We try to see our friends for play dates regularly and often times have places to be or errands to run, but at least once a week, we find ourselves at home for a few hours with nothing but time on the clock. I wanted to share some of my go-to strategies that I use to keep everyone happy & busy ... because whiny, bored, grumpy kids are enough to make me roll out.
1. Go Somewhere: I have mentioned this before, but I think it helps TREMENDOUSLY to get out of the house each morning. Even if it's just for 15 minutes to grab a coffee and they don't get out of the car (PTL for drive-thru!) Something about leaving and coming back resets everyone and when we return home, the kids jump straight into their toys and usually play longer this way. Don't underestimate the value of a car ride!
2. Stations: Most of the time, the kids (especially the older two) play well together, but there are times where they don't or they chose not to play together in general. We have lots of play areas around the house - puzzles & board games in the formal living room, trucks and books in the family room, a kitchen and play table upstairs in the loft and all the bigger toys are in the playroom. The kids also have toys in their rooms they can play with. This keeps everyone seperated if need-be and they entertain themselves much longer if they're not constantly battling for the same toy or worried about highway robbery.
3. Limited Access: I don't keep things like markers, playdoh or board games easily accessible, so when we pull those out, everyone tends to focus in and really absorb that activity. Bellamy doesn't have free reign on markers, so when those come out, she's all about it and will color for an hour or more. Baylor is less entertained by coloring, but I can pull out his mini sandbox with trucks if I really need time (i.e. to prepare dinner or answer a couple emails) and he'll be sucked in for a good 30 minutes.
4. Switch Them Out: We put toys away for periods of time - whether they're seasonal, they're no longer getting played with, or mom's sick of hearing them!, and when we rotate them back in, it's like Christmas morning. It's an easy way to clear some of the clutter, decide what might be best to donate, and to keep things fresh. Once in awhile the kids will ask what happened to a specific toy, but 90% of the time, they have no idea it's even missing. :)
5. Set your expectations (& share them!): First off, I always remind myself that: they're kids! They're not going to be entertained by something longer than 15-30 minutes on average (give or take depending on age) and I'm always plotting my next move. What can we do next? What do I need to accomplish? How can I involve or engage them? OR How can I set them up to be entertained so they don't get whiny and I don't get frustrated if I need to accomplish something that isn't for little fingers?
If I need a few minutes, I always communicate that with them, so they have an understanding of why I'm not giving them my attention. I want them to be aware of my expectations so I will sometimes say "I need you to play in the playroom for 10 minutes so I can finish getting ready for the day" or "I'll be done with my computer in 5 minutes so think about what we can do together when I'm finished!" My goal is that there isn't a guessing game for them, they're not begging at my feet asking when I'm going to be done and that I have set those boundaries for myself.
A few other go-to strategies to keep everyone happy: I'll let them watch a show for 30 minutes (I find that if we go longer than that, everyone gets very cranky and antsy), baths are always an easy crowd-pleaser, build a fort or a "cozy cave" as we call it, we'll go outside & play or take a walk, and of course, if all else fails: feed them! ;)
We're looking forward to warmer, summer days where we can go to the pool or the lake, jump outside on the trampoline and eat watermelon in our wet swimsuits.