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How to Keep Your Kids Busy When You Need to Work From Home


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Millions of kids are stuck at home as COVID-19 school closures around the United States require them to keep their distance to help curb the spread of the virus. At the same time, you may be one of the lucky ones who’s been able to negotiate working remotely. But you might not feel so blessed. As hiring child care assistance becomes increasingly difficult due to social distancing guidelines, you now face the daunting task of simultaneously caring for kids while also attempting to do your job.

Making matters worse, according to The Washington Post, officials say school closures may last far longer than the initially promised two to three weeks. And while schools close for extended periods all the time — from winter breaks to spring breaks to summer breaks — they’ve never done so without child care options. So trying to manage a conference call with a toddler in your lap might be nothing you’ve ever dealt with before.

I know the feeling. I’m a teacher, a freelance writer, and the mom of a 4-year-old. And though I’m not new to remote work, having him home with me while I try to do highly focused work — like meeting an article deadline — borders on the impossible. Not only is a parent generally the center of any younger child’s universe, but young kids need constant supervision.

Even when it comes to tweens and teens, working at home when you have kids is no easy task. To manage it, the first step is to let go of the need to do anything perfectly, whether it’s parenting or your job. Next, follow these basic tips child care experts and educators recommend.

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Setting Up a Routine

Girl Toddler Brushing Her Teeth Good Morning

It’s OK to treat the first few days the kids are home like summer vacation as the family works to adjust to the new situation. Let them sleep in, spend the day in their pajamas, and watch TV. But eventually, you need to establish a routine.

A little planning can help you get your work done more efficiently. If your day feels more like an established habit than a chaotic free-for-all, you can be far more productive. When you have to fight for every spare minute, a plan can help you prevent wasting any of them trying to decide what’s for lunch or when kids should work on math or go outside to play.

Routines aren’t just easier for you. They’re stabilizing for kids. Melanie Auerbach, director of student support at the Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., tells The Washington Post that “summer brain” — often referred to as “summer slide” — is less about a lack of academics than a lack of routine. “[Kids] don’t forget how to read,” she says. “They’ve forgotten how to do school.”

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics found that kids thrive on routine. It provides a sense of security because they know what to expect. And in these uncertain times, kids need that now more than ever.

So after taking a few days to get your bearings, follow these tips to establish a routine to help your family thrive.

1. Use Kids’ School Schedules as a Framework

Susie Allison, author of “Busy Toddler’s Guide to Actual Parenting,” tells Time she recommends using kids’ typical school day as a starting point. But you don’t need to follow the same rigorous schedule they had at school.

Instead, think about dividing the day into blocks, just like they do with periods at school. Your blocks don’t have to be at precisely the same times. They can be loose and generalized blocks, like time for schoolwork, time for play, and time for meals. And be sure to think about your child’s energy patterns. For example, are they more able to do focused work in the morning or the afternoon?

2. Adjust Kids’ Routines Around Your Own

You probably need to adjust your kids’ schedule around your own, especially if your workday isn’t flexible. So after you’ve worked out a rough schedule for the kids, modify it for your own needs. Remember, the goal is to keep the kids busy and engaged in purposeful activities so you can get stuff done.

Take a few minutes the night before every workday to write up a schedule. You’ll get those minutes back tenfold or more in your productivity. Then test, iterate, and adjust as necessary, keeping flexibility in mind as your daily routine can fluctuate frequently. For example, you may have to switch working on your child’s math homework from the morning to the afternoon if your boss needs you on a conference call.

3. Set Boundaries

Boundaries are something every parent struggles with, especially with young children who don’t understand what it means when parents say they need to work. But it’s challenging to get work done without enforcing a few.

With older kids, it’s helpful to discuss how independent you need them to be during the day. Let them know when it’s OK to interrupt (they’re bleeding) and when it’s not (Netflix won’t load).

