My daughter just began her FOUR WEEK winter vacation from school. Four weeks. Of vacation. In winter. Not exactly the season to turn her loose on the neighborhood with her bike and hope for the best.
Oddly, my employers have not offered me four weeks of paid vacation to conveniently coincide with hers.
As I said in an email to my fellow Strollerderby bloggers a few minutes ago:
“I’m at my desk today, but if you don’t hear from me again till January, it’s because she has me captive in the playroom under a pile of Polly Pockets. Send a rescue team, please. By which I mean martinis.”
Instead, they sent me more assignments. Including this one: Come up with 10 things to keep a kid busy while you’re working at home.
Sure. I’ll get right on that.
Right now, mine is watching Strawberry Shortcake videos on my iPhone while I write. The batteries won’t last forever. When they give out, I’ll deploy one of these back-up plans. I should be good at this by now. After all, it’s been almost a year since I quit everything.
My first line of defense is to make myself more available. I try to work before the kids get up and after they go to bed. I avoid taking on extra assignments. I line up babysitters if needed. I give the kids as much of my time as I can. They can’t have it all though. Inevitably, when vacations stretch into several weeks long or snow days strike by surprise, the time comes when I just need to keep them busy.
Here’s how I do it:
1. Play teacher. My kids love to read, work puzzles and do all the things school offers. They don’t always do them on their own though. My first line of defense with a bored kid is always to assign 10 minutes of “school work” and then ask her to report back on it.
2. Give them a job to do. When I’m wrangling the kids at home, I try to involve them in my housework. They help put dishes away, wash the floor, do the laundry and dust the furniture. Small tasks keep them busy, and doing them together helps the kids feel connected with me.
3. Get out of the house! The library, the Science Museum, the playspace at the local Y. Dusting off my stay-at-home mom rolodex, I’ve got a long list of places we used to frequent when the kids were here with me full-time every day. If I can knock my own work off before and after their day starts, I’ll be ahead of the game enough to take them out for a long outing.
4. Bring in some new media. A trip to the library is especially awesome because when we get home I’ll have at least an hour to dive into my own work while they read the new books they brought home.
5. Bribery works. I feel fine about bribing my kids to behave well when I’m asking them to do something for me that I know is a stretch for kids their ages. Being good in the bank isn’t something that comes naturally to a three-year-old. Sure she can have a lollipop if she stands still beside me for five minutes. Likewise, I’m not above bribing the girls for some quiet time at home. Give me an hour at my desk while you play upstairs and then we’ll bake cookies together!
6. New Toys! Another form of bribery is the novel new toy. I’m holding off in this one this week, with the holidays around the corner. But just like I always present the kids with a new Polly Pocket or activity book when we travel, I’m happy to give them a box of new playthings when they’re at home for a week and can’t have my full attention.
7. Share the joy! One of the kids in my daughter’s class has a work-at-home dad. We’re planning to swap some morning playdates, so we can each work and the girls can spend time together.
8. Family Drawing Time. The inestimable Amanda Soule has a tradition of family drawing time in her household. The whole family sits down quietly around a table and works on their own art projects. This works for kids ages 1 to 100, and it’s a great way to sneak in some work time. I’ve used Family Drawing Time for my personal journaling sessions, to draw with the kids, but also to draft out articles I’m working on or jot a note to my post-bedtime self with reminders of all the things I need to do once the kids are asleep.
9. Plant a seed. You can literally plant a seed, of course. My garden-happy kids have done that many times. I mean something more metaphorical though: get them started. Laying out the bones of a craft project and set them working on it while you supervise from nearby with your laptop. Set up a game with their stuffed animals. Break out the equipment for a home beauty salon. Play along for ten minutes, then slip into a support role that requires less participation from you while you get something else done.
10. Let them be bored. This is my personal favorite, and an advanced version of #9. Instead of planting the game, just let the kids push through their edgy boredom to create their own. If they’re in a rich environment with simple creative playthings (ie: anywhere stuff isn’t nailed down), their imaginations will take over and keep them occupied for more hours than you might have thought possible. I think it’s great for kids to be bored sometimes. It really pushes them to engage their creative minds.
What do you do to keep your kids occupied on long winter vacation days? Do snow days throw you for a loop, or do you always have a plan?
Photo: John Morgan