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Parenting Hacks

Keeping Kids Busy at Home

By Mariko ZapfDec 28, 2017

December is synonymous with end-of-year projects, performances, and parties, which leave many parents exhausted before the holidays even begin. Children, on the other hand, are unsurprisingly resilient and even buoyed by the freedom of not being in school.

Before adults have time to decompress, they are faced with a week or two of unscheduled winter break and the dreaded “I’m bored.” Fear not, as there are a slew of ways for children and their parents to happily pass the days into the new year. The key to success? Planning ahead.

The key to success? Planning ahead.

Early in my career as a parent, late in December days were accompanied with anxiety over how to fill the time with my young kids when I was without childcare. Over breakfast, I would frantically search for activities that accommodated a stroller and varying interests. Each night, I would count the days until it was time for them to return to school.

As my parenting strategies evolved, I adopted a practice that transformed my experience as a mother–I hung a calendar in the kitchen and paid extra attention to the days marked “No school.” Here are six ways to make this winter break your family’s best one yet.


1. Create a Calendar

A calendar is the single most important factor to having a fun break from school. Connect with the parents of your children’s friends to find out when they might be in town and coordinate free days for playdates.

Planning well in advance of the vacation also give parents and caregivers time to peruse online for nearby storytimes, classes and other kid-friendly events. Waiting until the last minute is a gamble and ultimately leaves parents feeling isolated and kids bored, particularly during the cold winter days.

2. Establish a Routine

Enlist participation from your children to create a routine in advance of the break so they know what to expect of the time off from school. You can together identify a general routine outlining daily activities–meals, chores, electronics, reading, free time–to promote independence. The night before, review plans like special outings or playdates that make the following day unique.

3. Run the Household and De-clutter

Time off from school is an opportunity to make even young children more aware of what it takes to run the household. The youngest children can wipe down a counter or dust a surface, while older siblings can run the vacuum and help make beds. Without the presence of after school responsibilities, like homework and sports practices, kids are freed up to help with menu planning, food shopping, and (the funnest) cooking.

Decluttering is also a great way to keep kids occupied. My family tackles one problem area per day, setting aside just one hour, right after breakfast before a fun, scheduled activity. We scour the games closet, arts-supply drawer, bookshelves, and dressers. To round out the ritual, the children participate in dropping their gently used goods to our local donation center.

4. Physical Play, Every Day

Set aside time each day to get outdoors for a run around. Visit a new playground or park. Dig out frisbees, footballs, jump ropes, and with certainty, get involved in the fun. Nothing delights my children more than when I try to sink a basketball (with very little success). During inclement weather, we play tag at home and make up silly rules to accommodate for the smaller indoor space.

5. Hit Your Local Library

Several decades ago, the public library was associated with silence and void of technology of any kind. Libraries of today, all across the country, are more akin to ever-evolving community centers offering storytime, family films, young adult book clubs and homework support. If you haven’t stepped foot into one in a few years, you don’t know what you are missing.

6. Solo Play

No amount of motivation and organization will fill every hour of every day, and nor should it. According to clinical psychologist and author, Dr. Laura Markham, “One of our biggest challenges as adults, and even as teenagers, is learning to manage our time well. So, it’s essential for children to have the experience of deciding for themselves how to use periods of unstructured time, or they’ll never learn to manage it.”

According to child experts, a 6-month-old may be content alone for five minutes; a 12-month-old for 15 minutes; an 18-month-old for about 15-20 minutes; up to 30 minutes at two years and jumping up from there. Markham adds that when children learn to read, the “Mom, I’m bored” excuse has fewer legs on which to stand.

What is critical to solo play lasting as long as possible is creating a scenario conducive to success: full bellies and released energy. My kids typically play alone right after a jaunt outdoors and a snack, and I have paints, coloring books, building elements, and favorite toys set up and ready to go.

Don’t worry, you got this.


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Written by

Mariko Zapf

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