Opinion Saturday: keeping multiple kids happily occupied

I am working through a list of your great suggestions for Opinion Saturday questions and am featuring one question a week for the next few weeks.

Wondermom asks:

One thing I struggle with is doing an activity or schoolwork with one child without sticking one or both of my other two in front of the TV. My two year old is starting to be VERY unreliable with her naps, and she’d becoming more and more reluctant to be strapped into her high chair for an activity. My 7 year old really struggles with playing on his own/amusing himself, and my five year old usually wants to get involved in whatever I’m doing. I’d like to be able to say, make popsicles with my 5 year old (because he likes to cook), or do a reading lesson with him, or play a game with the boys while the toddler does something else. I hope this makes sense. It’s the one thing that makes me think maybe I really couldn’t handle a fourth.

You have until next Saturday to share your best tips for handling this situation. Come on, hit me with your best thought!

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  1. The secret to keeping multiple kids happy is to gently lead them into independent play. Start watching for the pretend ideas that come up in their play and build on them. For instance, my children like to set up tents made up of sheets and blankets in the living room or in a bedroom. Suddenly the room becomes a whole new playground. Another time, they may make up their own theater. (I like to video tape the plays and then conduct video interviews for posterity.) Another idea — have them set up a stuffed animal pet shop (or whatever toy they have in multitude). One child can own the shop, another can be the customer, etc. My kids also like to play “lava” where the floor is all flowing lava and they have to jump from one spot to another for safety. The spot may be a bunched up sheet or blanket, a pillow, etc. Or, let them have a snowball fight with crunched up pieces of scrap paper. The idea is to let their imaginations go. They learn to play with each other, work out dillemmas and entertain each other for hours on end.

  2. I am only a mom of one, however- I think maybe if you gave them each a “project” like made a game out of it. YOu could shose house cleaning as a theme. The oldest has to clean the highest thing, the middle has to clean the lwest thing- and the youngest gets some activity time with you. This could be for any “project” to. I just think making a game out of every situation is the best. I also think a “scavenger hunt” is a GREAT way to keep kids entertained. Hide 12(any amount really) of someting (like soup spoons, or cookies…) in and around the house. It’ll keep em busy for hours! 🙂

  3. Cathy in Australia says:

    I have 3 children, almost 5, 2 and 9 months. I really braced myself one day before turning off the TV and declaring our home TV free. I had the feeling that fights were occuring because television was stifling their creativity. It has been worth (almost) every moment to see them playing petshops, mums and dads, driving in an invisible car carrying umbrellas, and hopping into the playpen (which they call “childcare”) to play with the baby! There are far less tense moments in our household over the last few weeks as they children have had to create their own active entertainment. It’s tricky though isn’t it! All the best to you Wondermum.

  4. Liz in Australia says:

    I’m not great at this by any means, but my 10yo and I both wake up much earlier than my 2yo, so we generally get a good chunk of work in before she even comes downstairs. I also aim to only do small (20-30 minute) chunks with the 10yo at a time, which fits in nicely with both their attention spans *g* The 2yo either amuses herself with toys or sits up at the table with us. She has her own colouring book and scrap book so she can “do work” too, or else I put out puzzles or games for her. I also try to have homemade playdough in the fridge at all times, plus she can always be diverted with a tub of soapy water in the kitchen next to us or her rice basket for indoor tactile, pouring play. When all else fails, the TV is definitely still an option to distract her!

    My best tip is to be flexible, and never feel you have to stick to a schedule if it means trying to convince a clingy youngster that they can play independently when what they really want is a cuddle. I usually just tell my 10yo to go off and read, or get a daily task done, if her sister is wanting attention. We might get a bit less done during the day, but there’s a lot less stress…

  5. I’ve got three kids, now 9, 7,and 4. I find that if I’m doing an activity with one, I’m really doing it with all three as no-one likes to be left out of anything.

    The only solution, I’ve found, is to find aspects of the activity that each of them is able to do. If it’s cooking giving out age appropriate tasks, so they’re all involved – or giving each of them a bowl to mix, or a piece of dough to shape. Otherwise they are learning very well to take turns with the rolling pin and switching on the food processor etc.

    If it’s schoolwork for the oldest, then the younger ones like to have pencils and paper too and do their own ‘work’.

    I haven’t found a way to separate them out and have one-on-one time with each of them though. I think that may happen naturally as they get older. Right now they are a tight-knit group, and play well together, even though there are inevitable squabbles now and then,.

  6. Thank you for posting my poorly worded question! I look forward to trying out the suggestions. 🙂

    Thanks again!

  7. For my 2 yo and 4 yo I give them options of puzzles, play-doh, coloring and such at a small kids table that is next to me while I work with the older kids. I can see them, comment on their work but still concentrate on what I am doing with the bigger kids.

    All for His glory, ~Rhen