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Keep little kids occupied: Do more with less

Categories: Career, Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Making Time, The Juggle, do more with less


It’s a fact of life for most working moms: At some point or another, whether you work from home or out of the house, you’re going to be trying to get your work done with a little one at your side. Maybe your caregiver has the day off. Maybe it’s a school vacation day but you can’t afford to take one of yours to cover it. Maybe your child is sick. Maybe you’re snowed in. Whatever the reason, here are eight things you can do to help keep your little angel occupied while you make deadline:

1.) Set up a workstation near yours. Stock it with workbooks, coloring books, pens, paints, stickers, play-dough, gak — whatever you like, just make sure they’re all projects or activities your child can do with little or no supervision, and try to include items that they only get to use while you’re working. An old computer keyboard makes it especially appealing for little kids. My preschooler keeps her collection of toy cell phones on hers, as well as a wonderful play laptop from her grandmother and assorted pens, stamps, rulers, and scraps of paper.

2.) Don’t be afraid to use the television. There are times when my kids watch more TV than I’d like, and yes, I do feel guilty about it. But not when I have to work. If I don’t get my work done, the mortgage doesn’t get paid, and that outweighs by far the Is-Two-Hours-of-Dora-Too-Much? issue.

3.) Don’t expect to be able to work in blissful silence. There’s an unwritten rule out there somewhere that the more urgently you need your children to nap, the less they’ll sleep. (My kids swear by this rule.) If you can stand the cacophony, break out the noisy toys — you know, the ones that you never let them use because they’re just too loud and annoying. The novelty of being able to play with them will keep them occupied, and all of the excitement just might lead to a nap afterall.

4.) Take breaks for play. Your kids are more likely to let you work in semi-peace if you take the time to devote your full attention to them in between bursts of work activity. Be completely present for play for 15 minutes, and then ask them to cooperate while you complete that assignment or participate in a conference call. When you’re done, reward them (and yourself) with another scheduled play time.

5.) Set them up for story time. Books on CD or tape are excellent storytime tools for working moms. Choose familiar stories for younger kids, and be sure to have the accompanying book on hand; ask them to pick out a certain word throughout the story — have them point out the word “monkey” during a reading of Curious George, for instance. Older kids can read along with the CD, or explore new (parent-approved) books while you’re working.

6.) Give them an assignment of their own. Freelance writing moms can have their children write (or dictate into a tape recorder) their own articles at their workstations. Give younger kids a set of three pictures, and ask them to build a story around them. Write (or print out) a story for an older child, and ask her to illustrate it. Have him act out a play with finger puppets.

7.) Organize a marathon. Got a Playstation or a Wii or an XBox? Older kids can boost their hand-eye coordination with a game marathon. Whoever gets the best two out of three (or, if you’re really busy, best 7 out of 8) gets a special prize.

8.) Create your own board game. There are a hundred different types of “Monopoly” out there — have your kid come up with a version based at home. Rename properties after ones in your neighborhood and, when the work day is done, play the game.

How do your work from home with little ones? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

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4 comments so far...

  • Whatever that’s normally forbidden is permitted, when I am working at home w/o a babysitter.

    That means, kids get cookies, snacks such as potatoe chips, cheese doodles, and TV. Yep. That’s it.

    Especially if I am on the phone. I stuff them with all the sugar so they are quiet and I can get through the call w/o minimum interruption.

    I do use drawing tools. My 5 yo and 1yo love it. With 50 pencils/ and crayons and 5 post it notes, they draw all over.

    Vera Babayeva  |  January 5th, 2009 at 9:00 am

  • My kids are suckers for water. They’ll play in the tub (the laptop means I can supervise enough for safety purposes) for a solid hour, or at the kitchen sink (filled with bubbles) for ages.

    Jan  |  January 7th, 2009 at 1:58 pm

  • Vera: I can’t believe I haven’t thought about handing the youngest kids a stack of post-it notes and telling them to be creative with them! I’m definitely going to try… having a yellow-covered family room may be worth it!

    Jan: What a great idea! My older son, who is now 10, used to play happily in the kitchen sink with plastic cups and spoons for ages (it took him a while to figure out he could dump the water onto the floor with them, and it gave me enough time to get a few things done in the kitchen).

    Lylah  |  January 7th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

  • The little laptop is the key for me… we got our almost two-year-old a laptop that’s actually meant for 7+, but was on a great sale. We knew she wouldn’t be able to actually play the games yet (or ever, if she breaks it), but for less than $30, it makes all kinds of cool sounds and keeps her entertained for at least 15 minutes straight!

    Another tip that works for me is toy rotation. I keep her toys in various baskets, but only one basket is out for play at a time. If I need a few minutes of work time on the computer, I rotate her current basket up and get a “new one” out. Since it has been a few weeks since she’s seen what’s in there, it is all brand-new to her and keeps her busy exploring for a while.

    KJones  |  January 7th, 2009 at 8:32 pm