It also helps to designate a space for work, even if you don’t have a home office. It sends a clear signal that Mom or Dad is at work now. And nothing sends a clearer signal than a closed door, which can prevent interruptions from tweens and teens.

For younger kids, try setting a timer and letting them know you can play with them for a few minutes when the timer dings. But it helps to accept that the younger kids are, the more likely you are to have to play Barbies while taking a conference call or work on your laptop at the kitchen table while they squish play dough.

4. Coordinate With Your Spouse

If you have a spouse who’s also working from home, make sure you plan child care around each other’s needs. There may be times you need to be in a meeting or your spouse needs to do highly focused work. Work in shifts, and plan who’s on duty around those times.

Another idea, given to The Washington Post by Emily Paisner, host of the parenting podcast “Equal Parts,” is to alternate days with your spouse so you can each get a bigger chunk of uninterrupted work time.

5. Work While the Kids Are Sleeping

If your kids are still at an age when they nap, take advantage of every minute you can. I worked from home when my son was an infant by relying on baby monitors and swings and gliders. While you should never leave a baby in a swing for more than 20 minutes at a time, I was able to write an entire novel during these short naps.

Even if you’re not blessed with a child who naps well, many parents swear by quiet-time routines. Try planning an hour or two, depending on your child’s age, every afternoon when they can read a book or play quietly in their rooms.

If it’s not possible to get work done while the kids are awake or by trading shifts with your spouse, and you can’t get kids to buy into quiet time, accept that you might have to get up a few hours before the kids or stay up late after they’ve gone to bed. In ordinary times, putting in so many hours without a break is a productivity killer and a recipe for burnout. But these aren’t ordinary times.

6. Check In Often

If your kids are older and capable of being left to their own devices for blocks of time, peek in on them regularly and consistently. It helps send the message they’re not an inconvenience in your workday, but you’re all in this together.

It also helps keep everyone on task. If kids know you’re keeping an eye on them, they’re more likely to do whatever work or activities you ask of them. Plus, if they know you’re going to check on them at designated times, they’re less likely to interrupt you when you’re focused on working.

Planning a Variety of Engaging Activities

Toddler Boy Wooden Train Set Playing Indoors

To keep kids busy, you can certainly put out toys. Kids need some unstructured free time every day. Don’t worry that play is “mindless” entertainment. For kids, play is the best form of learning. As Laura Bongiorno, director of Champlain College’s graduate program in early childhood education, explains, play for children is like a science laboratory where they can experiment, explore, and test their theories.

But a few simple, easy, and planned indoor or outdoor activities can be a lifeline when you need to focus on your work or participate in an important conference call. So as you plan your family’s schedule — in addition to having them keep up with any academics — take some time to plan activities to keep them occupied and entertained.

7. Prep Some Indoor Activities

You can adapt indoor activities like arts and crafts, solitary or cooperative games, and anything involving building to all ages and keep kids occupied for a good chunk of time. But remember that with very young kids (under 5), you still need to be present to keep an eye on them, even if they’re fully engaged in the activity.

Babies & Toddlers

When planning activities that can keep babies and toddlers occupied and entertained, think sensory play. Sensory play involves kids’ use of sight, sound, touch, smell, or taste, and it’s crucial for kids at this age. As Kittie Butcher of Michigan State University and Janet Pletcher of Lansing Community College explain in a 2016 article for Michigan State University Extension, sensory play helps babies and toddlers develop necessary brain pathways for understanding the world around them.

