Keeping Your Kids Busy While You Work From Home

keeping kids busy while you work

In a perfect world we would have endless amounts of time to dedicate to our children and their education while we’re sat at home, but for almost everyone trying to balance a suffering economy and the care and well being of their children, that simply isn’t possible.

It’s Not Your Job

it's not your job to homeschool your children
You didn’t sign up to playing teacher!

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The first thing you need to get over is any sort of guilt or worry about this. Teaching your children is not your job. When you signed up for parenthood you did so knowing that once they reaching the age of four you would wave them goodbye at the school gates and their brains would be magically filled with knowledge in a process you wouldn’t have to be involved with.

Most of the time that has worked out swimmingly. Teachers love their jobs (trust me, they certainly don’t get recognition from the government or a hefty pay check, so they can only be doing what they do out of love!) You also love your jobs (or the money or recognition!) No one out there wants to muddy the waters by mixing the two, but if that’s what we’ve got to do then I guess that’s what we’ll do!

Is It Even Possible?

a child reading independently while her parents work
Is it possible to keep your kids busy while you work?

The big question is how do you keep your kids busy while you work? You’ll have realised by now that kids of a primary school age don’t just ‘get on with it’. They need endless amounts of attention, reassurance and encouragement. You may think this is easy to give in the classroom (after all, it’s what we’re there to do) but I can assure you that it isn’t that straight forward.

With large numbers of children all needing that exact same attention and reassurance it’s actually quite impossible to be there for each and every one of them at once. Every child needs something slightly different, and every child needs it just as badly. Luckily for us we have lots of time on our hands to work out great methods for keeping kids busy while we work. We can use this to buy us time when we need to spend longer with a child that’s struggling, or when we realise we haven’t made enough copies of a worksheet, or when we need to sit on the stairs with a child that’s got a worry.

With everything that’s going on, being able to give 100% to your work is a pretty huge priority right now. Teaching your children should, and must, come second to that. Missing a few months of school won’t hurt a child in the long run, so try to keep that in mind over the coming weeks. If you’re looking for some ideas of how to educate your child that don’t involve trying to replicate the job of a teacher then take a look at some alternative teaching ideas I put together.

If you’re keen to help your children with their education but just don’t know how, I’ve put together some of my coping strategies for those of you attempting to juggle work and school over the next few weeks. It might just come in handy at other times too!

How To Keep Your Kids Busy While You Work

keeping your kids busy reading while you work from home
How to keep your kids busy while you work

Set Them Manageable Tasks

It’s great if your teachers have set booklets or worksheets for your kids to do, but remember that they’ve had to set them for their whole class. Chances are they didn’t have time to differentiate the work they’ve set, or at least not differentiate it very well. Use your spare time wisely to sort through worksheets or find extra resources of work that you know your children can manage independently.

There is a fine line here. Set them work that’s too hard and they’ll be constantly needing help. Set them work that’s too easy and they’ll have finished in seconds and be back banging on your door. We’ll look at ways to deal with this later on, but the best advice I can give is to accept a little trial and error while you get to know your child’s level.

Make A Timetable

a sandtimer being used by a kid working independently while his parents work
Use timers and timetables to help you

Create a timetable to help plan their day. With older kids you can literally plan out your morning together and they should be able to follow it. This would be really handy if you’re needing big chunks of time ‘in the office’. Try to create the time table together, and talk through the work they’ll be doing before hand so you can address any potential problems.

Younger children will find this harder. A visual time table is still great, but they won’t have any concept of time. To help, try using a timer. Maybe a sand timer that they can turn when it’s time for their next activity, or an egg timer that will buzz (as long as they know how to reset it themselves). Have everything ready and laid out for them so they can access it all themselves.

Make sure the timetable is alternated between sitting still learning and moving around learning, especially for younger children. 15 minutes of colouring followed by 15 minutes of playing with the lego, followed by 15 minutes of pencil control and then 15 minutes of Paw Patrol. They won’t concentrate on a task for a whole hour!

They Won’t Learn All Day

A child sat down to work with a timer
Don’t try and teach your kids all day

If you can, plan teaching around your working hours. If you can give your children one on one time for their lessons then a whole day is WAY too much time. If I was homeschooling a child one to one then I would be looking at doing two hours with them at the most. The time you can give them when you’re teaching individually is so much more useful and intense than the time they get in the classroom.

No matter how strict you are with your class you will never get an hours worth of concentration from them. They will talk to each other, write on the rubber, pick their nose, swing on their chair. You get the idea. You can’t possibly be watching and teaching all of them at once, and they learn that pretty quickly.

If you’re sat with them for that hour they have no choice. You will be there to answer all their questions immediately, you’ll be tailoring the lesson to their ability, you’ll be watching their every move. This is the reason that tutoring is so effective. One to one dedicated time with a pupil is intense, and gets results.

There is no way they can keep that level of concentration up all day, and it isn’t necessary. If you want them to have lessons while they’re at home but you have to juggle work too, give them just an hour of teaching before you start work. Children work best in the morning, and it will be over and done with before you’ve even had to log in to work. Then you can step away while they do a few easy worksheets, play or just watch TV! Give them that timetable and leave them to it!

Encourage Peer Teaching

two children playing together outside
Use all the help you can get!

If you have two children who are homeschooling then actually your job could be easier. Invest a little time into giving the older child some responsibility and encourage them to help with teaching the younger. Give them a list of some things they might say to encourage, and talk through ways they could suggest improvements in a positive way. Search ‘peer teaching’ on Twinkl for some ideas.

The older child won’t be missing out on their learning. Learning to teach is a great way to reinforce knowledge, build confidence and encourage leadership skills. Your older child will be gaining skills that will help them throughout life. And as we’ve already discussed, these few months at home won’t make a whole lot of difference when it comes to maths and literacy. Give them some life skills that are just as important instead for a few lessons a week!

Helping Children Who Need Constant Reassurance

a child reading independently while his parents work
Some children find it hard to work independently

There are a few reasons why your child might be seeking constant reassurance from you. Figure out why before you give up entirely!

They might genuinely not know what to do, or how to do it. Right now, your job isn’t to ‘teach’ them. You want them to be learning to work independently, which is a vital skill in itself. Focus on teaching them this skill, so that you can focus on your job! You’re both getting something out of it then. So if they are struggling with the work set then the solution is easy – set them easier work. This is never a bad thing. Easy work will build their confidence, reinforce what they already know, and help them to learn to work independently.

Another reason for seeking constant reassurance is confidence. Sometimes children rely on an adults input because they don’t have the confidence to tackle it on their own, even if they’re perfectly capable. This is harder to work around, because it’s a deeper issue. It’s going to take a bit of time to build that confidence. Here are some things you could try in the short term to help them.

  1. Obviously talk to them. Explain you don’t expect them to get it right all the time, explain you’re only interest in the effort, explain
  2. Praise. Give them lots of encouragement and praise when they do try. Even if they’re getting it wrong, praise the things they’ve got right, like the effort and perseverance.
  3. Print out some posters to remind them to keep trying when they’re working alone. I like the mindset ones on Twinkl, and they come in all varieties!
  4. Record some words of encouragement. Get yourself a set of these talk buttons that they can press when they need some reassurance. ‘You’ve got this’, ‘don’t give up’, ‘keep trying your hardest’, ‘I’m proud of you for giving this a go!’
  5. Give them work they can’t ‘get wrong’. Either really, really easy work or something arty that’s subjective. This will get them into the habit of working alone, without adult supervision.

Coping With The Quick Finishers

A child reading a map at homeschool
There’s always one!

In every class there are always one or two children that pride themselves on being the first to finish. It’s a never ending power struggle between teacher and pupil. As a newly qualified teacher you’d try everything you possibly could to win. You’d set them work that was too hard, you’d try setting more of the same, you’d even resort to measures such as handing them the worksheet last, or asking them to hand out all the textbooks. It was futile. They always had the last laugh, usually when the head had just walked in with a governor and wanted you to talk them through the lesson.

Over the years I developed a finely tuned strategy for dealing with the early finishers. It takes a little preparation but has been highly successful! Just don’t let them in on our tricks or we’ll be really done for when they’re back at school.

