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Our first week during “Shelter in Place” working from home with our 5 year old definitely presented it’s challenges. Like many families, my husband and I both went from having 8 hours of uninterrupted work time to less than half that in a blink of an eye. It quickly became apparent that we needed to figure out how we could keep our daughter busy for blocks of time so we could get some stuff done.

We learned a lot that first week— testing and trying new things to improve productivity. Trading off melt downs and homeschool assignments– and even just a quick 20 minutes to shower.

If you want to hear the deep dive of what we learned and implemented—- I did a Facebook live alllll about it right here:

As the weekend approached, I knew the next week would have to be different if we were going to make this work so I started brainstorming ideas. The main question was—how could I create a pocket of uninterrupted time—maybe 90 minutes—to get stuff done while NOT handing my daughter her ipad or turning on the TV. And finally it hit me—truly I have to call it a download from heaven! I remembered one of the key tools that her preschool used to keep the kids engaged for an extended period of time without leaving their classroom. They called it CENTERS.

At school, it works like this:

The teacher sets up 4 or 5 different centers around the classroom with various activities, and the students would spend a set amount of time with their assigned group at each one, and then rotate to the next one.

So I figured—why not set up the same kind of thing at home?!

And I’ll even up the ante by putting a different center in each room so my 5 year old’s scenery will change along with her activity to give a feeling of additional movement and stimulation.

If you have more than one child, you could do this with each one working independently through each center, or put them together or in groups—just go with what will cause the least disruption for you. (And don’t be afraid to test different approaches or mix it up!) The main goal is to get you some time back!

Here’s exactly what I do each day:

  1. I set up 4 or 5 different centers depending on how much time I need. (Ideas GALORE below!)
  2. I set an old egg timer for 20 minutes and my daughter checks in with me when it dings to reset it. Then she carries it to her next activity.
  3. I create excitement and anticipation by inviting my daughter to pick 1 or 2 of her centers ahead of time that day.
  4. PROTIP— I make the second and fifth the most exciting centers (I mean, we know what our kids get the most jazzed about!) to keep her focused and enthusiastic as she goes.

Here’s how a week might look:

DAY 1:

Center 1: Smaller table top puzzles at the kitchen table! She zips through these quickly so I leave 3-5 for her to work through.

Center 2: Legos on the living room ottoman. “Build me something picture worthy to send your Teacher/Grandma/Dad, etc!”

Center 3: Since I run an Etsy shop and spend my work time in my studio and my daughter is an only child, I have her do one of her middle cycles in the room with me on my computer. We have a membership to and it’s very educational. I can still work and she gets some attention half way through. This seems to help her stay motivated to keep doing her centers!

Center 4: Coloring pages with markers in the Family/TV room.

PROTIP: I play music and have our dog hang out with my daughter. It makes her feel like she’s got company!

DAY 2:

Center 1: Educational worksheets (that don’t require assistance) and Scissor skills pages to cut out in the Family Room.

Center 2: Children of the World puzzle on the Living Room floor.

Center 3: in Mommy’s Studio.

Center 4: Painting Suncatchers in the Playroom.

Center 5: Seek & Find Sticker Pad at the kitchen table– It’s like Where’s Waldo for stickers with coloring as well!

DAY 3:

Center 1: Sparkle Play-doh in the Family Room.

Center 2: Large floor puzzle on the Living Room floor.

Center 3: Water painting and crayon coloring at the Kitchen table.

Center 4: Made by Me Quilt Making in the Playroom.

DAY 4:

Center 1: School work pages that are color by number at the Kitchen table.

Center 2: Duplos on the Living Room ottoman.

Center 3: in Mommy’s Studio.

Center 4: Kinetic Sand in the Family Room.

Center 5: Perler Beads in the Playroom. “We’ll use the iron to melt them all once you have several ready!”

DAY 5:

Center 1: Writing practice, workbook pages (that don’t require assistance), and Scissor’s Skills pages to cut out in the Family Room.

Center 2: Lite Brite in the Playroom.

Center 3: in Mommy’s Studio.