Sensory play can take many forms:

  • Sensory Bins. Make an easy-to-prepare sensory learning toy by filling a large plastic storage bin with safe materials like rice or uncooked oatmeal, which won’t cause a choking hazard. Then toss in some themed toys, like plastic dinosaurs or construction vehicles. For more ideas, visit Little Bins for Little Hands.
  • Cardboard Boxes. Everybody knows little kids generally prefer the box to the toy inside. Empty boxes give them something to explore and spark their curiosity. Make a tunnel of boxes for little ones to crawl through. Keep non-crawlers mesmerized by poking Christmas lights through holes punched in the “ceiling” of a box, as featured on Where Imagination Grows. Or set an older toddler inside a large box and give them some crayons to scribble the inside with like the bloggers at Coffee Cups and Crayons did.
  • Water Play. Little kids love playing in the water. Anything that allows them to do that — from painting with water like they did on Teaching Littles to “excavating” toys frozen in ice using the instructions from Happy Hooligans — keeps them thoroughly engaged. Make a toy-washing bin for older toddlers by filling your sink with some water and adding dish soap and a few plastic toys like play food or dishes. For babies, fill a baking tray with a very small amount of water and some toys like plastic measuring cups and spoons or rubber duckies. Then place them on their stomachs in front of the tray for some sensory tummy time. Just prop them on a pillow so there’s no chance they’ll end up face-first in the water. For more ideas, visit My Bored Toddler.
  • Taste-Safe Play Dough and Slime. Store-bought Play-Doh isn’t an option for babies and toddlers who love putting things in their mouths, but recipes for taste-safe play dough and slimes abound on the Internet. Plus, these ooey-gooey, squishy substances help with both sensory development and keeping kids occupied. Visit Little Bins for Little Hands for a variety of taste-safe recipes.
  • Interactive Toys. To keep babies and toddlers safe and secure so you can take your eyes off them for at least a few minutes, make ample use of play yards and baby gates, which can confine them to a baby-proofed area. Any toy that won’t cause a choking hazard — like soft blocks — is safe for babies and toddlers. But to really keep them engaged, opt for something that makes lights and sounds, like the Best Learning learning cube or the iPlay, iLearn baby musical elephant.

Preschool & Kindergarten

Arts-and-crafts projects are the go-to activity for this age. Stock up on kid-friendly art supplies like washable paints, crayons, construction paper, glue sticks, and safety scissors. Also, start collecting your used toilet paper tubes, paper towel rolls, and egg cartons. There are a ton of crafts kids can make with these that can keep them occupied for a while.

  • Coloring Pages. Stock up on coloring books, like this set of Mickey Mouse coloring books, which you can purchase cheaply from the dollar store (if they’re still open in your area) or in bulk from Amazon. Alternatively, you can print free coloring pages off the Web. Steer clear of doing a general Google search, which will return a lot of spammy sites. Instead, head straight for trustworthy sources like Crayola, Mom Junction, and Super Coloring.
  • Scratch Art. These pages, designed with layers of color for kids to scratch off to make beautiful designs, are a relatively mess-free way to keep young kids occupied. Buy bulk sets of scratch art paper from Amazon.
  • Color Wonder. Another mess-free option is Crayola’s Color Wonder pages and markers. A unique formula allows kids to make color on the paper but not on anything else.
  • Trash Art. Use recycled materials — like toilet paper tubes, egg cartons, candy wrappers, milk cartons, and plastic water bottles — to make any variety of arts-and-crafts projects. Make undersea creatures with egg cartons like the ones on Homeschool Preschool or airplane piggy banks with water bottles like the bloggers at Crafting News. Or grab some toilet paper tubes, yarn, bottle caps, and paint to make a toy train, like the one featured on Kids Activities Blog. For an inexhaustible source of inspiration for craft projects using household materials, search Pinterest.
  • Cardboard Box Play Sets. Make simple playhouses or castles for kids to enjoy for hours using the instructions on Parents. Turn it into an absorbing arts-and-crafts project by leaving the decorating up to them. Or make play sets for them to use with their toy cars. Flatten a box and help little ones draw a road with markers. Gather blocks, trucks, and toys for kids to build with, and then leave them to their own devices to construct a city.