Firstly, work out the reason they’re finishing too quickly. Sometimes, the work is just genuinely too easy. In this case it’s an easy problem to fix. Set them something harder. If it’s that easy that they’re finishing in minutes then it should be easy enough to set them harder work that they can still do independently.

The more common reason is that, for one reason or another, they believe finishing first means they’re the best. If this is the case you’ll often see work that is below their potential. Perhaps with a lot of errors if it’s maths, or something short with no description it’s literacy.

This is harder to tackle. You’ll need to put in a little ground work here to ensure a smoother ride. Firstly, go through their work with them and point out their errors. Explain the standard of work you expect to see from them, and talk to them about the fact that rushing work won’t produce good work. Praise them for trying their hardest to produce the best piece of work they can, and never for finishing quickly.

Create a target sheet for them, something visual that they can check before they start, and after they’ve finished. It can include things like checking all their answers, showing their working out, using capitals and full stops, writing more than one paragraph. Search for ‘targets’ on Twinkl and you’ll find some templates you can use. Make sure one of their targets is to review and improve their work after they’ve finished. Hopefully this will encourage them to do their very best work – independently.

Make A What Next Tray

a tray full of fun things to do while parents are busy working from home
Fill a tray with fun ideas of things to do while you’re not there

If you need your children to be occupied for longer, or they’re still too speedy for you, then set up a ‘what next’ tray. You can fill this with some ‘fun’ activities that the children can be getting on with after they’ve finished their work. Most will love this chance to choose something for themselves, so put in a range of different educational (or non-educational) activities. Here are some ideas of age appropriate worksheets to search for on Twinkl.

  1. Challenge cards. They have lots of these on Twinkl and various other websites. There are different ones for all age groups, and if you need your kids to be working completely independently then you might want to pick ones from the year group below.
  2. Give them some of these writing prompt dice to inspire them. There are all sorts out there!
  3. Handwriting worksheets. Always important!
  4. Colouring. Perfect for pencil control, and art obviously! But no input needed.
  5. Question dice are also great, they can talk the answer into one of the microphone buttons for you to listen back to later!
  6. Times tables worksheets for slightly older children.
  7. Wordsearches, crosswords or Sudoku. Everyone loves a good wordsearch!
  8. Booklets. Twinkl make some great little booklets that are full of different activities. Just pull out the ones that would require assistance before putting them into the tray!
  9. Jigsaw puzzles. These are fun, take ages and are good for them too.
  10. Books. Again, twinkl has printable stories if you’re running out at home! Especially with libraries being a no go!

Turn To YouTube

a sofa with snacks and drinks lying all around it
Educational videos are good if you’re getting desperate

I am not ashamed to admit that there were times in my teaching career when videos saved me (and my class). There were times when it was just impossible (and pointless) to teach. Sometimes it was down to an unstructured day when the children had been ferried from one exciting activity to another and were high as kites come the end of the day, sometimes we’d been out on a school trip and they were exhausted. Sometimes I was exhausted and it was either Horrible Histories or me creating some sort of horrible history in the classroom!

I think we put too much pressure on parents and teachers to be ‘perfect’ all the time. It just isn’t possible I’m afraid. What is possible is recognising when they (or you) aren’t firing from all cylinders and finding a coping strategy.

Educational videos are great for resetting, and they’re also incredible teaching tools. After nagging and moaning at my class all day I can imagine that a happy, funny face on the TV was a welcome relief. Different styles of teacher suit different children, and videos give us a whole host of different teachers for our kids. Sit them in front of Horrible Histories for an hour while you take that important conference call – they’ll learn far more than they would from a worksheet!

Here are some short ‘lessons’ I made for my reception age God daughter. The resources used are from Twinkl and there are links to them in the description. They’re by no means perfect, and they require a bit of input from you either before or during – this is not a normal way of teaching for me! But if they help occupy your kids for a bit then great! If you find them useful then subscribe to our channel to help us out in return!

If you’ve found some strategies that work for keeping your kids busy then let me know in the comments below. Let’s share coping techniques in these difficult times!

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