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Ways to occupy your child when you are (trying) to work from home

Office Space - Real SimpleIf you are a work-at-home parent (or any parent just trying to make a phone call), chances are you require useful ways to occupy your child while you “accomplish” your tasks.

If you have flexibility in your work schedule, here are some helpful solutions to create (quiet) time and allow you to concentrate. If your job requires you to keep regular business hours and you need long stretches of uninterrupted work time, I recommend you work out a childcare schedule with your spouse and/or hire a sitter to watch the kids while you work. You may know some of these tips and tricks already, but I always appreciate a helpful reminder.

Nap Time:
If your kids are young enough to nap, use this time for tasks like answering emails, phone calls, or matters that require concentration and for you to think in complete sentences. Scheduling naps for your baby/child starting from an early age is a good way to adjust them to a regular routine and will eventually make it easier to put them down. As your kids start to drop their naptime, this period can become “quiet time” in their bedroom.

Are you a night owl or an early bird?
I am a night owl, so I am always able to get quality uninterrupted work time in the evening once my kids are in bed. For some people, early morning before the children wake up is their optimal work time. Set up a system with your partner once you decide which time suits you best and have him or her be the “on duty” parent–so if a child wakes up or has trouble falling asleep (which we know is bound to happen), he or she can attend to the child while the other parent works.

Make your office kid friendly:
Have available age-appropriate activities that your kids can enjoy on their own near where you work such as puzzles, blocks, and coloring books. Set up a table with markers, paper, and stickers where they can draw, craft, and “play work”.

Computer Time:
Some parents find it helpful to allow their kids to use an old computer or theirs when it’s available or a leap pad. Favorite kids websites include noggin.com, pbs kids or Doozla. Even though my husband and I use computers extensively for our work, we are reluctant to get our kids hooked on them too early (we know it will happen soon enough), so we have set them up with an old Mac Classic ($10 from a yard sale). Although it does not have flashy games or connect to the Internet, my boys have fun clicking around, changing the Flying Toaster screensavers, creating folders, drawing pictures, and writing simple documents. The simplicity of this machine still allows them a creative outlet–my son made a gmail folder and (pretends) to connect to the Internet to check his mail. And now that my kids are learning to write, they use simple text to write words and short sentences.

Although Kidoinfo is all for hands-on parenting and encouraging creative play, we have not banned TV in our house and I believe if used sparingly TV can be fun for kids and a useful alternative to carve out needed quiet work time for parents. I believe there are a number of fun and educational movies and series out there that are appropriate for kids of many ages. Ordering DVDs from the library or from Netflix allows me to screen what the kids are watching and set a defined amount of time for them to watch while I get some work done. Use lunch or dinnertime as an opportunity to stay involved in their learning by asking them who their favorite character is, what that liked best about the show or story, etc.

Books on tape and CD:
The library is a great place to reserve books, music, and audiobooks geared towards kids of all ages. Many kids love listening to stories and hearing storytellers sound like the characters–some of our local favorites include: Bill Harley, Len Cabral, Mark Binder, and Keith Munslow. Young kids may also enjoy listening to a story while following along with one of their favorite books (these sets are available at the library). If it is not distracting to you, set up the CD player in or near your workspace.

Outdoor play:
If your kids are old enough and your office is near the backyard, or you are mobile to move your work outside, outdoor playtime is a great way for kids to burn off extra energy. A sandbox, trucks, bubbles, chalk or painting the house or garage with a brush and water can be fun ways to keep them occupied for a little while. Have buckets, water, sponges and towels available to set up a car wash for bikes and trucks and outdoor plastic lawn furniture.

Change location:
You may find that a change of scenery does wonders for improving kids’ concentration. Work at the library while they look at books or enjoy storytime, or take your laptop to the park while they run and climb. If it is raining or super hot, some McDonalds (Rt. 44 in E. Providence) or Burger Kings (Pontiac Ave. in Cranston) have great indoor play spaces that will occupy your kids while you sit and work–and although you are not required to buy anything, I always buy a water as a thanks for using their space.

Swap childcare or share a babysitter:
Other cost-effective options include watching a friend’s child/children on a regular basis in exchange for watching your kids. Hire a babysitter to watch your child along with a friend’s child and you can often split the cost of the sitter.

Share your favorite ways to occupy your child while you work.

Photo Credit: An orderly place to work from Real Simple magazine.

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  • I work at home and have found with older kids (6 up) the website BrainPop is a godsend for sick days. It’s a zillion little lessons on a huge range of subjects, and keeps my oldest kid quietly entertained for a very long time in a way that seems to actually impart real info. Way more engaging than TV (though I agree it has its place). And there are times when I need to get just a little more work done that a half-hour of BrainPop is perfect all around. I think the URL is http://www.brainpop.com. Not trying to sell it but it is really great!

  • hmmm, i noticed you left out the strategy of repeatedly saying in a testy voice, “could you please leave me alone i am trying to finish this work.”

  • I’m so glad I stumbled upon your site! It is sometimes very difficult for me to balance the work at home and stay at home mommy. I feel guilty for working while the kids are playing or guilty for playing with them when I should be working!

    A couple of things that I do right now are:
    1. Send my kids to a babysitter one day a week
    2. Have a neighbor girl come over for a couple of hours a week during the summer
    3. Set up an art area for the kids at the kitchen table (my desk is in the living room:) and they do art stuff while I work

    I love your idea of letting them do “computer time” too with older models or a leap pad. I’m going to try this!

    Thanks for the great info!