Elementary Schoolers

Arts and crafts still work well at this age to keep kids occupied, especially more complex ones that involve making things like birdhouses, elaborate fairy villages, or beaded jewelry. For kids less into art projects, try STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities like Lego building challenges or simple science experiments using household materials. And cardboard boxes still work at this age, especially if they involve more elaborate construction projects.

Elementary schoolers enjoy projects like:

  • DIY Craft Kits. Invest in a loom for weaving friendship bracelets or a bead set for stringing jewelry. Alternatively, try searching sites like Etsy or Crayola for DIY kits that come with all the materials your kids need to make any variety of craft projects. You can also search Crayola for craft ideas to make with stuff you already own.
  • Crayon Art. If you’ve got a bunch of old crayons, have kids use them to make fun and interesting crayon art. These art projects involve using a hair dryer to melt crayons in rainbow patterns. For ideas, visit Kids Activities Blog.
  • Bottle Instruments. This one’s for older kids less prone to dropping things. Have them gather a bunch of glass bottles from around the house in different shapes and sizes. Fill them with varying levels of liquid and tell kids to blow across the top of the bottle like a flute. Turn it into a learning activity by explaining how the vibration causes sound. Find the scientific explanation on Steve Spangler Science.
  • Lego Challenges. If you have multiple children, set Legos in front of them and challenge them to build more elaborate structures than their siblings. Or have them build entire Lego cities, which is guaranteed to keep Lego-loving kids occupied for hours. Plus, you can feel good about it being an excellent STEM activity for teaching engineering skills. For more learning-focused Lego activities, visit Little Bins for Little Hands.
  • Indoor Forts. Let kids pull out the bedsheets and blankets. They can make tents by draping them over household structures like tables, chairs, and couch pillows. Or have kids collect cardboard boxes from the basement or garage and assemble them into elaborate structures like those on Play Ideas.
  • Reading Nooks. It’s likely your kids’ teachers have either assigned at-home reading or given recommendations. If not, reading is still a great tool to occupy kids while you work. Every child has their own relationship with reading, though. Some kids you can leave alone all day with a book, but others aren’t so easily convinced to lose themselves in reading. Encourage reluctant readers by letting them choose their own books, including graphic novels. Some to try include the critically acclaimed ”Amulet” series or the graphic novel versions of the “Percy Jackson” series. Make it even more fun by setting up a cozy reading nook — like inside their indoor fort — and giving them flashlights to read by.
  • Puzzles. They aren’t for all kids, but if yours is the type who can stay focused working on a mental challenge like a jigsaw puzzle, now’s the time to pull one out. Also try age-appropriate activity books with word searches, word finds, and crosswords like “Word for Word: Fun Finds!” You can also print these for free on sites like The Spruce. Print up a bunch before you start the day so you have an arsenal ready when kids inevitably tell you they’re bored.
  • Subscription Boxes. If it’s in your budget and you’re short on time or materials for planning engaging activities, consider subscription boxes designed for kids. There are boxes to keep them occupied with craft projects, science experiments, reading, and even cooking. Plus, they’ll love getting mail at a time when they feel disconnected from the rest of the world.

Middle Schoolers & High Schoolers

While you can leave teens on their own while you work, having a variety of activities planned for them helps stave off boredom. With experts asking everyone to stay home and keep their distance from each other, boredom is a strong possibility. The consequences could range from an overabundance of screen time to constant interruptions in your workday to kids finding trouble. On the other hand, finding ways for them to contribute to the family — like with meal prep — increases family bonding.

