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When you work from home with a preschooler, you have the opportunity to see the world in a whole new way. Everything is new and exciting for preschoolers, and their brains are like sponges – soaking up everything.
Kids at this age are growing. They have more reasoning skills than toddlers, and they desperately want to be independent. But, they still need much guidance to learn about the world.
After surviving working from home with a toddler, preschoolhood may seem like a breath of fresh air. You may begin to see longer periods of time when you can focus on your work.
That’s because once preschoolers are engaged with a project, most are happy to stick with it for a little while. They are developing an attention span, and you can help encourage this by providing high-interest, age-appropriate activities and toys.
This means, that with some planning, it’s definitely possible to productively work from home with preschoolers. Here are some tips for making it happen.
Creativity is one of those soft-skills that’s crucial for adulthood. It’s being able to come up with ideas on your own, and think outside of the box.
Creativity is not printing out several dozen Pinterest perfect projects and letting your kid put them together just the right way.
It’s letting them take those pieces, and stick them together Picasso style to create something of their very own. It’s turning them free with a big box of crayons and a stack of paper and seeing what they do.
Creativity means letting go of your control over what they create, and letting them try. You may not think it’s going to look good together, but your child does.
It’s okay if you deem what they create not worthy of posting in a blog post or sharing on Instagram. They aren’t creating to make you look good.
They’re creating to use their mind, experiment with size, shape, color, and learn how to make what they see in their head come to life.
Invest a couple of dollars in a big box of crayons, and a ream of paper. Buy some construction paper when it’s on sale for Back to School.
Then allow your preschooler to draw, make books, and doodle to her heart’s content. Help her staple her pages together into a book you can read together. Or teach her how to punch holes with a hole punch and string ribbon through the pages.
If your child is very creative, set up some guidelines to keep from being buried alive in artwork. My kids can only keep as much artwork as fits in a certain drawer. If it gets full, we go through it, take pictures of some, and toss a lot.
Then they get to work on filling it again!
Encourage Learning & Practicing
Preschoolers are learning all sorts of skills to prepare them for school. It’s during this time that many children master the ABC song, learn how to cut carefully and glue.
If you make learning fun, they’ll pick it up naturally. They won’t even realize they’re learning, because it’ll just be what they’re used to.
I love providing some basic supplies and turning my preschoolers free. Sometimes I use them for more structured play, but if I’m trying to get some work done, these work really well.
My absolute favorite toy for improving familiarity with the alphabet is a foam letter mat. (I love the ones like this, where you can pop the letters in and out of a frame…)
I’ve seen my kids build forts out of these letter blocks. They’ve set them up and jumped from one to another. Free play with the alphabet is so important for building a solid foundation for reading.
I enjoy taking the letters out and hiding them around the house. Then the little guys search for them while I work. Once they find a letter, they look for the matching frame for it and put them together.
This usually gives me about twenty minutes of solid work time! 😀
Another thing my kids love when they’re four or five are cutouts. At this age, they typically have the fine motor skills to really learn to use scissors.
So, I print out a bunch of coloring pages with their favorite cartoon characters. The kids color them, and then work to cut them out. It’s really motivating to cut well so they don’t accidentally cut off Doc McStuffin’s leg or something.
I give them three or four at a time, and this keeps them busy for a good half an hour. They color, cut, and play. This post on my other blog shares more details about how I teach scissor skills and then let the kids make their cutouts.
Sometimes, I print extra coloring pages for them and encourage them to glue the pieces onto a larger piece of construction paper. This lets them practice using a glue stick, and figuring out placement.
I encourage them to tell me stories about their characters when they’re done.
Have a List of Engaging Activities
Some days I just need a little extra time to work. During these days, I need to have a solid plan for all my kids. Engaging activities are the key!
By having a list in advance, I don’t have to try to figure things out last minute. These last minute decisions are usually being made when I’m already overwhelmed, and I don’t always make the right decisions.
So make it easy on yourself, and premake this list. Here are six fun things that are perfect for preschoolers:
- Fill some small plastic containers with water and add a small plastic toy to each. Let them freeze. When it’s time, turn the ice out onto a towel on the table and encourage your preschooler to free the toy. They can use butter knives, toys, or anything they think of to help get through.
- Give them a box and a couple of ideas (train, UPS truck, airplane, rocket, store, boat, etc.). Hand over the crayons, construction paper, scissors, and glue and see what they come up with. Stickers are a fun addition, but not all preschoolers are ready to use those on their own, so use your discretion!
- Set out a puzzle on the table and let them put it together. If your child is really good at puzzles, set out two and mix the pieces. First they’ll need to sort them and then they can build. Floor puzzles are another fun option.
- Put together a couple of picture based scavenger hunts and save them for when you need them. You can ask your child to find simple household things like shoes, books, balls, forks, or whatever you think of. Pick items in different rooms to make it last longer!
- Set up a goal between two chairs, clear some space, and let your preschooler kick around a hover ball. This is a good way to get some energy out inside.
- Save your junk mail and when you have a nice stack, let them open it. They can use a pen and “fill-out” the forms, circle letters in their name, or just enjoy the feeling of opening mail.
Let Them Work
Preschoolers are often eager to help with “real” work. They like being useful. And though your preschooler might not do tasks as well or quickly as you, there is huge benefit in letting them help now.
If you want a teenager who jumps in and helps willingly, you’ve got to deal with the preschooler helping too. You don’t typically get one without the other.
