sites include:
  • Foreign Language Friends - Let her learn/practice Spanish!
  • BrainPop - Also available in Spanish. This is an incredible site with lots of education-based activities and videos.
  • PBSKids - I know this doesn't need any introduction.
  • Activity Village - They have loads of printable games and much, much more!
  • FunSchool - A really creative site
  • FunBrain - I like math arcade, but most of the games on here a good.
  • Starfall - Love this site's reading games! Really strengthens my daughter's reading abilities.
  • National Geographic Kids - To boost your child's science skills.
  • Nasa Kids' Club - Love it!
  • Cool Math for Kids - Yes! Actually, I just discovered this site, but I'm already excited about it!
  • Crayola - They have tons of art activities to keep kids busy.
Stock up on craft kits. This works best for children ages 4 and up. I make regular trips to Michaels. In fact, I think I am keeping them in business. But they have a fantastic collection of craft and science kits. To make them more affordable, be sure to save your coupons or sign up for their online newsletters, which also include 40% off coupons. Surprisingly, you can sometimes find good kits at your local dollar store. But be sure to double check them for safety. And especially beware of kits with tiny parts if you have an infant or toddler at home. Oriental Trading also has loads of inexpensive crafts. MAKE SURE TO GET KITS YOUR KIDS CAN DO ON THEIR OWN. If your child can't read directions, you might have to get her started.

Let them scrap! Pick up an inexpensive scrapbook and some decorative papers, then give your child some photographs (or better yet, buy her a camera and let her take her own) and let her go!

Make it newsworthy. Give your child a couple sheets of blank newsprint and have him design the Family Newspaper. Let him interview relatives and snap some photos. Be sure to provide a sample newspaper or two so that he can study the layout and design his own.

Send them on a treasure hunt. Put a list together of household items and send them on a scavenger hunt. If they can find everything without asking me once for help, they get a special prize (stay up an extra 15 minutes, their favorite dish for dinner, a new book from the bookstore...)

Get them on the case. My kids are crazy for anything having to do with detective work or spying. Allow them to put together their own spy/detective kit and then print up some related activities. Secret code breaking will keep my daughter entertained for hours! You can find some great code puzzles here.

Other fun, time-consuming activities that I use are:

LEGOs - Sometimes I give them an assignment to help keep them focused. I usually try to keep this pretty broad. For example, I might say, "Make me something from Ancient Egypt/Toy Story/Star Wars/the universe/an animal/your favorite storybook character/etc." And sometimes this is all they need to get them started and their imagination takes over afterwards.

Play dough - I am forever in debt to whoever created the first batch of play dough. With enough dough, and a few tools (or even a LOT of tools!) my kids will while away the afternoon.

Puzzles - The trick is to buy ones that are just hard enough to be challenging and they must be active and pleasing to the eye. Most of mine tell a story (an escape at the zoo, a car race gone haywire, a busy city, the museum exhibits come to life, etc.)

Magazines - Give your child some (pre-approved!) magazines, a pair of scissors, glue, and some posterboard and you have a winner. I sometimes ask them to create a collage of their favorite things, things that are red/purple/etc., mammals...  Or I may ask them to create a habitat and include some animals found there.

And remember, you can never, NEVER have too many markers, crayons, colored pencils, paper, construction paper, poster boards, erasers, glue, and kid's scissors.

What about you? Do you have some fabulous ideas to share with Melanie? Leave a comment below!

Con mucho cariño...


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