Ideas for keeping tweens and teens entertained include:

  • Cooking. Let the kids help out with meal planning and cooking. Many teens find it an enjoyable activity, and it takes a to-do off your list. To make it extra fun and entertaining for them, let them choose recipes and ingredients. If they need ideas or to brush up on their knife skills, direct them to America’s Test Kitchen Kids. They have free access to its entire library of recipes, activities, and experiments during pandemic-related closures.
  • Filmmaking. Have kids use apps on their smartphones to film their own movies. The steps involved in making a film — writing scripts, making costumes and sets, and acting and editing scenes — have the potential to keep them occupied and entertained for days, if not weeks. If you have multiple kids at home, they can all get in on the action. For tips on making a movie with your smartphone, have them check out “The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Smartphone Filmmaking” on Mobile Motion Film Festival.
  • Blogging. Teens who enjoy writing, photography, or design will find an engaging creative outlet in starting their own blog. It might even inspire your teen to become an entrepreneur if they choose to explore ways to make money with their blog. It’s not such a farfetched idea, either. Alicia Rades, a USA Today bestselling author of teen fiction, began her writing career as a freelance blogger while she was still in high school.
  • Story Making. Teens who like to write can create their own e-books using a software platform like Book Creator. It allows them to add video, music, photography, and drawings to their stories. Plus, they can collaborate with friends on a single project over the Internet. Teachers can help families sign up for free home use during pandemic-related school closures.
  • DJ Classes. If your teen dreams of becoming a DJ, they can take lessons from New York City professional DJ, influencer, and music expert Hesta Prynn. She’s offering free lessons during this time via her Instagram Stories.
  • Dance Classes. Likewise, Tiler Peck, a principal dancer with the NYC Ballet, is giving free lessons every day at 1pm Eastern via Instagram Live. If your teen has always dreamed of being a ballet dancer, now’s their chance to learn from a famous professional ballerina.
  • Home Decor. With everyone stuck at home, let your teen work explore their inner designer. They can decorate their rooms with easy DIY projects like the giant tissue paper flowers featured on Hello Creative Family or no-sew curtains from The Spruce Crafts. Or let them release their inner Marie Kondo and reorganize your kitchen. As a bonus, there are tons of useful money lessons kids can learn from getting organized that can help them become more successful adults. Plus, you can get some much-needed help around the house. For a list of some easy home decor projects, visit House Beautiful.
  • Home Spa. Salons and spas all over the U.S. are currently closed. But teens can set the stage for a DIY home spa day by making their own spa products like facials, lotions, and body scrubs. Taking the time to make these products keeps them occupied, and you can bond with a special spa day on your day off.
  • Gardening. If school closures in your area extend through the end of the academic year, they’ll overlap with the spring planting season. So if your teen enjoys digging in the dirt or the idea of growing and cooking their own food, let them plan and plant a home vegetable garden. If you’re short on space, try growing plants in containers. And while keeping everyone calm and avoiding panic behaviors is essential during this time, gardening speaks to everyone’s inner homesteader.

8. Get Outside When You Can

Americans have been discouraged from visiting each other, which means play dates and social get-togethers are out. Playgrounds are also a bad idea, as coronavirus germs linger on metal and plastic for as long as three days, according to a March 20, 2020, research study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Additionally, most places kids are used to visiting for entertainment — like movie theaters, bowling alleys, and trampoline parks — are also off the table. In fact, in many states, these places have been ordered to shut down. But that doesn’t mean kids have to stay cooped up in the house. As long as they practice safe social distancing — staying at least 6 feet away from others and washing their hands frequently — getting outside is perfectly fine. And it’s a welcome change of pace that keeps kids from getting cabin fever.

A few ideas for outdoor play include:

  • Unstructured Free Play. If your kids are old enough to be outside on their own, institute “recess,” just as they’d have in their regular school day. When the weather is nice, kids can ride bikes or play on your backyard swing set if you have one. And younger kids enjoy scribbling on the driveway or sidewalk with chalk. Outside time is excellent for you too, so if you have a back deck or patio, bring your work outside while you supervise the kids.
  • Walks. A 2011 study published in the journal Cognition found that brief breaks enabled workers to focus longer. And the best break of all, according to science, is a walk break. A 2014 Stanford University study found that walking makes us more creative, and a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Educational Psychology found walk breaks help improve kids’ focus as well. So you can help both yourself and your kids by taking a walk break every now and then.
  • Nature Scavenger Hunts. If your kids need a purpose for their outdoor play, send them on a nature exploration scavenger hunt — no prep required. Arm them with an outdoor guide like the “Wildlife Ranger Action Guide” and challenge them to see how many different kinds of birds or other animals they can discover in their neighborhood. As a bonus, the book also includes instructions for a multitude of projects they can work on when they’re not walking — like painting a bat house or building a lodge for lizards.
  • Tinkergarten. Already known for their outdoor-based early childhood education programs, Tinkergarten has recently launched their new program, Tinkergarten at Home, to inspire kids — and parents — to get outside and learn. Families can sign up for free and get access to weekly activities and live online sessions with other families — a great way to connect in a time of social isolation.

9. Get Some Physical Activity

With everyone hunkered down at home, it’s difficult to get in your 10,000 steps. And kids go stir-crazy when they don’t have enough physical activity, which makes it all the more difficult for you to get your work done. So, on days when you can’t get outside, make sure you pack your kids’ routines with plenty of opportunities for physical activity, like frequent dance breaks.

A few other creative ideas to get your kids moving include:

  • GoNoodle. Beloved by preschool teachers everywhere for helping little kids “get the wiggles out,” GoNoodle encourages kids to move with their vast library of fun and silly dance videos designed by child development experts.
  • Noodle Loaf. Created by a music education specialist and co-hosted by his daughter, the upbeat Noodle Loaf gets kids singing, dancing, and engaging in all kinds of musical games. The segments are so silly and fun kids can’t stop themselves from getting up to move.
  • Cosmic Yoga. The Cosmic Kids Yoga YouTube channel features 15-minute videos with cute themes and beginner-friendly yoga moves. Start your mornings with a session — its focus on relaxation and mindfulness helps get everyone centered.
  • Indoor Obstacle Courses. Keep kids occupied, entertained, and moving with an indoor obstacle course. Use household items like couch pillows and string and have kids design their own challenges, like “laser” mazes and stepping “stones.” Find more ideas on Hands on as We Grow.
  • Alexa Skills. For kids of all ages, including teens, try using Alexa apps like Brain Breaks, which reminds kids to get up and move every so often with upbeat music and games. Or enable Alexa skills by telling your Alexa-enabled device, “Alexa, open freeze dancers” or “Alexa, open animal workout.” And for older kids, Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo Dot, which now comes in a kids version, give them free access to tens of thousands of songs perfect for dance breaks. A 30-day free trial gets them additional access to Amazon’s vast Music Unlimited collection, which truly is virtually unlimited.

Reconsidering Your Family’s Policies on Screen Time

Kids Watching Tv Popcorn On Livingroom Floor Siblings Home

While the use of devices like smartphones, tablets, and TV have gotten a bad reputation for their use as “babysitters,” sometimes you have to do what you have to do. So if you normally have strict rules on screen time at your house, it’s time to consider relaxing them.

Yes, doctors and child care experts consistently recommend we limit kids’ screen time as much as possible. But you can feel better knowing that, according to a 2019 Oxford study of 350,000 teens — the most rigorous study on the topic to date — screens may not actually be harming our kids after all.

10. Watch Some Theatrical Releases on a Streaming Channel

Because movie theaters have been ordered to shut down in many cities and states, production companies are attempting to make up for the loss by releasing movies intended to run in theaters directly to streaming services like Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Additionally, a few movies that did premiere in theaters were released for streaming ahead of their planned schedule.

