If you’re a work-at-home mom with young kids (and every mom works at home, whether she receives a paycheck for it or not), you know the struggle: those cute little humans need you at the most inconvenient times.
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But first, I have a few mommy hacks for you.
Work-at-home mommy hacks:
This could be at the park, in the sandbox, or the sprinkler…or the rain or snow, if you can handle it.
2. Schedule phone calls for nap time or when driving alone.
This can be a bit tricky (the driving part) if you need to take notes, so keep that in mind—and be sure to use a headset of some kind! If you have a partner or other help, you can also work out a plan for making phone calls when they can manage the littles.
3. Get up and dressed before the kiddos.
I know, I know. No fun! But if you’re clothed and in your right mind before little feet hit the floor, your productivity will skyrocket.
4. Always work from a list. Always.
Because let’s face it—these dear hearts of ours stole all our brain power, and these days one tiny distraction can completely knock us off course. With a list in hand, it’s easy to get back on track.
Enough about us. Let’s get to the kiddos.
23 ways to keep your young kiddos occupied while working from home:
1. Special toys
Curate a collection of to-die-for (in your kid’s eyes) toys that only come out when you need some seriously focused time to work. Once you finish your work period, hide these toys under lock and key. The magic is in the scarcity.
2. Independent playtime
3. Wash dishes
We began letting Reagan “wash” dishes as soon as he could safely stand on a step stool at the sink. I moved sharp or fragile items out of his reach, gave him some plastic bowls, a scrubbing brush, and some soapy water. It’s a mess, but usually buys me about 20 minutes.
4. Car wash
From dish washing we graduated to car washes. I keep a collection of plastic Fisher Price cars or dollar store matchbox cars under the sink. Then we set up a plastic bowl, soapy water, a tooth brush, and lots of towels. Again, it’s a 20-30 minute operation.
This activity is better for crawlers and toddlers. Cassidy gets a collection of pots, wooden or plastic spoons, and a whisk. Sometimes I throw Cheerios or goldfish into the pot for the heck of it. Or, if I’m feeling especially daring, I’ll lay down a bath towel and put a few inches of water into a pot and give her a ladle.
Word to the wise? Homemade playdough lasts waaaaaaay longer than namebrand stuff. Here is a recipe similar to what I’ve used in the past, and it lasts for forever. We store our playdough in plastic bags, along with designated cookie cutters and rolling pins.
Last year for Christmas I made all the men and kids slime because WHO doesn’t like slime?? (It turns out My Guy doesn’t, but that’s okay—I like it enough for the both of us.) Reagan will play with slime for about 20-30 minutes on a good day.
A friend bought Reagan some puzzles when Cassidy was born, and I thought he was way too young for them but he proved me wrong. Now he loves working on puzzles, and is so proud when he completes a new one. You can find great, affordable puzzles at the dollar store or Five Below.
Warning: you might be coerced into helping the first time or two.
9. Paint with water
As an art-friendly mom who hates to clean, this is the bomb dot com. Sadly, these books get used up quickly, so you might want to save them for special occasions.
Seriously. I’m pretty sure that YouTube is the best invention of this century. Remember how our parents used to tell us to look something up when we asked a question at the dinner table? (What? Your parents didn’t do that?? Lucky!) These days, you can teach any child at any age about any appropriate thing. Once we spent a week learning about all the different parts of the orchestra. We took a virtual tour of the Gibson Guitar factory when Reagan wanted to learn about how guitars were made. These days, he’s totally into Race Grooves, a channel that reviews all things Hot Wheels.
As long as you keep one ear/eye tuned to what comes up next, your kid can learn a lot of cool facts while watching YouTube.
11. Kid swap
If you have another local S/WAHM friend with kids of similar ages, you could consider doing a weekly kid swap. This would give you a few focused hours to work unhindered when she has the kids. Another bonus? Your kid gets to play with a friend twice a week, and I’ve found that when you’re the mom doing the watching, you can actually get more done than when your kid is playing alone.
