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25 Frugal (and Fun!) Ideas for Keeping Kids Busy While You Work From Home

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Being a work at home mom is pretty amazing most days. But there’s one big challenge you might face: keeping kids busy so you can get things done. 

I’ve totally been there.

When I first started side hustling as a new mom, I had my hands full with a newborn and a toddler.

Then when I became a single mom, I decided to turn my side hustle into a full-time freelance writing business. And did I mention, I was homeschooling them at the time?

Trying to scale a business while still being a mom to a very active five-year-old and a seven-year-old wasn’t easy. And since they were always home with me, I had to be creative about finding things for them to do so I could work.

So yeah, I completely get how important keeping kids busy is as a work at home mom.

You need time to really focus, otherwise, your productivity can suffer. When you can’t be productive in your business or blog, you get frustrated.

And really, who wants that?

So the answer is simple: have a list of ideas for keeping kids busy at the ready.

If you’re stumped for things to do, don’t worry. I’ve put together a list of simple activities for keeping kids busy for you.

These ideas are ones that were super-popular with my kids when they were little. (Heck, some of these they still do now even though they’re both entering tween territory. 🙂 )

Ready to work on growing your blog and business from home? This list can totally save you (and make your kids pretty happy too! )

25 Budget-Friendly Ideas for Keeping Kids Busy as a WAHM

keeping kids busy1. Mix Up Some Slime

My son loves making slime. And I kind of get the fascination.

It’s fun to mix up all the ingredients and watch them turn into something else. And squishing slime between your fingers is oddly calming, at least for me.

My son is old enough to follow directions and make slime on his own but your kids might need a little help. If you’re looking for some fun slime recipes, check out these ideas from Little Bins Little Hands.

2. Or Try Oobleck Instead

So, oobleck is kind of like slime but not.

When you push on it, it becomes firm but if you let it go it oozes all over the place. Weird, right?

I’d never heard of it until we went to a class at our library and they were mixing it up. But once we made it there, we just had to make it again at home.

Creating an oobleck sensory bin is a great option for keeping kids busy if you have toddlers. The Artful Parent has a great roundup of sensory activities you can do with oobleck, plus a super-simple recipe for making it.

3. Break Out the Art Supplies

One of my favorite ways of keeping kids busy on rainy days is having an indoor arty party.

Cover your kitchen table with newspaper or cheap plastic tablecloth and break out the paints, markers, crayons and paper.

If your kids are old enough, give them some old magazines, a pair of safety scissors and some glue, then encourage them to make their own collages.

And if you want to give them an art project that’s focused around a specific theme, Deep Space Sparkle is my go-to pick for ideas. We use Patty’s curriculum in our homeschool and absolutely love it.

4. Take Your Work Outdoors

Back in my side hustling days, the home we owned had a big backyard with a deck, sandbox and swingset.

On nice spring and fall days, I’d take my laptop outside and work on the deck while the kids dug in the sandbox, chased after bugs or played on the swings.

I was able to get things done, they got some exercise and we all got to enjoy the nice weather, which was a total win-win.

So if you have a great backyard space, give working outside a try. Pro tip: Sit in a shady spot; otherwise, you’ll never be able to see your laptop screen.

5. Build an Indoor Fort

When my kids were younger, we had a teepee set up in our playroom. They’d stay in that thing for hours playing or reading or taking naps.

We don’t have the teepee anymore but my son still loves to build pillow forts.

And if your kids do too, then help them set one up in the living room. Grab some pillows, blankets and chairs, a few favorite toys or books, then let them while away the time in their little hideaway.

You’re keeping kids busy, feeding their imagination and getting work done, which makes for a productive day.

6. Haul Out the Blocks

Blocks — whether they’re the wooden kind or the big plastic Duplo ones — can be a life-saver for work at home moms.

I don’t know about you but my kids could spend all day building, destroying and rebuilding castles out of those things. They got me in on the action more than a time or two once my work day was done.

If you have younger kids, you can just dump out the blocks and let them have it. But if your kids are a little older, give them a challenge to make it more fun.

For example, ask them to build a castle or make a bridge out of their blocks. Their hands (and heads) stay busy and you’re sneakily teaching them about engineering at the same time.

7. Make a Dino Park

What young kid doesn’t love dinosaurs?

My son was a total dinosaur freak. At three, he could recite all these complicated names for dinosaurs, including a few I’d never heard of.

If you have a child that loves dinosaurs, here’s a really simple idea for keeping kids busy:

  • Buy a clear plastic shoebox or bin from the dollar store
  • Throw in some sand, twigs and fake moss
  • Add in some plastic dinosaurs

And voila! You’ve got your own Jurassic Park.