So pop some popcorn, set out some blankets and sleeping bags, and treat your kids to the movie experience at home. Kid-friendly movies coming to a small screen near you include:

  • Frozen 2”: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Xfinity, FandangoNow, Movies Anywhere (Feb. 25); Disney+ (March 15)
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Xfinity, FandangoNow, Movies Anywhere (March 14)
  • Onward”: Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Xfinity, FandangoNow, Movies Anywhere (March 20); Disney+ (April 3)
  • Sonic the Hedgehog”: Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Xfinity, FandangoNow (March 31)
  • Trolls World Tour”: Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play, Microsoft Movies & TV, Xfinity, FandangoNow, Movies Anywhere (April 10)

11. Watch a Documentary

If it makes you feel better about screen time, set kids up with something more educational. For older kids with longer attention spans, try one or more of the cinematically sweeping and gorgeous documentaries produced in recent years. For example:

  • Planet Earth.” Narrated by David Attenborough, each 50-minute episode of the 11-part Emmy Award-winning series features a dazzling look at a geographical region or wildlife habitat.
  • Wings of Life.” Narrated by Meryl Streep, this film captures the interconnectedness of butterflies, birds, bats, bees — and human beings.
  • Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” Neil deGrasse Tyson narrates this updated version of the Carl Sagan classic. Each of its 13 episodes features stunning visual effects with a perfectly paired musical score.

12. Play Some Educational TV Shows

You can keep younger kids with shorter attention spans entertained with educational content too. Several streaming channels feature a variety of engaging children’s programming, including:

  • PBS Kids. For younger children, you can’t go wrong with PBS Kids. The channel features multiple educational shows like “Dinosaur Train” and “Daniel Tiger” that are perennial hits with preschoolers and kindergarteners. If you don’t have it already, you can stream the channel on Amazon Prime for a small monthly fee. For a list of lessons kids can learn from PBS Kids shows, visit We Are Teachers.
  • Netflix. Netflix also has a lot of options for younger kids. Some of their best programming includes their kids’ music series, like “Beat Bugs,” which features episodes set to Beatles songs, and “Motown Magic,” with stories involving that era of music. “Ask the Storybots” and “Charlie’s Colorforms City” are two more critically acclaimed series that inspire kids’ curiosity and creativity. They also have the super-educational but also fun updated version of “The Magic School Bus”: “The Magic School Bus Rides Again.” For a list of shows organized by age range, visit We Are Teachers.
  • Amazon Prime. Amazon features classic children’s shows like the recently revived “Reading Rainbow.” It also offers a ton of animated versions of kids’ picture books like “Room on the Broom” and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” For a list of shows organized by age range, visit We Are Teachers.

13. Try Podcasts

Podcasts are an effective alternative to screen time because they keep kids wrapped up in engaging storytelling without the actual screen.

A few kid-friendly podcasts include:

  • Circle Round.” This podcast retells folk tales from around the world with beautiful narration.
  • But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids.” Kids — especially little ones — continuously ask why. Indulge their curiosity while you get some work done with this cute biweekly podcast that features surprisingly complex yet kid-friendly answers. Some past questions have included “Why Do People Have Nightmares?” and “Why Do Lions Roar?”
  • Smash, Boom, Best.” This debate podcast features a kid judge who scores fast-paced and family-friendly arguments on subjects like “Super Speed versus Super Strength” and “Pizza versus Tacos.”
  • The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian.” This serial tells the story of an 8-year-old boy living on an interplanetary space station. Together with his friends, he explores the galaxy and solves mysteries.
  • Flyest Fables.” At the center of this original fable is a magical book that takes readers to a world where they have the strength to overcome any obstacle. Through sensitive and engaging storytelling, this podcast helps kids feel more empowered.
  • Eleanor Amplified.” This serial follows a plucky journalist looking for her big scoop with the use of over-the-top sound effects inspired by old-time radio shows.
  • The Unexpected Disappearance of Mars Patel.” This scripted serial is the winner of a Peabody Award and has been called a “Stranger Things” for tweens. It features an 11-year-old boy searching for his missing friends and is voiced by actual middle schoolers.
  • Welcome to Night Vale.” This eerie series features a world in which the mysterious is ordinary and the ordinary is mysterious. It’s a bit dark for younger kids, but it’s just right for teens who enjoy creepy stories.

