Are you a work-at-home-mom (WAHM)? We know that one of the biggest challenges you face is keeping the kids entertained and happy during the holidays. And while it’s tempting to let your kids watch movies or play online games for hours while you work, the truth is, there are plenty of creative, yet simple ways to keep them busy without too much screen time.
How to encourage solo play
Whether you have one or more children, mastering solo play will help your child thrive with school activities. So, it’s a good idea to encourage your kids to focus on individual tasks at home – even if they enjoy playing together. If you have the kind of child who asks for help with everything, you can start slowly and set up play times and activities where she can entertain herself for 30 minutes at a time, says clinic sister and parenting expert, Ann Richardson.
In her book, Toddler Sense, Ann explains that a gradual approach is always best. While you work or wash the dishes, encourage your child to make creatures out of clay and gradually build up to longer stretches of solo play. You goal is to encourage your child to get on with her own activity without too much hand holding from you.
Here are a few ways to entertain your kids AND meet your deadlines:
Set up a simple arts and crafts play station
As children have limited attention spans, it’s a good idea to set up 3 different arts and crafts activities, instead of just one. The aim is for your little one to play independently for as long as possible, to allow you to get work done – as you sit close by.
Start by setting up a ‘colouring in’ station using colouring activity books. You could also create some simple dot-to-dot drawings and encourage your child to join the dots and then colour the picture.
Then, organise a paint station using this fabulous safe finger paint recipe that you could make on the weekend. By using a safe finger paint recipe, you can let your child play without worrying she’ll eat the paint.
Edible paint recipe:
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 1 tbsp sugar
- Food colouring of your choice
- Combine 1 cup of water with the cornstarch and sugar in a medium-sized saucepan (save the remaining water).
- Once there are no lumps remaining, add the rest of the water
- Stir over medium heat until the mixture begins to thicken. Don’t allow it to cook too much- it should have the consistency of aqueous cream.
- Divide into small jars and add in food colouring of your choice.
*This recipe is from Ayesha Parak Makada’s Sticky Fingers: A Sensory Play Recipe Book
Lastly, set up a free drawing section, either using chalk and a blackboard or white paper and different coloured crayons, pens and pencils. You could ask your child to draw something with only blue, then yellow, then red, for example, or draw a picture yourself and ask your child to copy it.
This activity should give you 30-45 minutes of work time while your child is engaged.
Encourage imaginative play
“One of my daughter’s favourite things to do while I work is to set up a tea party for her toys, using her tea set, plastic plates from the kitchen and play doh or clay,” says WAHM, Theresa. “I find this activity keeps her engaged for at least an hour, because we use water for the tea, and she makes ‘biscuits’ and various ‘treats’ out of play doh for her dolls.”
This helps to inspire unstructured, imaginative play and you can easily encourage your child to build onto this game, such as using a blanket to put the toys in and “take them for a walk” after tea.
Other great toys for imaginative play include Lego, blocks, cups, spoons, plastic containers, paper and glue.
Collect carboard boxes
A cardboard box is one of the best budget-friendly ways to keep your child entertained.
Every time you head to the fruit and veggie shop, collect one or two cardboard boxes in different shapes and sizes. The larger boxes are ideal for creating forts and houses, whereas the smaller ones are good for collecting items like flowers or stones from the garden.
Then, when the holidays roll around, get those boxes out and give your child a few pencils and crayons to go wild. If you have younger kids, cut out windows and/or a door for them, and let them decorate their new ‘home’. You could also give them a variety of fabrics and papers such as ribbons and newspaper, and let them cut and stick whatever they want onto the box.
Set up dance sessions
To help your kids burn off some energy, get the portable DVD player out and play some upbeat tunes for them to dance to. While this might be a little noisy for you, dancing is always a winner for kids as it releases feel-good endorphins and encourages healthy movement.
Or, if you have a mini trampoline at home, watch out for wellness and fitness expert, Lisa Raleigh’s latest WeBounce DVDs for kids, to be launched in SA soon. These at-home rebounding videos for kids are made up of various “journeys”. Taught by 3 young presenters, your child gets to go on a different bouncing adventures for 20-25 minutes at a time. Each journey has a warm-up and cool down, as well as a safety and routine guide for you to watch with your kids. The DVDs are ideal for kids age 5 and up, but little ones can bounce too, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time.
Once you’ve set up the rebounder in a safe spot, turn on the journey and let your kids bounce to the beat and follow the moves. The journeys will be available as a bundle or individually, as downloads (for your laptop or phone) or in DVD format.
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Have fun with water play
Most children love playing with water in any shape or form. However, water activities always need to be supervised to ensure your child is safe, so you might need to take a break from work for this one.
If it’s cold outdoors, set up a warm water station inside (by the sink for instance) or let your child play outside when it is warm. Fill up a bucket of water and give your child toys, jugs, cups and spoons to play with or let him sit in a shallow tub with some water and messy play items like cooked spaghetti, mud or child-friendly bath foam.
How much screen time for kids?
Of course, there’ll be those days when deadlines are looming, and you need to put on the TV or allow your little one to play games on the tablet. So how much screen time is recommended for kids?
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests one hour per day of high-quality screen time for kids aged 2-5 years and consistent limits on screen time for kids above age 6.
Research shows the quality of screen time is important. So, rather than letting your child watch endless TV shows which don’t stimulate the imagination, download a few interactive games on the tablet and let your child play near you while you work so that you can comment on the game and ask questions now and then.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .