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How to keep the kids busy when you're working from home

We look at some creative ways of using technology that mean your kids won't be staring at the TV for eight hours a day.

parent working from home with young child
Last updated: 23 March 2020

If you're stuck working from home with the kids, no doubt screens will be your saviour. But how can you use technology to your advantage without your children turning into zombies from watching eight-plus hours of Netflix a day?

Many CHOICE staff are already working from home during the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak. We asked them to share their best tips for using tech creatively to keep kids busy and active – and hopefully quiet so you can get some work done!

elderly couple talking with family on tablet via internet

How to use technology to beat social isolation

With social distancing measures in place and families with immune-compromised members already self-isolating, these can be lonely times. 

Technology can help ease the feeling of isolation – not just for kids, but also for family members you might be avoiding as they're in a high-risk category, such as grandparents. 

Two CHOICE staffers offer some tips:

  • "Use FaceTime or Skype so the grandparents can read books to your kids. They could even help you put younger kids to bed by telling them a story!" – Alice
  • "If your kids are being kept home from school, encourage them to video conference or Skype with their friends, and maybe share what they've been doing all day to keep up the social interaction" – Pru

You could also ask family members to take the kids to the zoo – virtually, of course. See our suggestions below for great places to 'visit'. 

How to keep your kids' brains engaged during screen time

If possible, try to get your kids to stick to structured screen time during school hours. This will keep their daily schedule in place and they won't end up wasting hours disappearing down a YouTube rabbit hole. Easier said than done, we know! 

If they're going to be staring at screens, they might as well expand their brains by learning about the world. Here are some more ideas from CHOICE staffers:

  • "Have your older kids watch space and nature documentaries. Neil DeGrasse Tyson's update of The Cosmos and Brian Cox's Human Universe are big hits in our house, as are adventure docos like Touching the Void and The Dawn Wall" – Tracy
  • "Instead of letting your kids just watch TV or stream YouTube all day, encourage them to listen to age-appropriate podcasts, audio books or stories. Spotify has lots of free stories for kids, from toddlers to older children. There's also a news podcast for kids called Squiz Kids" – Pru
  • "You can ask your kids' school what online resources they use. My niece would log onto a maths one where she would compete against kids from other schools, even in the holidays, plus another site where she was coding" – Siobahn
  • "Send kids on a photography mission into the backyard. They can then share their photos with friends and family, or use the internet to identify the birds, plants and insects they see" – Alice
  • "World Book Online has made its collection of more than 3000 eBooks and audiobooks available for free. They have books suitable for all ages. Project Gutenberg also has more than 60,000 free eBooks" – Pru

And here's some advice from CHOICE experts:

child with headphones doing homework and on laptop

If possible, try to get your kids to stick to structured screen time during school hours.

How to travel without leaving the house

International flights may be shutting down, but that's no reason to give up your dreams of showing your kids the world. Here's what CHOICE parents will be doing to expand their kids' worlds:

And some more ways to explore the world – and beyond:

(We found these and many more great suggestions in the Facebook group Family Lockdown Tips & Ideas.) 

How to keep your kids (and yourself) safe 

  • "If you're letting them use your iPad, ensure the relevant locks and restrictions are in place (to avoid unexpected purchases!). When my daughter watches YouTube, I use the YT Kids app instead of the standard app – this ensures she doesn't see inappropriate advertising and it remembers all her shows (and means Peppa Pig doesn't always pop up as a suggestion on my own YouTube)" – Pru
  • "Position your equipment near an outlet if possible so you don't need to run cables across the floor, creating a trip hazard. If this isn't an option, try to run your power leads in corners and against surfaces. Run an extension lead to your workspace and plug all your equipment into a powerboard – that way you only need to run a single cable along the floor, rather than one for your computer, monitor, phone charger, etc. And make sure cables for other devices are bundled up safely on your desk. Dangling cords are a magnet for kids and pets" – Peter
  • "Scammers are likely to take advantage of the current situation and you may start receiving emails or texts with links to educational resources, information, free content for kids and so on. Do not click links or pay for anything unless you can verify the source. If it seems a bit too good to be true, it probably is" – Peter

Here are our tips for turning off in-app purchases, and here's how to avoid phishing scams.

How to keep your kids active by using technology

  • "The stopwatch feature on your smartphone can be a secret weapon against boredom: tell your kid you're going to time how quickly they can run from one end of the garden to the other (or how quickly they can run around the dining table if you're in an apartment). For older kids, they might like to try to beat their personal best times" – Alice
  • "Have a dance party with a favourite Spotify playlist" – Marianna
  • "Cosmic Kids Yoga is great, as is Storyline Online" – Jane
child using stylus on tablet

How to foster creativity with technology

  • "If you're allergic to craft, there are some great colouring apps for iPads that will keep the paper mess to a minimum" – Alice
  • "Creative ideas for using an iPad: piano tutorials of pop songs; making stop-motions with Lego characters and other filmmaking activities; music instrument and beat-making apps, some drawing and designing apps (but be aware that many of these music and drawing apps just turn out to be more 'gamified' than you think)" – Tracy
  • "For older kids, get them to type the start of a story, then email it to another friend to write the next part of the story. They can pass it back and forth to complete the story" – Jason
  • "Have small children help you digitise the million artworks they've brought home from daycare. It'll give them something to do, and hopefully reduce clutter at the same time – winning!" – Alice
  • "You can design custom sneakers on the Nike app" – Tracy
  • "Try some interactive YouTube drawing videos, such as Lunch Doodles with Mo Willems" – Jane
  • "Sydney Story Factory has some fantastic creative writing resources" – Siobahn