Are you asking, “How do I keep my kids busy in the summer when working from home?” It’s so hard to occupy your kids’ time while you are working from home over the summer. Check out this post to learn how to teach your kids to play independently, find the best supplies for your family, and use your money wisely as you affordably find childcare alternatives this summer.
We are headed into summer and every working parent is freaking out a bit. How are we going to work, plan childcare, plan summer activities, and give our kids something MAGICAL?
It’s basically impossible.
But, we can give our kids a special summer WHILE we work, without it being too hard.
How? Let’s get into it.
Homer App Limited Offer
- Tailored to age, learning level, and favorite interests
- 1,000+ activities for reading, math, SEL, and more for independent play
- Just 15 minutes a day proven to increase early reading scores by 74%
- Developed by experts, their research-based, four-step approach goes beyond rote memorization to build confidence, promote problem-solving, and foster a lifelong love of learning.
- Summer Camp Alternatives for Working Parents
- Create a Summer Outside Station
- Teach Your Kids to Play by Themselves
- Repeat a “fun” activity every month
- Library Audiobooks and Books
- Toy Rotation
- Use Screen Time Alternatives
- How do I keep my kids busy in the summer when working from home?
Summer Camp Alternatives for Working Parents
I have to be honest. I don’t have $2000 per kid for summer day camps fees for the entire summer. That’s a LOT OF MONEY.
Instead, I’m always looking for affordable childcare options that I can use to give my kids a fantastic summer. Here are 3 options we’ve done for the last few years:
Preschool Summer Camp 2 Days/Week: I am not made of money, and couldn’t send my daughter (at age 2-3) to summer camp every day of the week. But, I was able to sign her up for her preschool play group summer camp just two days a week. She loved this excursion, and it gave me 2 solid days of work. The other 3 work days I worked around her craft and park schedule. It worked for us and gave me a breather for those 2 days! Check out your local schools to see if they offer single day registration.
Summer Nanny: When my children were ages 1 and 4, we hired a nanny for the mornings during the summer. She came to our house from 9-12, and my kids had a BALL. We found her on the Nextdoor App, and we are still friends today. She’s one of my kids’ favorite people. Paying for her just 3 hours a day (15 hours/week) was far more reasonable for two kids than all-day every-day. During the afternoons, they had rest time/quiet time, and I was able to work while they napped.
Click here to read my complete nap time/quiet time guide for kids.
Travel & Mother’s Helper: Last year we traveled for three weeks to be near the grandparents and extended family. My husband was traveling for work, so I took my remote work and let my kids have quality grandparent camp. They did VBS, kids museums, and honestly I think it was their favorite summer. When we came home, we hired a neighborhood friend to be a mother’s helper in the mornings. She walked down from 9-12 every morning, and my kids loved every minute.
This year, I’m doing a hybrid of all these options!
Click here to see all my summer camp alternatives that might work for your family!
Create a Summer Outside Station
You need a summer outside station that will occupy your kids for hours.
The goal of this station is three-fold. It needs to:
- operate on very little adult interaction
- take up very little space and be easy to store
- occupy your kids for hours
1. Summer activity ideas that are worth the storage
If a toy will spark creativity and give my kids lots of opportunities to use it, it is worth storing.
If a toy is a one-time-use thing (like a pool float), the storage possibilities need to be really good or it’s not worth it.
The best toys are those that take up very little space, and spark a lot of creativity.
So, I use those principles when I buy new summer toys. The best are small creative toys. I very rarely buy huge summer things.
So, let’s get this thing set up!
(BTW, These ideas should work for anyone that has a balcony, yard, little outside garden…any tiny plot of land will work!)
2. Take inventory of your summer toys
Find all your summer toys and see what you are working with. Lay them all out so you can throw away the old bubbles and recycle the out-grown toys. You might have dig through your house, but find all the:
- Chalk – This is my favorite!
- Water guns
- Pool/Sprinkler toys
- Sand toys
- Gardening items
- Outside toys (animals, action figures)
- We have this ring toss game – and love it for all ages!
