Can it really be done? Can you really work from home with your kids there? Yes and no. Yes you can do it, but no, not all the time or for long periods of time.
Working from home with kids is hard. Be realistic with what you want to achieve and plan it well.
Young kids can be hard to juggle when you work from home because they need lots of physical time and attention. Older kids are also hard work but they need you in a different way, to be there to help with homework and talk to them about what they’ve got going on in life, but at least they may be able to entertain themselves for longer!
Although of course, spending quality time with your children is very important, there may be times in the day when you need to work, and helping your children to learn to play independently could help encourage independence, self-confidence, creativity, and language skills, according to Maria Luisa Escolar, M.D., a developmental paediatrician at the University of North Carolina's Center for the Study of Development and Learning.
Quality time Before + After
Kids are much more likely to play on their own if they have spent quality time with you, but when you have housework and 'work' work to get done, it can all feel a bit overwhelming to try and fit it all in. Get kids involved in things that they can help with, or let them just be with you. For example, a one-year-old will happily unpack a cupboard full of Tupperware while you wash dishes and a three-year-old can help load and unload a dishwasher while you talk. Giving them that attention and spending time with them before and after will mean they are more likely to play independently.
Structure + Planning
Structure your time so that the important things that can’t be done with them there, are done when they are asleep, either at nap time or bed time or when someone else is able to look after them. Save the less important things, that don’t have a strict deadline, for the times when your kids will be with you so that you can stop and give them your full attention if need be. If you are able to organise your time in this way, it also means that you know exactly what you need to do as soon as you have your time to work. I use Trello to organise my time throughout the day so that I can see what I need to do when the kids are asleep and what I can sneak in here and there.
Of course, that’s not always possible, and it always seems to be just when a client has emailed over some last minute changes that the kid wakes up early from their nap, so these ideas are helpful for those times too!
Some ideas for you:
1. Play office
Set up an area for them so they can be just like you. Get some pots, containers or drawers and fill them with stickers, pens, pencils, and scraps of paper. You could also print off our free play office set which includes envelopes to make up, letters to sign, and pretend watches for them to cut out and tape to their wrist. You can download it at the bottom of this post.
Zach's tiny little desk squeezed into my office. A year and a half later and he still loves it.
2. Educational TV
I know a lot of people are not fans of screen time, but CBeebies has saved my sanity a couple of times. There are lots of options for educational programs too, such as ‘Team Umizoomi’ which has really helped with my three-year-olds counting, as well as programs such as ‘Alphablocks’ and ‘Word World,’ to help with spelling and literacy skills. ‘Sid the Science Kid’ and ‘Nina and the Neurons’ are good for science lovers. You can find many of these on youtube if not on TV, just make sure you turn the kid safe feature on on Youtube.
3. Helping You
Is there something they can do to actually help you? The answer to this might be a firm ‘NO’ but now that my eldest is three, he can sometimes help with basic stickering. I mean, it takes a bit longer, but he loves handing me the postage labels to stick onto parcels. It’s a small thing, but we’re a family business and it helps him feel like he’s part of it, which I love. You could also try asking for help with dusting your office or picking up things from the floor. If there is nothing that will actually be helpful, try things which seem helpful like, please will you cut this piece of paper into ten pieces etc. They can use samples or misprinted items and fold or cut them to 'help' you.
My little monkeys 'helping' me in my office!
4. Reading + Sticker Books
If kids are in the habit of reading then even from a young age, children will naturally start to pick up books to look at on their own. Make a cosy corner with a few blankets and cushions and a book bin and encourage your child to have some quiet time reading books. You can see how we made a little reading corner in the kids' room here. Look out for our post next week on age appropriate books for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. And of course, don’t forget the educational value of sticker books, which can provide entertainment for older kids, but also teach them a thing or two. To make it easier to manage on their own, peel off the backing of the stickers so that only the stickers themselves remain on the sheet. Easy peeling stickers = happy child = happy mum.
5. Prep Snacks
Stock up on snacks that slightly older kids can help themselves too if they ask you. I’m convinced that half the things my kids' ask me in a day are about food! Keeping pre-prepared snacks on hand will make your life so much easier. You could try:
- apples slices
- quartered grapes (grapes are the number 2 choking hazard for children so should be cut lengthwise into quarters up to age 5)
- peeled clementines
- cucumber sticks
- carrot sticks
- crackers (if you can deal with the mess)
6. outside play
Do you have an enclosed garden with an area that overlooks it? If you can set up your laptop by a window that you can watch them from, rain or shine, you can wrap your kids up, or slap on some suncream, and let them play in the garden. You could even print out an explorers wildlife sheet for them to find interesting things.
7. Shut Yourselves In!
Make a space safe - remove all small objects that could be choked on, cover sharp corners, remove anything breakable and shut yourself and the kids in one space, be it a living room or bedroom with a box of toys. Not too many toys mind you, but enough that they can explore and use their imagination. Blocks, train tracks, balls, play food and other items that encourage imaginative play are a good idea. I often spend half an hour sitting on the sofa with my laptop in the kids' room while they play together.
8. Surprise box
Put together a simple surprise box using an old biscuit tin or shoebox and fill it with interesting bits and bobs. My Mum has been doing this for as long as I can remember, and above all other things, kids will play with these the longest. They cost almost nothing to put together and encourage imagination, and pretend play. A lid could become a spaceship, and a piece of string can become spaghetti. Mix the contents up every now and then so that they don’t know what to expect, and make sure the contents are age appropriate, don’t include any small parts in a box for a child under 3. We have a box for under 3’s and one with bits suitable for older children. Some ideas for what you could include are:
- An assortment of lids from jars
- Interesting scraps of materials
- Large plastic stickers or cut outs from cards
- Pieces of foam cut into different shapes
- Large beads
- Laces/pieces of string for thread
- Pieces of cut up Straws
- Small toy animals
- Small character toys (you can pick up things like happy meal toys in charity shops for 20p, give them a good scrub before you add them)
My Mum and my three-year-old Zach playing with one of Nanny's surprise boxes.
9. Apps + Computer games
If you have a tablet then educational apps can be such a help, apps like CBeebies and Tiny Tap have hours worth of games that make learning fun, and you know that your kids are actually getting something useful from them. Likewise, if your child is old enough to use the computer on their own, then there are lots of great educational sites. Check out Netmums suggestions here.
10. Audiobooks + Music
Sometimes children just want some company. Who doesn’t right? If you’re not keen on screen time, this is a great alternative. One thing that I really love is letting them listen to audio books while they play. It keeps them company, and you’ll be surprised how much they are actually listening, even when they are playing at the same time. You could use a kids CD player or an MP3 listening device. Short kids stories, Disney soundtracks, sing-along nursery rhymes are all good choices.
Those are our ten ideas to help entertain kids when you are a work at home parent! What are your top ideas? Let us know in the comments below.
If you want to read our top tips to get through the first year of a new baby and a business, then you can read our post here.