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How To Keep Kids Busy For Hours (So You Can Work From Home) | Coronavirus / COVID-19 Activities

Last week I shared some great activities you could do with your kids while you’re stuck at home. But there’s only so much time you can spend with the tikes before you need a few minutes to yourself. So this week, I’ve created a list of ideas that will keep them occupied for hours so you can get some work done… or just pee in peace. 😉

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How to keep kids busy for hours (while you work from home)

I’ve tried to include activities that will appeal to most ages, so whether they’re 2 or 12, you’ll be able to find something to keep them busy and break up the screen time.

(Obviously the younger kids will still require a degree of supervision.)

Ways to keep kids busy

1. Muffin tins for the win

When Scout was younger, one of the things that was guaranteed to keep her occupied for an extended period was to give her a muffin tin and some small coloured items (pom-poms, foam pieces, pipe cleaners, etc.) and let her at it. She could arrange them by colour, size or type to her heart’s content.

Another favourite was putting a small splash of water into each tin and giving her some cotton balls. She loved dipping them all in.

Older kids can make a game out of it. Place the muffin tin a short distance away, assign a colour or score to each space, and then let them throw pom-poms, ping-pong balls, buttons, etc. to see who can get the highest score.

(Bonus tip: muffin tins are also great for weaning toddlers or feeding fussy kids. Or just as a fun meal! For Scout I used to fill each space with a different food – peas, crackers, berries, cheese – and let her sample a small bit of everything. It made it more fun for her, and she was getting a small amount of various things, rather than trying to force her to eat one particular thing. It also usually made clean-up a little easier because I could take everything away at once.)

2. Storytime

Assuming your local library is closed, I highly recommend you download their app. That way you can borrow audiobooks completely for free. (You can also borrow eBooks but we’re aiming for screen-free activities here.)

And Audible are currently offering free streaming of stories for kids. They've got a huge selection, starting at little listeners and going right up to teens so there's something for everyone. There are even some stories that adults would enjoy listening to, like Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and more!

For physical books, the type and length will obviously depend on the age of the child. Create-your-own-adventure books (i.e. “turn to page x if…”) are great for keeping kids engaged, as are any that require them to solve clues.

And here are a small handful of others I recommend, either because Scout loves them, or I did as a kid.

For the older kids, you could ask them to write their own, giving them some pictures or items as prompts that they then have to weave into the story. The more random, the better!

If you have multiple children, they can play a game where each has to add the next sentence to the story. So you start with “once upon a time” and then they take turns making up the tale as they go along. That one gets silly REALLY quickly, and kids become even more keen to make it as ludicrous as possible. 🙂

3. Put on a performance

Break out the dress-up box, give them some props, assign a “stage” area, and let them spend the day creating characters, assigning roles, writing and choreographing their own musical score, designing and distributing tickets, setting up seating…

Assign a certain “curtain up” time when you’ll give your undivided attention to whatever performance they wish to put on for you, whether it be a piece of theatrical magic or a pop concert.

4. Illicit illustrations

I know it sounds dodgy but I just like alliteration. 😉

One of the things that kept Scout occupied for hours when she was younger was when I gave her an old pillow and some washable markers and let her decorate it.

We weren’t using it, and even if we did it was a simple matter of washing it and/or putting a pillow case over it.

What could you give your kids that’s a step up from plain ol’ paper and is something they wouldn’t normally be allowed draw on? Do you have some unused duvets or sheets? Old t-shirts?

Or, better yet, do you have a wall you wouldn’t mind them decorating, either because it’s small, out of the way, or you’re about to re-paint anyway?

There are also loads of great options out there in terms of whiteboard and chalkboard paint that let you turn a surface into an erasable masterpiece. (Scout still loves drawing on my regular ol’ whiteboard.)

If you have some plain mugs and plates you can also allow your kids to draw on them with permanent markers and then “bake” them in the oven to set the design. So fun! And they each end up with their very own personalised piece.

Even if paper is your only option, think of some slightly more unusual ways you can use it. Maybe cover the entire dining table (this is a great one for finger-painters), hang it all up on the wall, make a track of it down a hallway…

Give them some paints, markers or crayons and let them add their own personal touch.

(If you’re worried about smaller kids making a mess, here’s a little tip I picked up from Pinterest: squirt some blobs of paint on a piece of paper and then slip it inside a resealable bag. Let them use their fingers, toy cars, cookie cutter shapes, etc. for their very own mess-free creation. Magic!)

