Inside: Wondering how to keep kids busy when schools are closed? These proven 10 tips from a homeschool mom of 5 will help you structure your days, stay sane, and get work done if you need to!
We are living in crazy times right now when schools around the United States – and around the world – are closing for anywhere from three to six weeks!
As a homeschool mom of 5, I’m used to having my kids around all the time. I work from home, too, so I even manage to get work done with them around all day.
But if you aren’t used to it? And your kids also aren’t used to being home all day?
I can definitely understand the anger, the frustration and the panic that many parents are facing. I can’t imagine going from school to no school in a day. At least for summer break, you know it’s coming!
I’ve seen multiple Facebook posts, especially from working parents, asking, “How the heck am I supposed to get anything done?!”
I’m not going to tell you it’s easy, but it IS possible.
Here are my best tips that I use all the time (for working and non-working parents) for keeping kids busy when schools are closed.
10 Ways to Keep Kids Busy When Schools are Closed
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1. Establish a daily rhythm ASAP.
We aren’t ones for strict structures or even routines, but we DO have daily rhythms that keep everyone happy and occupied (most of the time).
Take a couple of days to adjust to school not being in session, but then implement some kind of daily rhythm.
You can use the ideas that follow to create your own, or you can just borrow ours!
Our Current Daily Rhythm (with 5 kids – ages 1-10):
- Wake Up, Breakfast & Screentime
I can just hear you already: you start with screentime?! Yes, yes I do.
I’m a night owl and have a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night yet. It gives me time to wake up and do my own morning routine, which makes me a happier mom.
- Morning Family Service (a.k.a. chores)
We don’t require a ton of chores around here, but emptying the dishwasher every morning and dealing with dishes at the end of the day are a MUST when you have 6-7 people home all day, every day.
Even if you haven’t required this in the past, now’s a good time to implement at least a few simple responsibilities – ours revolve around dishes and emptying the trash/recycling.
- Morning Free Time/Project Time/Outside Time
During this time, my kids generally go outside or work on their projects of their choosing, including art projects.
One of the main reasons I homeschool is to allow my kids to pursue their interests and center their education largely around those passions.
I recommend having a chat with your kids at the beginning of their time off school and asking them about a few ideas/projects/things they’d like to accomplish (see below for ideas).
I use this time to work, meal prep, or finish putting away laundry.
If it’s a beautiful day outside, we ditch project time and head outside.
We all make lunch, and the kids have free play. Play is a HUGE developmental need even into the tween years.
- Read-aloud Time (1.5-2 hours)
This is the core of our formal school time. We read-aloud one or two chapters from our fiction selection and history book, plus inspirational biographies.
(You could use this time for homework or educational worksheets.)
- Screen Time/Free Time
Around 5 p.m. I let the kids do free time or go play with outside with the neighbor kids. I make dinner and take care of the baby.
Or just take a break with a cup of coffee and maybe some good chocolate. You’ve been with kids all day – and you survived! You deserve it.
- Board Games/1:1 Reading Time
We set a certain time for screens to go off, then everyone helps with kitchen clean-up.
The end of our day is usually when we play a board game together, and when I work 1:1 with kids who need reading help. Generally, the baby is asleep, and it’s far easier to accomplish these things.
Now that you have an idea of OUR daily rhythm, I’ll give you lots of ideas to fill in the blanks!
2. Use screens, but use them wisely.
Update: We have transitioned to unlimited screens, and let me tell you, it’s AWESOME. Read these specific tips for transitioning to no screen time limits.
I’m sure you know this, but after a few days of non-stop screens, the effect wears off.
You find yourself WISHING your kids wanted to watch T.V. (hence the rest of the ideas on this list).
We tend to do screens at the beginning and end of the day. I also do allow my 4-year-old to use the Nintendo switch when we read aloud to give me focused educational time with my older kids.
Related Resource: Curiosity Stream is a documentary screening app that offers a free 7-day trial HERE (& is only $20 a year). It’s perfect for guilt-free screen-time!
3. Rotate the toys.
You don’t need a complicated toy rotation system to make this work. You just don’t want to have ALL the toys out all at once.
As this book proves, kids do better when you offer 1-2 types of toys at a time. When there is a room full of toys, they easily get overwhelmed and end up playing with nothing.
Too many toys are what leads to those, “I’m bored!!!!” cries that drive parents crazy.
If your toy room is full, pack up half the toys and switch them out once a week or so.
4. Require outside time.
Outside time is as essential to your child’s health as fruits and vegetables. I require thirty minutes of outside a day, but they often spend much more than that outside.
Sticks, dirt and trees are usually enough to keep my kids occupies. But you can always add chalk, bubbles, a jump rope and a basic ball to the mix if you are in an area without those things.
And yes, you CAN kick your kids out of the house unsupervised for 30 minutes (within reasonable age limits). It’s good for them.
5. Break out the board games and card games.
Now’s the time to dust off your board game collection!
If you’re looking for educational board games, you can find so many ideas HERE.
Add a few to your collection, depending on which subject you want your kids to work on.
