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What do your kids do if you leave them alone for a while? Depending on their ages, my kids find a variety of activities to engage them.
I tend to appreciate the choices my elementary aged kids (and older) make a lot more than my littles. The older kids love to spend time building with Legos, drawing a picture, or building a world in the bedroom using all of their different play sets.
My little guys? They make different choices. Here are a few of the most memorable ways my little ones have found to occupy themselves:
- Dumping flour on the floor to make roads for their cars
- Emptying an entire dresser to play dress up.
- Taking DVDs out of their boxes to find a movie to watch
- Spreading peanut butter around the kitchen trying to make a sandwich
In case you hadn’t noticed the pattern, little guys tend to occupy themselves by making huge messes. At least mine do.
That moment when I realize it’s quiet and I don’t really know what they’re doing usually leaves me with way more work to do in the end.
It’s usually not good.
But, that’s what happens when I get sucked into my work without first taking time to engage my kids. They end up creating a mess, and I end up mad that we now have extra cleaning to do.
Engage Your Kids
I’ve learned it doesn’t take long to engage my kids before I start working. It’s time well spent, since it doesn’t typically end in a mess.
When engaged in an activity they enjoy, I can typically get an additional 15-20 minutes worth of work at a time. I’ll get the kids engaged, work, and then we take a break to clean up and move.
By repeating this a couple of times throughout the day, I buy myself a lot of extra work time. All those little minutes add up!
Here are some of our favorite activities, broken down by age.
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I typically put my babies in a bouncer chair, or on a blanket the floor right near me. This keeps them safely out of the reach of their curious toddler siblings.
Sometimes I’ll also put a baby in a sling, and move my computer where I can stand to reach it. Then I stand and type, while rocking the baby. Hands free snuggling is awesome!
Otherwise, I keep my babies engaged with simple items, large enough to not be a choking risk. They’ve all enjoyed exploring:
- Plastic measuring cups
- Wooden spoons
- Typical baby toys (rattles, cloth books, etc.)
- O Balls
- Pillows (they’re fun for crawling over for babies who are mobile!)
Everything you give a baby should be large, without any little pieces. I always inspect my kitchen items before letting little ones play with them, making sure there aren’t any cracks or broken pieces to pose a problem.
I have two toddlers currently, aged two and three. My three year old turns four later this summer, at which point he transitions in my mind from toddler to preschooler.
Toddler are fun, though typically very curious about life. They want to explore everything and learn. But, they definitely need boundaries. Otherwise, they’re most likely to leave those grand messes we talked about earlier.
I’ve learned to keep my toddlers close by. They’re either with me, working at the table or on the floor in the same room, or paired with an older sibling. This helps us keep our eyes peeled for problem behaviors before they start.
My toddlers love:
- Sensory activities
- Playing with a tub of soapy water and towels to “wash” their toys
- Exploring a plate of cooked (and cooled) spaghetti noodles with some basic kitchen tools
- Freeing items frozen in a plastic container
- Playing with open ended toys
- Reading books (lift the flaps are really fun at this age!)
- Paint sticks with paper
I typically set out one activity during each play session. Too many choices leaves my toddlers overwhelmed, which leads to bad behavior. By keeping it simple, they’re able to focus on what they have and enjoy it more.
By four, most of my kids have started figuring out their boundaries. They’re less likely to create a huge mess, though given enough unengaged time, they will definitely resort to that.
At this age, art is a huge favorite for most of my kids. They love to sit with crayons and colored pencils and a new coloring book, or coloring pages I print. Blank paper is also fun!
Notice I didn’t list markers in that list of coloring supplies. There’s a good reason for that! Markers and preschoolers are not a good combination, unless you are right there, really supervising. If you’re busy working, you may not notice the marker mess (speaking from experience!)
Here are some of my other favorite activities for preschoolers:
- Practicing cutting skills by making cutouts with blunt scissors
- Turning an empty box into something (a train, a rocket, a house, etc.)
- Building a fort with a sibling and then reading inside
- Spreading peanut butter on crackers to make a tower
- Building with mini-marshmallows and straws
- Sorting objects by size, color, or shape
- A toy kitchen
- I Spy style books
I’ve found five or six to be a great turning point for my kids. At that point, they’re able to typically entertain themselves for quite a while. All of the work teaching your kids to play independently pays off. It is worth it!
Some activities my kids enjoy:
- Playing a board game (or using the board game pieces to create their own game)
- Using index cards to create a matching game
- Creating sets to play with using paper, crayons, scissors, and glue
- Magnet boards
- Play dough
- K’Nex, Legos, Lincoln Logs
- Train sets
- Groups of toys (My Little Pony, Rescue Bots, etc.)
- A toy car washing station with shaving cream, a tub of soapy water, and a tub of clean water for rinsing
- Painting with shaving cream
- Painting (remember to set out newspaper!)
- Creating a scavenger hunt for siblings
There are so many ways to engage your kids, without a screen. By taking the time to engage your kids, you’ll lessen the likelihood you’ll have an unexpected mess to have to stop and clean up.
How Will You Engage Your Kids Today?
I’d love for you to share one activity you’ll engage your kids with today to get yourself a few extra minutes of work time.
F is For…
I’ll be back tomorrow with An A-Z Guide to Working at Home with Kids: F.
Be sure to come back then for another tip on working at home with kids. In the meantime, please share this post with another mama working hard from home!
Catch up on the posts you missed here:
A is for Accepting Limitations
B is for Begin by Filling Their Cups
C is for Create a Work Space
D is for Dare to Dream
Lisa Tanner is a former teacher turned homeschooling mom with 11 kids. She's also a successful freelance writer. Lisa enjoys helping other busy moms find time to start and grow a side hustle of their own.