How to Work from Home with Kids Around
Here’s our ultimate guide on keeping children busy while you get your job done.
Schools and daycares are starting to close in neighborhoods across the country because of COVID-19 diagnoses. Even if your whole area is on lockdown, it doesn’t mean your responsibilities will change if you’re expected to work from home with kids. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep children happily occupied (and even learning) while you work at home during the coronavirus epidemic.
1. Free Virtual Learning Opportunities
If your school district is closed but hasn't provided virtual learning, check out this website: It's a list of top online educational services offering free access to their materials. A note: They each have different instructions for logging in, including requiring school officials to make the request.
2. Structuring the Day
Elementary school art teacher Alexandra Etscovitz, who also runs Art4YourChild in Needham, Massachusetts (follow her on Instagram @artiselementary), offers this realistic schedule that accounts for kids’ needs—and wants.
3. Give Them Visual Cues About Your Availability
Got a work call? Saying, “I’ll be off in half an hour,” doesn’t mean much to a 4-year-old. If you have one of those color-coded clocks, intended for letting a little one know not to get out of bed before a human hour, repurpose it to let them know when you’ll be able to give them your undivided attention. No special clock? Timers and digital clocks (with instructions such as "when this number 2 becomes a 3") can help.
4. Minimize the Chances They’ll Interrupt You
One way to do this: Consider prepping snacks and lunch for little hands ahead of the work day and keeping those meals accessible so kids can help themselves while you work from home. Give your child (age 3+) clear instructions, say, whenever they’re hungry, they can take one item from the lowest fridge shelf. They must shut the fridge door behind them and eat their snack at the table. Here’s the gold standard:
The same accessibility rule goes for activities. If they can play on a tablet, make sure it’s charged and within reach, and they are well-versed in operating it themselves. Put out toys, crafts and other playtime supplies that don’t require adult assembly at their eye level. Here are some ideas:
Nonscreen Activities for Kids at Home
Even in these desperate days, we know we can’t just leave Netflix running for hours (well, at least not every day we’re working from home with kids). Once they get bored of all the toys they finally have tons of time to play with, try these other options that don’t involve much effort on your part.
Fill a clear zip-top bag with paint, sand or any flour or nontoxic powder that doesn’t stick together. Have your child trace their finger over the bag to create designs inside. Mess-free (as long as that bag stays closed)!
Have the kids roll up newspaper or catalog pages into individual balls. Then, they should take turns pitching them into different receptacles—shoeboxes, mixing bowls, suitcases—from different distances and different positions, say, over their heads, between their legs, upside-down and lying down.
Coloring books only hold attention for so long. Whip out other media, such as cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls, paper bags, paper plates and coffee filters, and suddenly it’s a whole new activity. Give them some special art supplies for decorating their canvases: yes, crayons, markers and watercolors, but also stickers, pompoms, beads and the glue they’ll need to affix them.
Save some boxes for fort building! Have your child gather those as well as the typical fort materials—blankets, pillows and chairs—and set up camp. Give them books and a flashlight so they can “read” inside their safe space.
Speaking of blankets and pillows, corral all of them into a single spot on a carpeted (or rug-covered) floor in your home, away from furniture and walls. Encourage your kids to jump into them...over and over. They can do belly flops, cannonballs, or even forward rolls. Helmets and knee pads are welcome.
Dump out your plastic bowls, strainers, ice cube trays, spoons and spatulas and encourage your kid to stack, sort, and even bang (if you can still work through the noise). If you’re a master of concentration, break out the metal pots and pans too.
Got some old magazines lying around? We give your kids permission to cut them up with safety scissors and glue their favorite pictures onto construction paper. For older kids, give them a list of items to find in each issue and cut out.
If you have a long hallway, create an "obstacle course" using pillows, chairs, stools or whatever you can round up. This works especially well if you have more than one kid—they can compete to see who can finish the course faster.
Make a list—with simple drawings for the not-yet-reading folks—of items in your home that your child should go hunting for. That should buy you at least half an hour.
Put Alexa or Google Home to use: Your child can ask them to tell jokes, stories and more.
Fill zip-top bags with uncooked beans, rice or sand, for little kids to squish.
If you’re lucky enough to have bubble wrap on hand, tape some to the floor and tell your kids to jump around until every last bubble has popped. Not recommended for during conference calls.
Round up all the balls (pun intended) and have your kids roll them toward different (unbreakable) things to knock down—empty cereal boxes, water bottles and the like. When bowling gets old, tell your children to race two balls at a time toward a wall or door; keep having the balls compete to see which one is the fastest. Encourage them to crown a winner and create a congratulatory card for the triumphant ball.
Some dry-erase markers work on windows. Test to see if yours can serve as a canvas—and, more importantly, if a rag wipes away the color. If so, let your kids go to town on the windows and show you their creations during a call you don’t need to contribute too. Then, time them to see how quickly they can make all their artwork disappear.
Get more activity ideas from these creative Instagrammers:
CommonSense.org, the nonprofit dedicated to telling parents and educators what they need to know about media kids might consume, has lists of the best movies, TV shows, books, apps, websites, music and more for children. You can filter by age group and media type and, for movies and shows, browse by streaming service.
Written by Meredith Bodgas for Working Mother and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.