Encouragement, Help from Mentor Moms, Tips for parenting

Help! I’m at Home with Kids All Day! Survival Tips Beyond Screen Time.


30 Seconds for Hope: Last month in our nation’s previous “culture,” your children went to school or daycare—out of the house. But suddenly all has changed. You take care of your children. At home. All day. To help you through these days, many have posted links to websites that entertain or educate kids, and that’s great—but you might desire less screen time for your children. So I’ve created this toolkit of ideas not requiring the screen as you transition into a new “culture.” You can survive this, moms!

Now the full story:

When my four children were little, our family relocated to the Philippines for a year. arriving with only a few toys and books. We moved to a city with no library near us, and the TV programs were in a foreign language. Moreover, I developed a health issue that kept me home most days. Consequently, I had to draw on everything I’d ever learned about entertaining and managing children at home.

That year I also had to learn a few things about cultural transitions. At first life felt unsurvivable because everything was so different (as you might be experiencing now). How could I survive day after day with my kids? But over the weeks and months, we created a new normal that was not only completely survivable but also wonderful, creating special memories.

Our nation is now in a season that mimics a cross-cultural transition (temporarily we hope)! Last month in your previous “culture,” your children went to school or daycare—out of the house. But now? Suddenly you’re at home for hours with children who need direction. And since there’s no new normal yet, you feel you can’t survive. This is the chaos of transition.

So your first task is to understand the nature of a transition. Understand that times of transition are often times of chaos. Future weeks won’t necessarily be like it feels now, and a new normal will come. Though right now you live hour-to-hour, just trying to survive the next minute, soon you’ll begin to move into a new rhythm of life.

That new rhythm can arrive sooner than later by discovering some new forms of entertainment, by initiating some new routines, and by honing your child-management skills. Here’s some help!


What kinds of activities engage children? Movies, video games, and websites are great in moderation, but what else can children do? Here are ideas from my times of being at home with kids all day, including our overseas stint.

Preschool children are all about discovery and action. The following ideas are for young children. Many of these work either indoors or outdoors.

  • Play with dough or play dough (recipes online).
  • Have some water play in a sink or bathtub (must be supervised for safety, but so fun).
  • Play with rice or sand in a big bowl.
  • Tear scrap paper and use it to pretend dump truck, or any other pretend activity.
  • Pretend a swimming pool. (Use clothes or recycled paper as “water”)
  • Pretend a zoo using either stuffed animals or homemade “animals” (e.g. rolled-up socks). Cages can be everywhere—under chairs, under a plastic bowl, behind the sofa.
  • Create a musical “rhythm band” using bowls pan lids, spoons, etc. March to music or sit and beat the “drum set.”
  • Go on a pretend exploration. Pretend you are in (Africa, Hawaii, Thailand, etc.). Set up pretend things you might find there.
  • Create a play house in one corner of a room. Pretend taking care of “babies” (dolls).
  • Pretend preschool or Sunday School. They can imitate what they have done there (scissors, marker pens, story books, follow-the-leader games, etc.).
  • Pretend doctor, hospital, library, or any other business around your town.

K-3 children also enjoy action and discovery, plus they like to build. So all of the above apply, plus they can:

  • Make cardboard creations with scissors and glue. Make flowers. Make a village. Make a car.
  • Make their own books. They can illustrate a story they know or make up one. Written words aren’t necessary, but they can dictate the story to you if they want. Tape, staple, or glue the pages together.
  • Make a pretend campsite. Set up “tents” made out of blankets and chairs. Cook “food” over a pretend fire.
  • Build a pretend airplane or train using chairs. Dolls and toys can ride along.
  • Make a pretend restaurant in a bedroom. Serve real or pretend food.
  • Have a tea party with teddy bears. Diluted tea and crackers make a great treat. (The teddies just pretend to eat! The children eat all the teddies’ food.)
  • Build cities with Legos if available. Create houses, stores, an airport, a lake with boats, etc.
  • Create modern art or a collage using scrap items from around the house (ribbon, magazines, bread ties, etc.).