12. Find a high school student who needs communty service hours and can count babysitting
Some high school programs, especially private or home school ones, require a certain number of hours of community service for graduation. Last year a mom contacted me asking about using her daughter for FREE! Sadly, I lived too far away to make it work. But maybe you don’t. Ask around and see if you can find a teen you trust to help you out.
13. Have the kids dust
This is a double bonus, as long as you can kiss your perfectionism goodbye for a few years. Give your kid an old sock to wear on her hand, spray it with a safe dusting spray like this one, and let her go to town.
Actually, you get a double double bonus on this one. Announce to every guest who enters your house how proud you are of Suzy for taking over the dusting. You’ll get points for teaching a preschooler to do chores AND they’ll overlook any leftover dust. It doesn’t get much better than that!
14. Whiteboard coloring
I don’t know about you, but we have gone through loads of art paper, scrap paper, and notebooks in this house in the name of art. This is why I love Reagan’s current obsession with the whiteboard. I lay it on the floor, he grabs the box of markers, and once he’s done we put it all away. No waste and no artwork to store.
15. Finger paint
This is fun when you kid is old enough not to eat everything she touches but is too young to master a crayon. You can find some great homemade, edible finger paints on Pinterest, but I just waited until Reagan was old enough and used store bought paint.
16. Sort coins
Reagan will spend a good 30 minutes sorting his coins into piles. This is a good segue to math as he learns to recognize the different coin names and their values.
As a new-ish mom I did a stupid thing: I blew bubbles in the house. After all, I saw the childcare workers at MOPS doing this with the kids, so it seemed like a good idea.
Then I wondered why there were black spots all over my floor.
Yeah. Only do this on carpet that you really don’t care about. Or outside.
Do not ask me why, but stickers are good for hours of entertainment. My only pet peeve is that little fingers have difficulty peeling the stickers off the paper, so I usually peel off the…outlining paper? I have no idea what it’s called, but I think you get the idea.
If you really want creative and reusable stickers, we like these from Melissa & Doug.
19. Fort building
It drives me crazy to have to clean up my living room every single day, but letting the kids build pillow and blanket forts buys me so much time for work.
20. Educational DVDs and TV
If you’ve read any of my parenting posts, you know that while I didn’t plan to let my kids watch TV, this is a tool every working parent needs to own and utilize. We use Netflix because I like to avoid commercials if possible. My kids already want too much stuff without being fed any additional ideas.
The sandbox is easier to use with only one kid, and requires less bathing and yelling. What makes dumping sand on your sibling’s head so incredibly fun?? But again, they’re getting fresh air and so am I, plus I can work at the picnic table on email, social media, photography, my tan—you name it.
Pool time can be tricky with a toddler—especially a fearless one. These days I don’t get much work done poolside, but next year will be much more productive. When I had just one kid, the pool provided me with hours of unhindered worktime, as long as it was something I could do outside.
Whatever did we do before smart phones and tablets?
My kids have enjoyed looking at books from an early age. This one was a necessary addition to our diaper bag until its early demise. (Even with a missing cover, I can’t bear to throw it away.)
Now, I must admit: I had to release my love of pristine books without smears or tears. I want to raise kids who love books, not kids who have a perfect collection of books they never read.
Some of our favorite books include:
- Snuggle Puppy
- The Napping House
- Jesus Is With Me
- Goodnight Moon
- Let’s Dance, Little Pookie
- Giggle Wiggle Wake Up
- Barnyard Dance – thank you, Sharon!
(Did you get the memo? We LOVE Susan Boynton!)
Tell us: what are YOUR WAHM tricks?
We win by sharing ideas, especially as moms. So comment below and tell us what tricks you use to keep your kiddos occupied during your work moments.
You can access the list of all 23 ideas–with the option to color the doodled border–in the Goodies section of the website. You’ll need your password, so if you’re not yet a subscriber or, like me, you forget every password–just (re)subscribe in the green box at the end of this post. Enjoy!