I made these little terrariums for my kids several times and they loved playing with them. If you’re really ambitious, you could add in a bowl of water with a few drops of blue food coloring mixed in to make a lake or pond.

keeping kids busy

8. Give Them a Stack of Puzzles

Puzzles were another one of my go-to methods for keeping kids busy when they were younger.

We had all kinds: big floor puzzles, wooden puzzles in a frame, regular cardboard puzzles. I could usually get at least 30 minutes of work time in before my kids got bored and wanted to move on to something else.

So, clear a space on the living room floor or the kitchen table and pull out the puzzles. Just steer clear of ones that have any small pieces that could be a choking hazard if you’ve got littles.

9. Try Some Water Play

I don’t know what it is about splashing in water that gives kids such a thrill. Honestly, I hate being wet. Wet and cold are like my two least favorite things ever.

But if your kids like the water, then water play activities are a simple way to keep them busy. And depending on what’ involved, it’s something they can do indoors or out.

For example, my son used to enjoy filling up a plastic tub full of water and swimming his toy sharks around in it. (And be smarter than I was and put a towel down first.)

If you’re trying to work from home while the kids are out on summer vacation, you can take the water play outside.

Water balloons, a sprinkler or just the hose can all do the job when it comes to keeping kids busy. Fireflies + Mud Pies has an excellent list of water play ideas you can try.

10. Fridge Magnets

Fridge magnets are a cheap and simple way to keep kids entertained while you work.

You slap ’em on the fridge and let the kids have at it.

We just had those ABC/123 ones you can get at the dollar store and some “Cars” ones we found at a yard sale. But if you want to get fancy with your fridge magnets, Amazon has lots of options you can try.

11. Dress-Up

Aah, dress-up. I never indulged in this kind of pretend play as a kid but my kids loved it.

(My son will be 10 soon and he still dresses up almost daily. We just call it cosplay now ’cause we’re grown-ups, alright? 🙂 )

If your kids love dress-up too then have a dress-up day. Pull out all their old Halloween costumes, the Disney princess dresses, old clothes you no longer wear and let their imaginations run wild.

12. Blow Bubbles

Bubbles are one of the best and cheapest options for keeping kids busy.

Seriously, you can buy a pack of six bottles of bubble blow (that’s what we call it — don’t judge me) for a buck at the Dollar Tree. Or, you can make your own bubble soap at home for cheap using this recipe from The Artful Parent.

Chasing bubbles around the backyard is silly fun for kids and more work time for you.

13. Give Them Cardboard Boxes

Cardboard boxes are a great multi-purpose tool for keeping kids busy while you work.

For smaller kids, a cardboard box can become a cave, a car, a submarine — whatever they can think of.

For an older kid, it can become a piece of art. My son makes his own cosplay and 90% of it’s made from cardboard and duct tape.

And if you don’t believe me that a cardboard box can lead to hours of play, take a look at this epic list of cardboard box activities and crafts from Happily Ever Mom.

14. Set Up Some Stencils

Stencils are another artsy thing my kids enjoyed when they were little.

We found a whole binder of them at a yard sale once. (Yard sales and thrift stores were my go-to’s for saving money back in the day.)

They would go through a whole stack of printer paper outlining animals and different shapes.

Check out the craft store, Walmart or Amazon to see what kind of stencils you can find. I recommend the hard plastic ones as a sturdy option for younger kids.

15. Dollar Store Crafts

Dollar stores are great for buying any kind of cheap craft items.

For example, our dollar store sells pom-poms, glitter glue, colored popsicle sticks, googly eyes, paint by number kits, foam crafts — all for $1. How can you beat that?

It’s amazing how creative kids can be when you let them and mine have made some pretty interesting stuff from dollar store craft items. And they’re totally budget-friendly, which is even better.

16. Make Sticker Art

Stickers are another super cheap idea for keeping kids busy as a work at home mom.

I used to give my kids stickers from the dollar store and construction paper and let them make their own mini-books or art scenes. It was a really low-stress way to keep them occupied and they always enjoyed it.

Just make sure you set some rules about stickers with younger kids. Like, no eating them and no sticking them on things they’re not meant to be stuck on. I learned both those lessons the hard way.

17. Make Cloud Dough

Okay, so cloud dough can (and probably will) make a HUGE mess. But omg, is it fun for kids.

You mix the right ratio of flour and baby oil together and you’re done. It’s squishy and soft and you can even make it colorful if you want.

Cloud dough is a great sensory bin option. You can throw in a plastic cup or some small beach shovels or toys and let kids dig in.

And if you’re worried about the mess, consider doing this one outside or putting down a plastic tablecloth first.

