One of the major perks of owning my own company and working from home is being able to spend precious time with my children. Of course, there are times when work needs to be a priority, and this can present a challenge, especially since my children are young.
Summer vacation is a perfect example of when having a work/life balance is imperative! In these cases, careful planning and preparation are my secret weapon to help combat boredom and allow me time to get work done. Over the years, I have used every tactic under the sun to keep my kids happy and occupied while I work. Below are my top ten ideas and activities which you can use to keep your little rascals busy so you can have a productive work-at-home experience!
1.Share your office. Create a mini desk/work area for your child. This works especially well for young children who like to always be within arm’s reach of their parents. In my office, I will often place a lap desk near mine so my kids can pretend to work. I keep it stocked with pens, paper, notebooks, scissors, and activity books such as a Highlights Magazine, sticker books, or worksheets I have printed from the Internet. There are many great websites that offer coloring pages and worksheets that you can print for free. Kids Perks, The Boys Store, and Handwriting for Kids are a few of my favorites! You can also check my website for coloring and activity pages featuring Freckles the Frog!
2. Get your kids involved in your work. Make your work a positive experience for your children instead of something that just “takes away from playtime”. Older children can help in many ways, from completing mailings (stuffing envelopes, licking the seal, placing stamps on packages), to organizing your workspace (filing papers, organizing receipts by date, etc.). Even a toddler can help. Give him or her a basket of pens, makers, stamps and highlighters and have them test each one to make sure they work (on paper of course!). Have them organize the pile by color (red, black and blue). It doesn’t really matter what task you give your children. The feeling of helping you work will make them feel useful. Reward them with a special trip to get ice cream or to the park for a job well done!
3. Set up a kid’s computer. Allow your children to play educational games while you work. The computer can be a great learning tool, and it enhances academic skills that can help them later in life. My favorite websites for online activities are PBS Kids, Jump Start, Woogi World, and Webkinz (purchase of stuffed animal with access code needed for this website). These websites offer a large selection of safe, fun, and educational computer games for kids of many ages and skill levels.
4. Fill a box with toys that your kids can only play with while you work. These toys may be items you find at the dollar store and garage sales, or toys they haven’t played with in a while. It is amazing how interesting and exciting toys become when there is a limit on how long they are able to play with them. Make it especially exciting by decorating the box in bright colors (another activity they can do while you work) and naming it something special like “Mommy’s Work-Time Treasures” or “Johnny and Judy’s Quiet Time Toys”. Make sure these toys only come out during your work hours and limit the number of toys they can play with each time. This will help your kids to stay interested in these activities.
5. Get your child involved in activities of their own. Crafts are great for working moms. Keep supplies such as paper, crayons, stickers, and other miscellaneous items organized and ready to use. Give your child simple directions on how to complete a project and allow them to use their own creativity. If the thought of coming up with a craft idea is intimidating, then check out my store! I offer a wide range of craft kits for all skill levels and interest! Keeping several craft kits on hand to pull out a moment’s notice could be a lifesaver when you are trying to meet a deadline!
6. Set up a game area. Think about what kind of games your children like to play. Maybe for the older ones it is cards or board games. Younger kids may like to play with blocks and Lego’s. Make a list of the games your kids like and keep them organized in a closet or drawer for when you need some quiet time. Having all the items organized and accessible will make it easier for your children to play these games without needing your help to get set up. It is also a good idea to make sure that you have taught your children how to play these games during non-working hours so you are not spending work time teaching them a new game.
7. Get moving. My kids love to play active games like blowing up balloons and letting them fly around the room while the air escapes. They could chase balloons around for hours! If you have the space indoors or if weather permits, set up an obstacle course by giving your kids supplies like empty two-liter bottles, balls, jump ropes, hula hoops, and a stop watch and set them loose. Not only will they use their creativity to make the obstacle course, they will get some exercise!
8. Dedicate time for video games and TV viewing- I have been known to let my kids watch TV and play video games (Gasp!) especially if I have a deadline to meet or a task to be completed without interruption. I do try to be mindful of this time and deliberately schedule time during the day for these activities rather than letting them turn on the TV just anytime throughout the day. Typically, I will set them up with a movie so that I can control what they are watching and know they will not be able to move to another program without permission. It also helps me to be mindful of the time the spend in front of the TV.
There are many options for video games on the market, but in my opinion the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect are great options if you are a work at home mom. Because many of the games are activity driven and require movement, children are not just sitting in front of the TV playing a mindless game. Carefully research the games you purchase to make sure they are age appropriate for your child. In my experience, the game’s packaging can be misleading and often misrepresents the appropriate age level, so it is important to spend the time researching the game before you purchase it. A great place to review any type of media prior to exposing your children is Common Sense Media. It is my ‘go-to’ site to research (or preview) the age level of movies, games, and websites for my kids. Allowing time for these activities has been a positive experience for us–they enjoy it and it gives me the time I need to work during the day. This is especially true during the long winter months when outside time is not always an option.
9. Sign up for an organized activity. Check your local community resources for camps, sports, and other various activities in which your child may be interested. Many park districts, YMCA facilities, and libraries offer wonderful budget-friendly classes. While your kids are having fun, learning something new and playing with kids their age, you can have some time to work. Many of the classes will last an hour or more which is ample time to return phone calls, review materials, organize your calendar, or complete other tasks. If you have a smart phone or wireless Internet access you can even use this time to catch up on email or social media! During the summer months, day camps can be one of the best opportunities for you to have scheduled work hours. While the kids are having fun with their peers, you can have several uninterrupted hours to focus on your work.
10. Get out of the house. If your kids are old enough to be independent while you keep a watchful eye on them, this is a great option. With the wonderful technology available through wireless Internet and smart phones, you can work virtually from anywhere! Take the kids roller skating, to a movie, an arcade, a swimming pool, a park or the library! While they are enjoying the activity, you can set up shop at a table or bench and get in a few hours of work. Even playing in the backyard can provide a change of scenery for you and a fun experience for the kids! Set up a pool or sprinkler, let them play in the sandbox, ride bikes, use sidewalk chalk, blow bubbles, dig for worms, etc. One of our favorite outdoor activities is to tack long rolls or paper along the fence and allow the kids to paint outside with washable paints. It is great because cleanup is a breeze–I just put them in their swimsuits and wash them off in the pool! Most kids enjoy playing outside, and if presented with enough activities and opportunities, you may be able to get a lot more done than you might expect.
No matter what kind of activities you use to gain work time, it is always important to set realistic goals concerning how much work you can achieve at home with children. You don’t have to be a supermom and sometimes you just have to call it a day and pick back up after they go to bed. Work will still be there but you can’t get time back, and the kids grow so fast!