5. Cards and invitations

Break out ALLLLL the card stock and craft supplies and just set them loose. Let them make cards for everyone they can think of… and even a few people they can’t, like emergency service providers, patients at the local hospital, and residents of the local nursing home.

Then tell them they can actually go post them… just as soon as they’ve cleaned everything up and put it away.

That oughta buy you some extra time. 😉

6. Puzzles and brain teasers

From little kids to big ones, there’s something for everyone here. Jigsaws, sudoku, magic eye pictures (trippy!), Where’s Wally books (you might know him as Waldo), crossword puzzles, word searches, join the dots…

You’re bound to find something that will keep your kids engrossed.

Heck, these even keep ME engrossed and I’m a grown-ass woman.

7. Board and card games

This one might depend on how well your kids get along. If they’re not the best at playing fair (or if they’re sore losers like me), a good game of solitaire may be more appropriate.

Otherwise, the longer and more “involved” the game (depending on their attention span), the better.

Break out the Monopoly, Risk, Dungeons & Dragons, or whatever the cool kids are playing these days, and away they go.

8. Journaling & scrapbooking

Give them a little notebook and a “fancy” pen and let them write their own life story. Tell them to include information about who they are, what they like, etc. and to draw or paste in pictures, tickets, leaves, etc.

You can give them some prompts if you think it’ll keep them busy for longer, like describing and drawing their room, listing all their favourite books and toys, talking about the places they like to go, drawing all their friends and family, etc.

Pinterest is great for “fill in the blanks” type things, like “My favourite food is _____”, “My favourite song is _____”, so you could print or handwrite some of those and paste them in every few pages to keep them going.

And this activity earns extra bonus points because they’re going to want to look back over these time and time again.

If all else fails, break out their baby pictures and hand them over. Kids are fascinated by their tiny selves!

9. Scavenger hunt

Give them a (long) list of random things to find around the house or out in the garden. For each one they find, they have to write down exactly where they found it and draw a picture of it.

Your list can include random things like a blue button, the colour purple, something that comes in a pair, something soft, something scratchy, something smelly, an accessory, a ribbon, something that’s on the bottom, something that’s on the top, the biggest thing, the smallest thing, 5 of the same thing…

A little work upfront on your part, but worth it for the blissful peace and quiet you’ll have afterwards.

And as a bonus, keep a list of things they choose themselves. Ask them what they’d do around the house if they could do anything, and then use those as “rewards” (within reason) for good behaviour.

You could pop all the (reasonable) suggestions in a jar and then, when you need some extra quiet time, let them choose something. That way it’ll seem more like a treat and less like an entitlement.

Most likely it’ll involve a screen, but the reality is that it would probably be part of their day anyway. And with the above list, you have a whole host of extra ways to break up that time.

Just like last week, here are some activity squares you can save, one including all the above prompts, and a blank one you can complete yourself.

Stay-at-home activity square for kids
Stay-at-home activity square for kids - blank template

I’ve also pulled together all my experience of building a business while staying at home with Scout so if you need extra help on how to work from home with kids, watch this video:

I've heard from loads of you that the tips actually work on partners too, just in case you've got some "grown up kids" driving you crazy at home. 😉

Now share your parenting wisdom with the rest of us:

What keeps your kids occupied the longest?

Drop it in the comments so we can all take advantage. 😉

And tell your parent friends so they too can get a bit of peace and quiet. Believe me, they’ll be very grateful.

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4 responses

  1. My kids use to LOVE to make things out of pipe cleaners. They would twist various sizes and colors together to make things, then take them apart later and reuse them.
    I would always have an art box with pipe cleaners, pom-poms, beads, feathers, construction paper, paint, glue, legos, etc, etc. I found that this box/bin was handy to just pull out. The bin became a really popular thing while they were growing up and they often played with the items alone, together, or with friends when they came over (ok, not with social distancing…but still).
    Legos allowed them to “engineer” their own thing.
    All the items were great for homeschooling and creativity!

    1. Yes! I had a box of pipe cleaners, pom-poms, lollipop sticks, etc. that Scout used to use to create all sorts of things. We’d often make a “farm” with them – the yellow pom-poms were chicks, the brown ones were cows, etc. Great fun!

  2. My daughter-in-law drew a large straigtlined design on their driveway with chalk. The four kids (aged 5-11) then taped along the lines, and colored in the shapes with pavement chalk (start from the middle!) Afterwards they pulled off the tape to reveal a fabulous stained glass piece of art. It has brightened the neighborhood, and all who saw it posted on FB. It also occupied the children for a pretty long time!

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