18. Dry Erase Boards

Dry erase boards were another dollar store buy my kids enjoyed as littles. They could draw all day without wasting any paper.

You can stick them on the fridge if you want but my kids always carried theirs around with them. If you want to sneak in a little early learning, give them alphabet flash cards and ask them to try to copy the shapes they see.

19. Window Paint Markers

If your kids love drawing like mine did (and still do), window paint markers could be a great busy-time activity.

You can score at pack at Walmart for around $5 and they work great on glass windows and doors. Just make sure you let kids know that they’re for windows only — not walls.

20. Face Paint

Face paint is messy, creative and fun, all things kids love. And if you’re okay with a little mess, it’s another option for keeping the kiddos busy while you work.

My son still does face paint in fact. We got some great face paint markers off Amazon for around $12 that wash off easily and don’t stain clothes.

If you prefer to go the all-natural route for face paint, you could always try mixing up some of your own.

21. Simple Board Games

If you have multiple kids at home, board games are something they can do together.

Stick with games that have easy rules so you don’t have to stop working and explain something every five minutes. Some of the ones we liked (and still do) include Connect 4, Trouble, Guess Who and Operation.

22. Sidewalk Chalk

I like us to get outside as much as possible while the weather is nice and sidewalk chalk is great (and frugal) entertainment for kids.

A cool way to turn up the fun is making sidewalk chalk paint. You can make it with stuff you have at home already; you may just need to buy some plastic bottles to keep it in.

Your kids can turn the sidewalk or driveway into a masterpiece for a day, then wash it away with the hose. (And as a bonus, they could squeeze in some water play too!)

23. Balloons

Okay, so obviously if you have younger kids balloons are maybe not the best idea. But if your kids are a little older, say around five and up, balloons are a cheap way to have fun.

You can fill them up with water for a water balloon fight. Or you can just blow them up and let them bounce them around the house.

My kids loved to see who could keep their balloon in the air the longest. And as long as they didn’t break anything, I was fine with them doing that so I could work on my business.

24. Sensory Bags

If you don’t like the mess that sometimes goes along with sensory bins, you can try sensory bags instead.

It’s as simple as getting a big Ziploc bag, filling it up with sensory items, sealing it and handing it off to your kids. If you need some ideas for what to put in a sensory bag, check out this roundup from Hands On As We Grow.

25. Bring Out the Books

Books are personally my favorite method for keeping kids busy. I’m a huge book nerd so I love to see my kids enjoying a good book.

For younger kids and toddlers, picture books and board books are great. I also like pop-up books, although they may not be best for really little littles.

And if your kids get fidgety and need to move around, consider audiobooks instead. Even if they’re doing another activity and not 100% focused on the book, it’s still a good way for them to pick up new words and concepts.

What About Screen Time for Keeping Kids Busy?

To use screen time or not to use screen time as a keep-them-busy tool when you’re a work at home mom? That is the question, right?

Personally, I make no judgments on whether you use screen time for keeping kids occupied or not. And sometimes it’s necessary.

But that doesn’t mean it automatically has to be wasted time. If you’re using screen time as a diversion for kids, try making it educational.

When my daughter was preschool and kindergarten age she could not get enough of those BBC nature documentaries. I don’t know if it was the animals or how soothing David Attenborough’s voice was but she just ate it up.

My son still likes playing educational games online, especially ones that involve math or puzzles. has lots of games for kids from preschool all the way up to middle school.

And both my son and daughter like watching the mini-lessons on Mystery Science.

keeping kids busy

What’s Your Favorite Way to Keep Kids Busy While You Work From Home?

Do you have a go-to tip to share on how to keep your kids occupied so you can be a productive mom boss?

Head to the comments and tell me about it, then pin and share this post if it helped you!

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Hi there, I'm Rebecca, homeschooling single mom of two. I built a six-figure freelance writing business from home and now I teach busy moms how to save money, make money and master their time! Follow me on Pinterest and Twitter and don't forget to check out the Resource Library--it's packed with tons of free tools to help make the busy mom life easier!


  1. We love to build obstacle courses and have nerf gun wars.

    Most often we try to combine the two, although cops and robbers is the current favourite. I have to keep scouring the garden for nerf bullets before I cut the grass!

    Really great list, I’m pinning for future reference, thank you x
    Claire recently posted…A Game of Thrones – The best bitsMy Profile

    • Nerf gun wars happen here too, although we do them inside a lot of times. I haven’t tried an obstacle course, that’s a good idea too!

    • Puzzles are always fun, I wish my kids were still as interested in them now as they used to be. They do like to draw though and can do that for hours it seems like some days. 🙂

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