For those of us with kids of multiple ages who are still doing remote learning, keeping our preschoolers busy and playing independently without resorting to bribery and screen time is no easy feat. In today's new normal, your house isn't just a home anymore—now it's also a daycare, an elementary school, and a home office, woohoo! And since scientists haven't yet figured out a way to clone us moms (how I wish they would), we can only tend to one of those functions at a time.
Just to make an already challenging situation even harder, my second grader struggles with his attention span and gets very easily distracted. He can hear when his little brothers are being too loud downstairs, and, whether he wants to shush them or join them, either way, it's distracting him. Moreover, there are times when my oldest needs help with remote school, with anything from explaining an assignment to finding materials like tape or markers. That means I have real, solid blocks of the weekday when I need my twins occupied. While I'm not opposed to screen time (especially while we're basically under house arrest), like most moms, I don't want that to be my little guys' whole day.
Plus, I have come to appreciate that quiet toys are better, particularly during school hours. Crafts are great (we do a lot of them in our house), but they often require a lot of hands-on grown up involvement (unless you want googly eyes glued to your dining table), and they usually don't take up enough time to really be helpful. In fact, if you're anything like me, you might spend what you imagine must have been two hours on paper bag puppets, only to learn that it's been just 15 minutes.
From a mama who has tried everything, these are the tools that keep my preschool twins contently learning and playing independently (for more than a few minutes!):
Whether your children's plush friends enjoy fancy tea time or a casual cuddly gathering, you might be amazed at how much time your munchkins spend with just some stuffed animals and well-designed kids' furniture. Not to mention that it can help build their imagination, creativity, and even social skills. Cubby the teddy bear is an adorable furry friend to join the party, while this kids' table makes a perfect kids' café addition, but also has a chalk surface to draw and write. Multi-function for the win!
Some things never get old. When I was little, I used to play memory games for hours. Now, my 4 year olds do, too, and I love that it's helping to build their visual memory—and that it buys me some time! This memory game is particularly cute, because its outdoor camping theme fosters a love of nature.
What doesn't make any obnoxious sounds, conveniently eats up lots of time, and helps with your little ones' development? Puzzles! Beginners might be into the jumbo puzzles with fewer pieces, like this fun splash park puzzle, while the more complicated ones, like this cool 3D puzzle, offer something that the whole family can pitch in on throughout the day. One of my twins, in particular, is obsessed with puzzles… with him, a 200-piece puzzle is like handing me a gift card for one hour of freed up time!
Especially during these times, when our real-life adventures are so limited due to the pandemic, these whimsical inventions aren't just chair covers—they're portals to an imaginary neighborhood where your child can shop, work, and play! Let your little one "go to town" with these inventive playtime solutions. Bonus: they conveniently take up almost no storage space in your home.
There's a reason why Lego bricks have remained a favorite among kids all over the world since 1932. With the Duplo Lego collections designed specifically for kids ages 1 through 5, they are quite often the proverbial glue keeping our entire household's function and flow together in these unprecedented times. If you're new to Duplo, this set is a great one to start with.
If your littlest cutie pie isn't quite old enough for all the preschool-aged toys, set them up with a play gym that does more than meets the eye. The Lovevery Play Gym + Mat won the Parents' Choice award, and with good reason. It was designed by child development experts and made with safe, healthy materials for your baby. Of course, for babies and toddlers age 2 and younger, you just don't get the same amount or degree of freed up time, because they aren't ready for independent play. But, hey, when everyone's stuck at home, every second helps!
When it comes to having preschool-aged kids and elementary school-aged kids all learning from home together, the struggle—and the juggle—is real. Remember, there will be trial and error. This new normal isn't really normal (or fair, or smooth) at all, but at least it's temporary! Hang in there, mama; you've got this.