Most American schools and many daycares are closed for the foreseeable future, and parents are looking for ways to both educate and occupy their kids at home while social distancing.
And it doesn’t take long for kids to start suffering from Too Much Togetherness, picking fights with each other, and badgering you for screen time. Your kids need some space from each other, and you need some alone time.
My solution? Kid Stations. I use them every summer, and I’m using them while my kids are out of school because of the coronavirus. Kid Stations help me (and my four kids) not only survive but actually enjoy extended time at home. It’s really easy to implement. Every day we’re home, usually after lunch, I set up a series of activities around the house, and my kids rotate through them individually.
The kids get a break from each other, and since they’re rotating every 20 minutes or so, it’s nonstop fun for them. For me, it’s almost 1 1/2 hours of peace to either enjoy some downtime or to get something done around the house. It’s a win for all of us.
When you see how simple and effective Kid Stations are at giving everyone space from each other and yet still keeping things fun, they’ll become your favorite activity during these weeks of social distancing.
Survival Mode: Step One
Start by planning 3-4 stations.
How many you choose will depend on how many kids you have and how much time you want to fill. Plan for at least the same number of stations as you have kids. I have four kids, so I typically do four stations.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Plan for a specific craft from Pinterest or just set out a wide variety of art supplies and let them go wild.
Educational Screen Time Station
Let the little ones play on websites or apps like ABCYa!, Starfall, or PBS Kids. The big kids can do activities on Nova, Cool Math Games, or Khan Academy.
For the big kids, set out a deck of cards to play Solitaire or board games that can be played alone like Boggle, Scrabble, or Storycubes.
Busy Bags Station
Busy bags are perfect activities for toddlers and preschoolers. If you’re not familiar with them, look on Pinterest for plenty of ideas.
Give them something fun or meaningful to write, like a letter to a grandparent or a Christmas wish list.
Make sure you’re well-stocked with books. This is a great station for making progress on your kids’ reading comprehension.
Fun Screen Time Station
Let them pick a parent-approved app or website to play on.
Active Play Station
Set out your kids’ favorite toys like Legos, Snap Circuits, Littlest Pet Shop, or Little People.
School-like Work Station
Give them a couple of Summer Bridge workbooks or find activity sheets online specific to something your child loves to study. For the little kids, you can use activity books that teach them phonics, to follow directions, or to practice their scissor skills.
If the current CDC recommendations and the weather allow for it, encourage them to get some fresh air by playing in the backyard, jumping on the trampoline, or practicing their ball skills in the garage.
Let your kids become filmmakers by making stop-motion movies (with the Stop Motion Studio app) or movie trailers (with iMovie). They can show the whole family their creations later in the day.
Get them moving with apps like Yoga for Kids or Fitness Kids or the GoNoodle YouTube channel.
Put them to work with simple chores like vacuuming, picking up their room, or dusting. (Just make sure that all of your other stations are really fun.)
Have them help you get ready for dinner by making a salad, peeling potatoes, or opening cans. Or let them make a dessert. If one child doesn’t finish all the steps, the next one can take over to finish the recipe.
If you have a Wii, Xbox, or another gaming system, let them have a turn playing their favorite video game.
Whether they’re young or old, kids love the challenge of puzzles. You can give them an easy one that they can finish during their 25 minutes or a harder one that each of them takes turns working on.
Let them video chat with Grandma or Grandpa or a friend they haven’t seen in a while.
Give them free drawing lessons using the Art for Kids Hub YouTube channel. They can learn to draw most anything they want to—from a unicorn to Baby Yoda.
Survival Mode: Step Two
Decide on logistics and write out a schedule.
You need to decide how long each station will last, where it will take place, and which child will start there. I suggest 25 minutes for each one and spreading them out into different rooms.
Next create a schedule and show it to your kids. If they fight over who gets to go to the “most fun” station first (in my house it’s anything electronics-related), have them pick a number between 1-10 and the closest to your number gets to choose first.
Your schedule might look something like this based on 25-minute stations:
I-pad time in the Living Room - Child #1
Legos in the Basement - Child #2
Crafts at the Kitchen Table - Child #3
Reading time in Your Room - Child #4
Survival Mode: Step Three
Send your children to their assigned stations and set a timer.
Survival Mode: Step Four
Enjoy your quiet time.
You get to choose whether to do something fun for yourself or to get things done around the house. When the timer goes off, call out, “Time to switch!” And remind each kid which station to go to next. (Just move down the list of stations to keep it simple.)
Survival Mode: Step Five
Repeat until your kids have rotated through all of the stations.
If you still have a little one napping, use stations for the big kids during naptime.
If your kids are young, start with 15-minute stations first, then gradually increase the time over a week or so. Bigger kids can usually do 25-30 minutes each.
You could also use stations to spend one-on-one time with each child. To do that, just make one of them a Play with Mom/Dad station. Then as each child rotates through, he’ll get some individual attention and fun.
Kid Stations can be a parent’s best friend during extended time at home. I know I will be using them while my kids are out of school. Try them, tweak them for your family, and enjoy the peace and quiet (and lack of arguing!) that they bring.
Sandi Haustein is a freelance writer and mom of four who writes while her kids are doing stations. She blogs at thewelcomingtable.com.