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If you’re a mompreneur, you know how important it is to keep your kids busy while you work.
Because if you don’t, they will still find ways to stay busy. You just might not approve of what they decide to do.
Kids left to their own devices tend to explore the house in ways you’d never think of. They might turn the toilet into a swimming pool for their Barbie dolls, or dump flour out on the kitchen floor to build a construction site.
I never quite know what sort of trouble my younger kids will find if I don’t engage them before I sit down to write a blog post.
Screen time will almost always buy me some time to work on my freelancing business or blog. But, I don’t like the side effects of too much television. So I save this for days I really need to sit down and meet a deadline.
Most of the time, I prefer them to play while I work. It’s good for their minds and bodies. And they often play together, which helps build important social skills.
Seven Toys to Keep Your Kids Busy While You Work
Just handing a toy to your kids probably won’t keep them engaged for long. They might explore it for a few minutes, but they’re very likely to ditch it as soon as you’re engulfed in your writing.
So, I’ve discovered it’s better to spend a few minutes getting them involved in the activity. And to get them started with the right toys.
The toys that work best:
- Encourage imaginative play – no noisy buttons or “correct” way to use
- Can work with kids of multiple ages
- Encourage some type of learning as they play
- Can be a solo activity or a team one
- Don’t make noise – I don’t need even more to block out while I write!
These are the toys that keep my kids busy time and time again. They are ones I highly recommend adding to your collection. You can pull them out on days you really need to get a solid chunk of work time in.
1. Foam Building Blocks
Foam building blocks are wonderful! When the toddler throws them, I don’t have to worry about someone getting a knot on the back of the head or something breaking.
My older sister gave one of my kids a set for her birthday a few years back, and we’ve enjoyed them ever since. I couldn’t find the exact set to share with you, but here is a similar set of foam building blocks.
The pieces are perfect for building castles, small towns, and giant towers. I often challenge my kids to work together to build something specific.. They’ve enjoyed creating:
- A castle for the toy My Little Ponies to all live in
- The garage from RescueBots – big enough to fit in at least one of the toy bots
- A house with a door that could open
The challenges take a couple of minutes to think of, but really go a long way in helping the kids keep busy while I work.
I suggest making a list of ideas one day, and storing it in the container with the blocks. Then when it’s time to pull them out, you won’t have to waste time stopping to think of things for the kids to build. You could even have them help you brainstorm this list!
2. Alphabet Foam Mat
While I’m talking about foam building blocks, I can’t leave out the alphabet foam mat. It’s the perfect toy for helping kids practice their letters and be creative at the same time.
Alphabet foam mats can be snapped together into the traditional “rug” shape. But, that’s not the only way they connect. You can turn the pieces into a fort, or a big box for the kids to get inside.
If you buy one where the inside letters pop out of the frame, you can hide those all around the room before you sit down to work. Your kids can look for them all, and then put them back together. Once they have them all, they can start playing for fun.
You can ask an older child to put them out in alphabetical order for a younger child. Then they can take turns somersaulting or skipping down the alphabet. They can sing the ABC song quietly while they jump from letter to letter.
There are so many ways to play with these mats!
Note: A word of caution – foam blocks can be bitten, and kids can be left with a large piece in their mouths. Make sure your kids are past that stage before allowing them to play with these. I have one child who can’t use any of our foam things because he will just eat them…
3. Wooden Blocks Along with Toy Animals
Combining blocks and toys adds a new dimension of play. One of our favorite combinations is a simple set of wooden blocks, and several toy animals.
Once I set these out, the kids get to work building fences and pens, along with barns and roads. They love to make barns where the animals can fit inside.
If your kids aren’t into animals, pull out something they are. Combine blocks with My Little Pony figurines, toy cars, or whatever they enjoy. These add-on pieces allow them to really get creative as they build with the blocks.
4. Pop Up Tunnels & Tents
That picture is my five-year-old back when he was almost two. He still loves playing with pop-up tunnels and tents!
There are so many different pop up toys you can purchase. I love how small these fold up, so they don’t take a ton of room to store. They are also easy enough for most of my kids to unfold themselves.
My kids have enjoyed several different pop ups during the years. Their favorite of all times was a pop up school bus. It had a steering wheel on the inside, so they took turns being the driver and moving from place to place to pick up the other kids for school. Then they drove them back home again.
It held up well for a couple of years, but then it stopped folding nicely. They played with it a while longer as an outside toy, but it didn’t survive too well long-term out there.
The tents are also fun. For a while we had a bag of ball-pit balls that we added to a pop up tent for engaging play. It kept the kids busy for quite a while!
If you were to ask my kids what their favorite type of toy was, almost all of them would say LEGOs! My three-year-old impresses me with the things she can build, and they just get better as they get older.
We now have a daily build challenge. The kid of the day picks something, and everyone else tries to build it. When they succeed, they earn a small piece of candy.
Some of our recent challenges have included:
- A tree
- An animal
- A house
- Something from the game Stardew Valley
- Something that can open
- A boat
Because my oldest son has Pica along with his Angelman Syndrome, the kids can’t LEGO in the house unless he’s in his room. So we converted an outbuilding into a “LEGO Shack” for them. They love going out there to build.
If none of the older kids are going out, I allow my littler ones to bring a small tub of LEGOs into the house. They set this on the table and build while I work. We just make sure to engage Owen in his room first. Then the kids must get every single LEGO off the floor and table after play time is over.
You can also encourage your kids to try active play with Legos. These activities take a little more prep work on your end, but they’re a ton of fun for all the kids.
6. A Dollhouse
We found a really big plastic dollhouse at Goodwill recently, and it’s been very engaging for the kids. They all seem to enjoy it.
While this mostly stays upstairs in our playroom, sometimes it’s fun to bring it down while I’m working. I don’t like the younger kids playing upstairs while I write, because I can’t keep tabs on them. It’s a lot harder to know when they’ve gotten bored and are looking for new ways to play when I can’t see them…
So when I bring it down, I bring out the dollhouse accessories we have. I’ll let the little ones play and challenge the bigger kids to make some new furniture or decorations for the dollhouse. It’s amazing what they can make with some cardboard, scissors, glue, and crayons.
The little kids are excited to try out the new stuff the bigger kids make, and they often request special things. Could you make a blanket for my doll’s bed? I think we need a new picture for the bathroom wall.
7. Car Rug
I really like using toys that can be stored in a box and put up most of the time to keep my kids busy while I work. This keeps the toys from being overused the rest of the time. Each time I pull it out, it’s even more fun for the kids.
A car rug with some simple Matchbox cars is a great way to keep the kids engaged for a while. They love dividing up the cars and exploring the town as they “drive” around.
Sometimes, the kids will also bring out the wooden blocks and use those to create tunnels and other things for the cars to drive around. They’ve even added some toy cows and airplanes before to get some obstacles in there.
A car rug is a fun way to learn more about neighborhoods and what can be found in one. There’s typically a police station or firehouse, a store, a school, and several houses. The kids can find the shortest route from one place to another.
Or they can just sit and play for fun. It’s a very versatile toy!
What Toys Keep Your Kids Busy While You Work?
I’d love to hear what toys you regularly pull out when you need a little time to work. Please share your kids’ favorites in the comments below.
This post was originally published in February 2016. It’s been updated and refreshed!
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.