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Things for Kids to Do (While You Work)

These activities promote independent play while you work.


Finding things for kids to do while parents work at home can be a full-time job in itself—which is why a WAHM's kids should be able to find their own things to do. But most kids aren't born knowing how to entertain themselves; it takes practice because kids would prefer a menu of things to do that are all super exciting (and most likely require mom's help). It takes a little encouragement, but kids will settle down with these less exciting but still enjoyable activities on this list.


Close up of little girl lying on couch coloring
Derek E. Rothchild/The Image Bank/Getty Images
Ages: Preschool and up
Good for one child? Yes
Art projects can keep some kids occupied for hours. However, children should be able to do most of the set up and clean up on their own. So keep it simple. For younger children do projects that don't require cutting or do the cutting in advance. So for the youngest kids, this might be as simple as coloring.

We have a dedicated art space in the basement, so all supplies are at hand. Since it's out of sight, I usually need to check to be sure that clean up actually happened. Read more about art activities for kids of WAHMs.

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Things to Do For Kids - Reading - Things to Do for Kids of Work at Home Moms
Getty/Martial Colomb

Ages: 8 and up
Good for one child? Yes
Though many kids younger than 8 can read, for reading to be an independent activity children have to get to a certain level of proficiency. Let kids choose several library books. Plus, pick a few yourself in case they are unhappy with their choices later. Better to return some unread than to not have a good book on hand when needed.

I encourage my older daughter to read chapter books to my younger daughter, who is not quite an independent reader. However, it takes an effort to find books that interest both. Perhaps, joining a summer reading program or making up a reading challenge can get your kids to hit the books.

Also there are many wordless or nearly wordless books that will engage kids of all ages and reading levels.

Audio Books

Things to Do for Kids - Audiobooks - Audio Books for Kids
Ages: Preschool and up
Good for one child? Yes
An activity good for most ages, listening to a kids' audio book improves reading skills and keeps children mentally engaged. Kids can learn to appreciate the art of storytelling before they can read. And kids who can read can expand their horizons. Those who are not strong readers can enjoy a good book. They still should do actual reading at another time. But if a child struggles with reading, then while you are working is not the time for independent reading.

Audio books are expensive, so I take them out of the local library. Our library also has a “dial-a-story” hotline. Kids call and listen to a changing roster of stories. Just be sure they aren’t tying up your business phone line.

Educational Computer and Online Games

Kids' Computer Games - Things to Do for Kids
Ages: Preschool and up
Good for one child? Yes
If you have a computer or tablet available to your kids during work hours, educational computer games impart a little learning and some fun at the same time. These games keep kids thinking and that keeps boredom at bay.

I set a time limit in advance on computer games, even educational ones, because kids can find it hard to disengage from electronics.

Play Dates

Things to Do for Kids: Play Dates
Getty/Digital Vision

Ages: Toddler and up
Good for one child? Yes
Believe it or not, hosting a play date can actually be an opportunity to work. School-age kids can, and should, play together without a lot of adult intervention. If you plan to work while they play, remind your child of the ground rules in advance and invite a friend that they get along with well.

If you’re hosting a toddler or preschooler, you have to stay pretty close, so working is not an option. But this is a good opportunity for a kid swap. You host one day, and the child’s parents reciprocate another.


Things to Do for Kids: Napping
Ages: Until age 4 (maybe!)
Good for one child? Yes
Some work-at-home moms work during nap time and get a lot done. But keep in mind that napping habits change frequently. Don’t schedule important phone calls or figure on meeting a deadline during the nap time.

Because of the unreliability of naptime, I always planned non-essential, usually non-work tasks for nap time, i.e. resting, household chores, reading, etc. If I did get some professional work done, then that was a bonus. Dos Don't of Working During Nap Time

Play with Toys

Things to Do for Kids: Toys

Ages: Toddler and up
Good for one child? Yes, depending on the toys
Sounds obvious, but any parent who's sifted through the toy box just after the holidays knows how quickly kids lose interest in their toys. Put away some toys for a period of time. When they come back into rotation, they seem like new. My mother taught me this toy rotation trick for toddlers, but you’d be surprised at how well it works for older kids too.

Board games, cards, construction toys, trains, play sets and puzzles are just a few of the good toys for WAHMs' kids that can keep kids engaged for hours. But sometimes they have to be reminded of these toys. Whenever I think my kids are too old for the Thomas the Tank Engine, they surprise me and pull out the bin of trains, now in the basement, and start building.


Things to Do For Kids - Kids Chores - Things to Do for Kids of Work at Home Moms
Getty/Kraig Scarbinsky
Ages: School age and up
Good for one child? Yes
Chores are not as much fun as many of the other activities, but they do promote independence. While preschoolers are capable of simple chores, often they can't do them independently. However, kids kindergarten age and up should be able to complete regular household tasks without your help. Teach them how to do the chores when you're not working, then make a daily list.

And some jobs can be fun. When we have a potluck dinner on the calendar, I'll slip "bake brownies" on my middle school daughter’s to-do list. It's a win-win situation: It’s fun for her, and it's one less job for me.

You might even find ways for them to help with your job.

Imaginative Play

Things to Do for Kids: Imaginative Play
Ages: Toddlers and up
Good for one child? Yes, but harder especially for older kids
This is not something you can mandate or count on, but when it happens, it's a beautiful thing. Younger kids are naturals at this, creating elaborate fantasies with stuffed animals or action figures. With older kids, you can encourage imagination by suggesting they produce a play or write a story. Also along these same lines -- in that it's difficult to compel but wonderful when it happens -- are playing with pets or making music.

With no help from me or their piano teacher, my kids recently taught each other the duet "Heart and Soul." Usually listening to a song I don't like hundreds of times would be annoying, but this was truly music to my ears.

Go Outside

Things to Do for Kids: Go Outside
Laureen Miles Brunelli
Ages: School age and up
Good for one child? Not as much fun
The feasibility of this depends on your home's set up and children's ages, but it's something to think about on snow days and summer holidays. Perhaps, you can take your laptop outside or to the window. But you absolutely must keep a close watch.

From my office, I have a clear view of our small, fenced patio, so when my school-age kids asked to play in the hose, I said OK. When they later asked for the dish soap, I didn't think too much about it--until I looked out the window. It looked as if it had snowed in July. Soap bubbles were everywhere! It all washed down the drain, and a good time was had by all. But I should have asked questions when they requested soap.

What's Not on the List

TV and video games are conspicuously absent from the list. They are short-term solutions to a long-term issue. Yes, they keep kids busy, but are they the babysitter you want? Most parents occasionally use the "electronic babysitter" in order to get something done. But work-at-home moms must "get something done" everyday. Teaching kids to play independently and use their minds will pay in the long run. An active mind is the enemy of boredom. More on TV Viewing in WAHM Families
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