I love letting my preschoolers help with tasks that include a lot of movement. It’s a great way for them to be useful and use their motor skills. Some favorite tasks of my preschoolers include:
- Sorting silverware
- Sweeping the floor (just the main area, not under the table or anything tricky)
- Spot mopping with a spray bottle of water and a rag
- Folding towels
- Moving laundry from the dryer to a basket
- Pairing up shoes and putting them next to each other
- Cleaning the sink out after dishes (my kids love using the sprayer!)
- Washing the wall with a spray bottle and rag.
Teach your kids how to work, and let them.
They can wipe walls where you’re working while you get some tasks done. And by using plain water (or a cleaner that’s kid friendly), you won’t have to worry about it if they spray to much and end up soaked.
Teach Kitchen Skills
While on the subject to of letting your kids help, let them help in the kitchen too. Everyone needs to eat.
My preschoolers enjoy making their own lunch on our “Make Your Own” days. They like helping put together snack and passing it out on their day of the week.
Here are some age-appropriate tasks younger kids can do:
- Stirring ingredients to help you
- Dumping in premeasured items
- Measuring things like chocolate chips or chopped nuts that don’t need to be completely precise
- Making their own peanut butter and jelly sandwich (mine even enjoy getting out all the ingredients so they do it all on their own!)
- Putting cheese on a tortilla so it can turn into a quesadilla in the microwave
- Arranging crackers on a plate for the family to eat for snack
- Cutting American cheese or opening cheese sticks for the family
- Passing out premade snacks like cookies or muffins
- Pouring water from a pitcher
- Adding ice to cups
- Creating a trail mix by mixing together nuts, M&Ms, chocolate chips, etc. in a big bowl
Teaching your preschoolers to help in the kitchen helps. When they’re ready for a snack and you’re still working, you can ask them to wash their hands and get the cracker tray ready. You can keep a pitcher of water where they can reach, so they can get their own drinks throughout the day.
Independence is one of the best gifts you can give your children. Stop doing everything for them, and let them try.
Yes, you may wind up with smashed crackers or spilt water. But, they will never get better if they aren’t allowed to try.
Preschoolers Need Your Attention
Some preschoolers are content to play on their own for huge chunks of the day. But, this doesn’t mean you should let them. Your preschoolers are depending on you to help increase their vocabulary, model positive behavior, and just give them love and attention.
Take breaks throughout the day and focus on your child. Put your phone away and bake some cookies together. Walk around the block a few times. Read a book and snuggle on the couch.
You don’t have to do anything expensive or fancy, just be together. Your attention is what they’ll remember.
Like with toddlers, give them plenty of attention when they first wake up. This will help set the tone for the day, and you can get the day started on the right foot.
Listen to your preschooler. They’re learning to use their imagination and come up with some very interesting tales. When possible, look at them when they’re talking.
Ask questions for clarification or more detail. Being engaged is one of the best ways you can help prepare your child for future conversations. (This is one I’m really working hard on now. I realized I wasn’t really listening to my kids talk, and it was causing them to be discouraged and not want to talk to me…)
Preschoolers Need Some Down Time
The majority of my kids stopped napping well before they turned four. But, if they didn’t have some time to play or read quietly, their attitudes stunk long before dinner.
When your child is around people all day, there’s something special about being alone for a little bit. It allows the brain to recharge, and them time to relax a bit.
So, if your preschooler has outgrown naps, definitely implement quiet time. It doesn’t have to be long – thirty or sixty minutes will work. (I have ninety minutes of quiet time, which is perfect for my family.)
My preschoolers favorite activity for quiet time is watching a movie while lying down on the couch. I can keep any eye on them while I sit at the table and work. And, if I pick a movie they’ve seen before, they might just fall asleep!
But, I don’t have them watch movies every day. I also have them:
- Get a stack of books and read them in their bed or the couch
- Color with a coloring book and box of crayons
- Set up the train tracks and play
- Use the car rug and toy cars
- Build with Lincoln Logs or blocks
My preschoolers don’t have as much freedom during quiet time as my older kids. I want them nearby, so I can remind them of the rules (stay in your spot unless you’re going potty, be quiet, and use the toys respectfully.)
If they’re having a hard time following the rules, I send them to bed. My preschoolers think this is the worst punishment in the entire world! This means it’s fairly effective.
But, in order to make quiet time work, it’s got to be consistent. You can’t have it one day a week and expect your four-year-old to remember how it works.
So we have quiet time consistently every weekday. We’ll often have a shorter version on the weekends, but I might let the kids pair up for that.
Have Work Hours When You Work from Home with a Preschooler
Life with babies and toddlers is really unpredictable. You never know when a blowout will happen, or when your child will need three outfit changes in an hour. You just get used to working whenever you can, and doing piecemeal work throughout the day.
Once your child starts growing, life gets a little more stable. All the time and energy you spent teaching your child during those important early years are starting to pay off!
Yes, things will still pop up. Your child will have a tantrum or get sick. That’s life.
But, these things usually won’t happen as often. Your child will be able to self-entertain for longer. They have better reasoning skills, and are starting to figure out times and days.
And this combination means you can start setting work hours. You likely still won’t be able to work for four hours straight, but an hour isn’t impossible!
At first, your child may not like you having dedicated work times. But, be consistent and it’ll become their new normal. Just make sure you give them lots of attention when you aren’t working.
Are You Working from Home with Preschoolers?
If you’re currently working from home with a preschooler, what advice can you add? I’d love to have you share your ideas in the comments so we can all learn from each other.
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.