Do you need a baby chair for a new baby? Older activities for the bigger kids? Need new sunglasses, towels, or sunscreen?
Don’t forget the basics!
3. Create a Water/Sand Station
Even if you only have a small balcony, you have room for a water table or makeshift sandbox. Let me show you how to make it!
Water Table: I really love our water/sand table. It is the ultimate example of how creativity is worth the storage. We use the water table for water games, sand games, bubbles, animals and toys, watching bugs…everything!
Tip: Make sure you get a water table that is easy to disassemble and store!
Sand Container: If you don’t have room for a real sand box, I have the solution for you! Just get a big & shallow plastic box that has a lid that attaches. Fill it with sand and sand toys – and it will last seasons!
The Ultimate Summer Bag
Ok, so this is a shameless plug, because I think this backpack is AMAZING for the work at home parent that needs a functional work diaper bag that does everything.
And, because the guy that designed this FirstBorn Dad Backpack is my friend.
But mostly, I just think you need one of these in your life.
This “FlyDad Dad Backpack” is the diaper bag that every parent wishes that they had (yes, even the moms!).
This bag is fashion-forward and functional, and has all the features that every parent needs. This bag has:
- 21 pockets/compartments
- Breathable mesh foam back padding
- Easy-access Wipes holder
- Cell-phone pocket on the strap
- Universal charging cable
- Changing mat
- Oversized water bottle holder
- Secure laptop sleeve
- Padded straps
- Dedicated diaper pocket
- Insulated milk pocket (yes, really) for 2 – 4oz bottles
- Durable and water-proof throughout
- Hidden security pocket
If you need a good working parent bag as you maneuver the summer months, check it out and use the code MODERNWAHM for 10% off!
Teach Your Kids to Play by Themselves
Sometimes I try to view the day from kids’ perspectives.
I want their days to be consistent and predictable enough, so they know that after lunch they have naptime and quiet time. (Read my complete naptime guide here to see how to make it work for you!)
I want them to not be surprised when I ask them to play by themselves for 30 minutes.
The key is that kids are always looking for the “fun thing”. They are just waiting for me to pull out the candy or new Disney movie. If there is a chance that at 1 pm I will pull out candy, then OF COURSE they won’t want to play by themselves.
But, if everyday there is no chance of candy at 1 pm, then the option of independent play time by age is a really normal good one for them. They will go along with it. That routine creates discipline…which then because normal for your child.
I also think independent play encourages security.
My kids don’t have a playroom. Instead, their bedrooms are full of their toys, books, legos, blocks, and piles and piles of random things they can pull out. Those are THEIR THINGS. They have free rein.
That personal space gives them possession of their things…which gives them security. They feel safe during play time, because it’s their space. This means a lot to young kids.
Now, you don’t need huge bedrooms or piles of toys to accomplish this. I’ve been to Africa where a child might only have one deflated ball that is theirs. That ball is their security. And asking them to independently play with their ball is a safe place for them. Of course they are ok playing with their ball! That is what I want my kids to feel.
I read somewhere that kids like reading the same book over and over again because it’s predictable and they can count on it to be the same every time.
I think it’s the same way with toys! I think it’s healthy for kids to have limited toys, and to experience the same puzzles over and over again. There is a security in those puzzles that a new toy can’t accomplish.
I start teaching my kids how to play by themselves when they are babies – and keep teaching until they are toddlers to older children.
To see exactly how I teach my kids to play by themselves by age – click here.
Repeat a “fun” activity every month
I listened to a fantastic podcast called “What we need to have more fun” by the Lazy Genius Collective, and I was convicted that I don’t know what “fun” is for my family.
I feel like I’m a fun mom, but do I really know how to put my phone down and just enjoy my family without any schedule?
Kendra Adachi with the Lazy Genius said that “fun” is the combination of PLAY + CONNECTION + FLOW. In short, to create fun for you and your family, you need to find a way to play, and connect with your family, and not interrupt the flow with your schedule and phone.