Fourth grade and up often like the ideas listed above for action, discovery, and building, plus they have active minds that easily feel bored. Here are a few additional ideas:

  • Build a pretend a golf course. Use a small ball and a stick. In various rooms and hallways set up obstacles as the “holes,” with a designated place at each hole where the ball needs to land.
  • Play balloon volley ball. Use a string for a net, or have an imaginary net. Keep score or not.
  • Tell chain stories. One starts the setting, and siblings and mom add to the story. “Once upon a time there was a _______ who lived in a _______ and had a problem of ______.” Set a timer, if needed, for the next person to add to the story.
  • Play games that engage the mind such as “Twenty Questions” (where one person thinks of an animal, vegetable, or mineral and the others have twenty questions to try to guess it).
  • Play “Five in a row.” Use (or make) a large grid of squares such as a chess board. Use small objects to play a tic-tac-toe game, but you have to get five in a row instead of three. It’s harder than you think! Two players or teams.

Use your imagination to add to this list. (And please share your ideas in the comments below!) If you noticed, many of these ideas use household items. You don’t need a big stash of toys to entertain kids! Yay!

New routines:

Establishing new routines will bring a new flow to your family’s day. When to eat. When to get dressed. When to study. When to play. This won’t be the same as their previous routine of when to catch the school bus. But your new schedule can become predictable, which will help both your children and you to rise out of the chaotic phase.

So what can this look like? Here are ways to speed it along:

  • Decide what your children will do when they first wake up. Free time? Breakfast? Get dressed? There’s no certain answer that’s “right,” but consistency first thing in the morning will help you climb out of chaos.
  • Decide some in-house (or back yard) activities to entertain your children so they won’t get addicted to 24/7 screen time, which can change their brains according to studies (here and here). Use the ideas above, or create your own.
  • Decide when you want your children to study. Many school districts are talking about assigning lessons. But it’s up to you to decide when to implement study time. A predictable study hour can help your children adjust to lessons at home. (And don’t’ panic. Kids are smart. If they don’t learn it this spring, they can catch up later.)
  • Decide where your children will study. If you establish a consistent place for their homework, their new normal will begin to develop.
  • Decide on a fairly routine lunch menu. You don’t have to be Rachel Ray in the kitchen (unless that’s your thing). Just select a variety of routine foods to serve and this will simplify your life.

Decide. That’s the key. Proactive decisions are the way to establish new routines, and new routines will lead you out of chaos.

With each decision, how can you motivate the children to do it? Many forms of motivation can work, but a common way is to create incentives. “When you get dressed, you can…” or “After your school lesson is done, you can…” Also you can cultivate interest by making the activities seem attractive. “At breakfast this morning we’re going to play a game of Simon Says!” Discover what your children find appealing.


So now it’s time to grapple with the elephant in the room. You’ve probably already been thinking it. But let’s state it:

Children don’t always play nicely together nor do they cooperate with you all the time.

Right? You know all the above ideas are nice BUT you’ve been thinking, “Does this blog lady have any clue about the fights that happen in my house while we try all those nice ideas?”

Yep, I have a clue. I know that you are facing World War III within the walls of your home—and you think you might go crazy.

So again, the key is to remember that you’re working toward a new normal. Ways to manage the fights will become part of your new normal as you practice child-management skills. It won’t happen in a day, but it does need to be addressed. Here are some ideas for getting a grip on this elephant:

  • Decide in advance how you will manage conflict. (“When my child does this ______, I will do this_____.”) Having a plan will help you stay calm. Write your plan of action, and communicate that plan to your children in advance. Tell them what will happen if they fight or don’t cooperate. Don’t surprise them with knee jerk responses, but rather be predictable. This will help lead the family out of chaos.
  • At the first sign of conflict, try distracting the child by directing him/her toward something else of interest.
  • Give choices. (“You can play nicely with your brother or you can sit on the sofa,” etc.)
  • Give positive incentives (but make these achievable or this will backfire into tantrums of disappointment if they don’t earn the promised reward).
  • Read online tips such as found at https://www.additudemag.com/category/parenting-adhd-kids/behavior-discipline/. Though written for ADHD children, the tips are applicable for any child.

Above all, remember that this season with you children might be just what they needed—a time to stay at home with mom! And don’t forget, they are going through a transition as well. So each day give them a bunch of love, and a ton of mercy, and a big dose of hope. You will get through this time.


And now it’s your turn. What ideas have worked in your home to entertain children without screen time? Let all of us know! Add your comments below.9781400328420_SPR(Front)_R1

And for some additional encouragement, take a look inside my book, Tommy’s Wired and Mommy’s Tired.



Blog post picture credit:

OpenClipart-Vectors / 27420 images via pixabay


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