Center 4: Blocks in the Living Room. “Build me something picture worthy to send your Teacher/Grandma/Dad, etc!”

Center 5: Magnetic United States Puzzle on the fridge.


-Collage or dream board from magazine cuttings

-More than 1 kid? (Major advantages!):

  • Build a fort
  • Play a game (Go Fish, Candy Land, Connect 4, War, Chutes and Ladders, etc)
  • If your kids are old enough, do an outside rotation
  • Do a chores rotation (windows, vacuuming, laundry, dishes, baseboards, bedroom tidy, clean bathroom, pet or plant care, etc)

Things I purchased (and so glad I did!)

  1. Sparkle Play Doh: to have an alternative and mix it up a bit

2. Magnetic United States Puzzle: She does this on the fridge for a change of pace! Extra educational and brought up fun discussions about trips and where everyone in the family is from.

3. Lite Brite: Remember the hours of fun we had as kids?? I’m little sad about the dinky design now, but it’s practical, it works, and my daughter loves it. ? She does complain after a while that pushing the light bulbs in make her hands tired/hurt.

4. Children of the World puzzle: This puzzle is awesome! Lots of talking points about different cultures and it’s complicated enough to fill 20+ minutes for my daughter yet the pieces are large enough that she can handle them easily.

5. Paint by Sticker book: I like how this reinforces number recognition while also having an artistic element. Great for developing fine motor skills too!

6. Seek & Find Sticker Pad: This is like a Where’s Waldo activity with stickers. There are several different scenes and she has sticker for each thing she has to find on the picture. Then the sticker goes onto the page to mark the object/animal she found. Great quiet entertainment!

7. Scissor Skills Book: I could actually take or leave this particular book. It’s a bit underwhelming—but my daughter really enjoys a Center with things to cut out, so I included it here.

This Scissor Skills book is way better (but you also have to get the tape book!)

8. Made by Me Weaving Loom: Remember making all the potholders back in the day? This is an oldie but goodie. My daughter is 5 and just now able to do this without assistance. It will depend on the kiddo.

Here’s just some loopy refills if you already have a loom:

9. Made by Me Quilt Making: By tying simple knots, your kid can make their own quilt. There are more advanced and pretty techniques that old kids can use too—they’re outlined in the instructions. My 5 year old daughter had not learned how to make knots yet, so she needs assistance with this activity, but that’s OK, it’s been a fun learning opportunity. If your child can already tie a simple knot, they should be home free.

10. Kinetic Sand kit: This is literally like play doh sand. It’s not too messy—especially if you reinforce with your children to keep it on the provided tray. You may want to put a trash bag, small tarp, or paper bags under the play area for even easier clean up. This stuff will keep my daughter occupied for wayyyy longer than 20 minutes. I think everyone should have some!

11. Perler Beads: These are GREAT! Do you remember this from when we were kids? You make a design along little plastic pegs with these beads, then you use the special paper on them and a hot iron to melt them together? TIP: If you’re going out to Walmart (be careful out there!) they have these for about half the cost.

12. Paint Set for an Easel:  I really like this paint set for our easel. We got it for Christmas and the setup makes for easy clean up. I especially like the paint cups that can be sealed and have a lip to pull off glops of paint. Yay for mess prevention! ?

If you need an Easel: (This one triples as an easel, chalkboard, and dry erase board!)

13. Suncatchers on Amazon (I grabbed mine at Walmart, but these will work fine if you’d rather stay home and have them shipped.)

One more PROTIP:

I found a Kinder-Third grade advanced reading list! We are reading through this— I found some available digitally from my local library and ordered a few on Amazon too! My 5 year old daughter loves checking off the box to show we finished a book and then rating it by filling in the stars!

K-3 Mensa Reading List:

I hope these ideas are helpful! Let me know if you implement Centers in your home! I’d love to hear how it works out and if you’re able keep your kiddos busy for a chunk of time so you can get some stuff done. Share your stories and ideas that are working for you with us below in the comments! We’d love allllll the help we can get!

Happy Social Distancing!

Lizzie Smiley |