Making Time for Social Connection

Video Chat Call Tablet Family Grandparent Grandkids

Although working from home while the kids are out of school can plunge you into feeling like you’re never “off the clock,” it’s essential you make as much time as possible whenever you can to slow down and connect.

In fact, one of the bright spots of the COVID-19 closures could be increased family bonding, according to the U.C. Berkeley Greater Good Science Center (GGSC). We all need social connection to feel safe, and in these times of social distancing, we’re more likely to feel lonely and isolated. That’s especially true for our kids, whom health experts strongly encourage to forgo both school and play dates. So being intentional about social connection is crucially important.

14. Plan Virtual Playdates

Even though we must keep our distance from one another — at least 6 feet, according to CDC guidelines — it doesn’t mean we have to forgo our social lives. We’re fortunate to have access to a host of technology options, including smartphones, tablets, computers, and even smart devices (like the Echo Show) with video screens capable of connecting us.

Don’t be afraid to use screens to help kids connect. They can video chat and play online games like Minecraft with friends. Younger kids with less social development can engage in side-by-side activities, like playing with toys or coloring while they video “chat.”

And even though Grandma and Grandpa can’t physically help out with child care right now, that doesn’t mean they can’t help keep your kids occupied with a video chat.

If you don’t have video capability with your phone, there are dozens of free apps you can use with your computer. For example, Skype’s software is free (though you must pay for certain services, such as international calls), as is Google Hangouts Meet. And though Zoom ordinarily has time limits on their free plan, they’re lifting them for basic plan subscribers during pandemic-related shutdowns.

15. Take Time to Connect as a Family

Unless you’re actually sick and need to protect your family through self-quarantine, there’s no need to socially distance from your family. In fact, your family is probably the only close social contact you can get over the next several months.

That’s why the GGSC suggests coronavirus shutdowns can result in stronger family bonds. Though in ordinary times, kids — especially teens — like to bury their faces in screens, right now, we can at least bury our faces together. We can sit on the same couch and watch a movie together. And we can sit at the same table and work on our computers together.

When you’re able to find time away from work, now is the perfect time for family game nights. Classic board games like Life, Clue, and Sorry are always good choices. But for maximum family bonding, also think about more complex games, like Escape Room in a Box for older kids or silly games like Charades for Kids for younger ones.

And though family vacations are out for the foreseeable future since restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues could remain shut down into the summer (and airlines may soon cease operations as well), you can still take a virtual vacation. For example, your family can virtually visit the San Diego Zoo, Yellowstone National Park, or the Boston Children’s Museum. For more ideas, visit We Are Teachers.

Being cooped up together for extended periods likely has you trying to figure out ways to get away from each other, not closer. But according to parenting expert Amy McCready, a lot of disruptive kids’ behavior is the result of not getting enough parent-child bonding time. So giving them some one-on-one attention whenever you’re able could earn you some disruption-free time when you need to get work done.

Final Word

In 2017, a BBC One interview with Robert E. Kelly went viral because of an unplanned interruption by one of his children. But right now, around the world, that’s no longer a unique circumstance. In fact, Jimmy Fallon is hosting “The Tonight Show: At Home Edition” with two co-hosts — his daughters, 6-year-old Winnie and 5-year-old Franny. In one particularly relatable episode, Franny climbs into Fallon’s lap during his monologue.

No matter how much (or how little) money each of us has, we’ve all been left in the lurch by a lack of child care options. And if nothing else, that buys us a bit of empathy and understanding. So whatever tricks you use to occupy your kids while you work or keep them from backsliding academically, flexibility and forgiveness are key. What worked today might not work tomorrow, and we all need to forgive ourselves for doing what it takes to get by, even if that means excessive screen time.

So no apologies or parent guilt required. We’re all in this together.

Are you working at home with the kids? Do you have any tips or special activities to keep them occupied and engaged while you work?


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Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She's also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.