Our current favorites are:
- Ticket to Ride
- Scrambled States of America
- Catch Phrase
Related: 20+ Best Games for Family Game Night
6. Set aside time for reading aloud & reading every day (audio books work!).
Having homeschooled for five years now, reading aloud is a very natural part of our daily lives. I can’t imagine NOT reading aloud almost every day.
If reading aloud isn’t a natural part of your day, you could use audio books during this time.
One of my kids in particular really struggles to focus during read-alouds, so I bought each child THIS putty (they don’t share). Side note: it’s also great for anxious kiddos.
You could also set out LEGOs or paper and markers to do while they listen.
As for reading on their own, stock up at the library (just in case they close)!
If you missed that boat, you can usually get both audio books and e-books through your library’s digital loan system, or sign up for Epic!, a kid’s app that gives you access to hundreds of e-books for kids – picture AND chapter books.
If you haven’t tried Audible yet, you can usually get two free audiobooks with your free trial. Sign up for Audible HERE.
Also, did you know that you can buy audiobooks on Amazon and use the Audible app without having a recurring membership? There are often super cheap steals (I’ve gotten some as low as $0.99!)
7. Help your kids come up with project ideas.
Especially if you’re trying to keep older kids busy for the long haul (like the three weeks schools are cancelled right now due to the Corona virus), take 20-30 minutes to brainstorm projects they can work on every day that will take multiple days to complete.
Here are a few projects my kids have done recently:
- Write a short story
- Make playdough in several colors
- Research a new business idea
- Make things using recycled materials
- Build their own video games & animations using SRATCH from MIT (totally free!!)
- Construct a fort or teepee outside, to be used multiple days in a row
- Anything from 5-minutes crafts
Keep in mind that just about anything is educational. All of these things involve: reading practice, reading comprehension, following directions, basic math, etc.
8. Create an art center.
Art is a life-saver around here! Most of my kids really enjoy it.
Pull out or stock up on some basic art supplies and let them at it:
- White Paper
- Colored Paper
- Watercolor Paper
- Colored Pencils
- Glue Sticks
- Micron Pens
For your children who want a little more structure and guidance, this Youtube channel offers fantastic, easy-to-follow drawing lessons.
Masterpiece Society offers individual online art classes for more advanced art projects.
9. Get your kids involved in food and meal prep, plus baking.
If your kids don’t make their own breakfast or aren’t involved in meal prep on a regular basis, this is a GREAT way to keep kids busy and teach them valuable life skills.
Obviously, you aren’t going to let your 7-year-old loose in the kitchen when he’s never used a knife or the toaster. But you can set aside time to teach skills like how to make a basic grilled cheese or how to chop vegetables.
My 8-year-old and 10-year-old can use the stove and knives without me hovering.
Is it easier to cook dinner or bake without your kids? Heck, yes.
But if your true aim is to keep your kids busy, take a deep breath, gather ALL your patience (you’re gonna need it) and start cooking well before you need dinner to be on the table. Because it will definitely take extra time.
10. Remember: it’s not your job to entertain them 24/7.
Our world today seems to think that one of a parent’s jobs is to entertain their kids full-time. And it’s just not true!
Kids developmentally need time to play without adult supervision.
They may struggle at first if they are used to you constantly offering them things to do. Help them out by keeping a mason jar with popsicle sticks or folded pieces of paper, each with a different idea for non-screen activities to pass the time.
One essential here: don’t respond to the “I’m bored” whines. Come up with a phrase you can say in response on repeat without getting worked up (THESE 8 simple phrases are SO helpful!).
Once they get used to you NOT jumping to fill their every minute, they WILL come up with things to do on their own. Promise!
Bonus Tip if You’re Working from Home with Kids
If you can get up before your kids or stay up later, getting 2-3 hours of work done without interruptions is often essential.
In this season with a one-year-old, I find it challenging to get anything done when she is awake. Nap times and evenings are essential, and when she starts sleeping through the night, I’m going to have to suck it up and get up before the kids.
The older I get, the harder it becomes to focus late at night!
If you’re trying to get up super early before your kids for the first time, make sure you have something good waiting for you as an incentive.
Lately, I drink my coffee with brown sugar and steamed and foamy half and half (THIS was the best investment ever! And cheap, too!). That makes me look forward to getting up in the morning.
Your Kids Will Learn How to Keep Themselves Busy
One final thought: when your kids are in school, they’re used to school.
They are used to teachers dictating their every minute. Once they get freedom from that? They won’t know what to do with it at first.
It takes TIME to go from having your time mostly dictated by adults to filling it with what you love to do. Give them (and yourself) grace to adjust.
As far as learning while schools are closed?
Learning doesn’t just happen at school and stop when you get home. Learning is happening all the time, every single minute of every single day.
Humans are hardwired from birth to learn.
As for our family, aside from a couple of grace days to deal with my own anxiety about world events, our regular homeschool life and rhythm will keep on going.
There will of course by a lot of learning and discussion about history, governments, the economy, and everything related to events that shake the world.
Also, I couldn’t resist adding Pandemic to our educational board game collection this week. I mean, what better time to learn about pandemics than when you’re in the middle of one?! (The best part about this game is it’s cooperative – no competitions and board game flipping.)
You’ve got this, parents!