I think this looks different for every family, so I’ve spent time thinking about how I can create these fun moments for my family on a regular basis.
It’s SO HARD because I’m always checking my phone, ready to move on with the schedule, and thinking about what’s next. Instead, I need to create tiny moments that have flow and connection and play.
For me, I think this means that I need to get my family outside either hiking or exploring, with no schedule. We live in Colorado, so it’s so easy to go on an adventure. We love to grab a picnic, find a new hike, and just disconnect and have fun. So, my goal is to add in these adventures every month. I think it’s ok to repeat the same fun pattern every month!
So, what is “fun” for your family, and how can you repeat that every month?
Library Audiobooks and Books
Remember CD’s? YEP THEY ARE STILL A THING. Especially in my kids rooms!
My kids LOVE this thing! They play cd’s all the time – with books on CD from the library, lullaby’s before they go to bed, old music cd’s that I have found in storage…
At your local library, you can check out audio books on CD, music and even musicals for kids to explore and love!
My favorite way to get free audiobooks, is to use my library card and hook it up to the The Libby App. You can hook up your library card, and download audiobooks for free!
TIP: Get a CD player with Sleep mode. Then you can leave it in their room at bedtime, and it automatically turns off at night!
If you bring up “toy rotation” in a moms club, you will have every mom in the world talking about cubbies, and cabinets, and charts, and rotation schedules.
Y’all, that COMPLETELY overwhelms me.
Yes, of course you can have a complicated schedule that lets you rotate toys over and over again to give kids new things to play.
But, if you are looking for an easy way to accomplish this same thing without changing your home organization or buying new toys…you need an easy toy rotation solution.
The idea behind a toy rotation chart is simple. Just choose every week which 3-5 toys your kids will play with. And that’s it.
I like categorizing toys in my head. (Only my head! No need to write this down!) My categories might be:
- Building toys (blocks, Legos, Duplos, Lincoln Logs, Magnatiles)
- Cars and trains (train sets, matchbox cars, pull toys)
- Animals/ People (baby animals, Little People sets)
- Fort building (blankets, pillows, music players, piles of books)
- Crafts (crayons, glue, markers, beads, sensory bins, coloring, stickers, pipe cleaners)
- Games (board games, card games, puzzles)
- Other (puzzles, books, card games, etc.)
Every week just pick one from each category that are your toys for that week. Grab a piece of paper and write down your list!
Use Screen Time Alternatives
1. Portable Bluetooth Speaker for Kids
My kids got this for Christmas and LOVE IT. It’s the perfect size to hold, and to carry around while they listen to music. I stream music to it from my phone (usually a fun Spotify playlist!), or they listen to audio books!
My favorite way to get free audiobooks, is to use my library card and hook it up to the The Libby App. You can download audiobooks for free! This is great for older and young children.
2. Playaway Launchpads (at your local library)
So, have you seen the Playaway Launchpads at your local library? These are so fun! Technically they are a tablet, so they kind of don’t qualify for this article. But, they are an excellent alternative if you don’t want to buy a tablet. They are educational, built for learning, and my kids adore them! They are perfect for a road trip, or just a week-long experience for your kids to be entertained while you work. Totally recommend that you look at your local library!
3. The Yoto Player
Last year I was looking for a quality Christmas present for my 6 year old daughter, and decided I wanted to get her an audio player. You know the kind – the kind that has story inserts, and would let her have a screen-free alternative to her tablet.
I checked out the Toniebox and the Storypod, and decided that I thought the Yoto Player fit my daughter’s age and needs best. We got it for her, even though we had a few reservations.
Honestly, it’s been a lifesaver! She loves this radio, and it has almost replaced screentime.
How do I keep my kids busy in the summer when working from home?
How do you do it? I want to know! Make sure you leave a comment below sharing your favorite summer activities for kids while you work.
You might also like:
6 Affordable Summer Camp Alternatives for Working Parents
3 Genius Summer activity ideas for Working Parents
How do working moms spend time with kids? (10 tips to create quality time)