How to Keep Your Kids Busy and Get Work Done

To the grownups working, homeschooling, and parenting – we salute you. Keeping kids entertained and engaged is not easy. Father of two and educator, Matthew Jervis sought solutions for this struggle and wrote a book to provide fellow parents with tips, tricks, and activities for keeping kids busy at home.

KiwiCo: Tell us about your book and why you wrote it. 

Matthew Jervis: As an educator, I was teaching hands-on problem solving classes for elementary school kids that included a series of design challenges using random things pulled out of a hat. At the same time, I was a working single parent with kids of my own that I needed to keep busy. I wrote the book because, though I love my kids and want to spend every waking minute with them, the reality is – I can’t. Sometimes Dad has to work, pay the bills, run errands or talk to other adults. My goal in writing the book was to reframe boredom into a series of potential adventures full of fun lessons and goofy games that might actually teach kids to be self-reliant.

KiwiCo: What are some simple tricks you recommend to turn boredom into fun for kids? 

Matthew Jervis: The key is to turn the everyday into something fun and challenging. You want to grab the kids attention in a fun way with things that might encourage them to be excited about participating in household projects like folding laundry! My own dad was a master at being able to get my brother and me to do the right thing. He was the master at gamifying the mundane, making it a learning experience but mostly, just making it really fun!

KiwiCo: The activities are written like recipes with an estimated time for each activity. How did you decide on this format?

Matt Jervis: When you are stuck at home with your kids, time management is everything–so each activity comes with an ideal timeframe. Giving kids an activity or project that buys a comfortable 20 to 30 minutes to finish an email, or simply collect yourself, is essential to the well-being of parents everywhere!

KiwiCo: What are some of your favorite at-home activities?

Matthew Jervis: All of the games, projects and activities in the book rely on common household items. No special equipment required.

  • The All American Junk Drawer – Every household has a junk drawer that is an adventure waiting to happen. For kids 6 and older, pull out the junk drawer (take out sharp objects) and ask your kids to sort the objects in piles to organize. Then give them challenges like: Sort the piles by type of object; color code everything in the drawer like a rainbow; create faces by laying out on a table.
    • Recommended ages: 6+
    • Keeps kids busy for: 30-40 minutes
  • Sock Matching Speed Trials – After many vain attempts to get my kids to fold the laundry, I devised a new tactic. I made a special game of it, a competition if you will (this is best with siblings). Encourage your kids to grab a pen, some paper, and a timepiece and see who can match and fold all the socks the fastest.
    • Recommended ages: 4+
    • Keeps kids busy for: 20-25 minutes
  • Dinner Menus – Helping to plan dinner along with little menus for the family is a great way to keep kids occupied post-homework while giving them something fun to do. Set them up at the kitchen table while you cook and let them create an illustrated list.
    • Recommended ages: 3+
    • Keeps kids busy for: 20-30 minutes
  • Alphabetize It – Wrap some lessons around alphabetizing a collection whether it’s canned foods (for smaller kids), books, or records. Depending on the collection, your kids might stumble across a record to listen to or book to read.
    • Recommended ages: 5+
    • Keeps kids busy for: 20-30 minutes

KiwiCo: Screentime is inevitable with online learning, so what’s your advice for parents who are looking for ways to work in screen-free learning?

Matthew Jervis: The key to getting kids to stop staring at their screens is to encourage them to see what is around them. For the best offline activity, I recommend scavenger and treasure hunts! Getting kids to look for things teaches them to explore, discover, and engage.

If you have access to outdoor space, I recommend the Found Rainbow project where you collect plants or objects by color. All of a sudden, you start seeing this whole rainbow of colors in your yard or out in front of your house; then you collect all your colors and assemble them into  a rainbow spectrum.

Older kids can take photos of things that look like letters like shadows or a tree branch that might arc like a C or swoop like an S. Have them take photos and try to spell out their names. It’s a great way of noticing the world around you, but also noticing how some things actually look like other things 

One time, I pranked my kids by telling them I hid two dollars (but only hid one dollar). They found the first dollar in 15 minutes but spent another hour looking for that second dollar! That bought me the time to write a big report for work. When I finally told them the truth, we had a huge laugh (well, I laughed). It’s been a good family story ever since. 

KiwiCo: Any other tips you can offer parents balancing a new normal at home? 

Matthew Jervis: Most importantly, it’s ok to have a sense of humor. For all of you stressing out that the amount of time you spend with your kids isn’t enough, the truth is that kids sometimes need to learn things on their own. In most cases, kids get bored because they have tapped out of their “idea reserves” and simply require new input. By stopping and taking a moment to switch how we look at each situation, we can offer our kids ideas to turn their everyday tasks into engaging opportunities.

Matt Jervis is the father of two and the founder of where he develops workshops for kids and adults. Previously he taught at the Academy of Art University and worked as a lead designer at Common Sense Media. His book is titled, How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids: Tricks, Tools, and Spontaneous Screen-Free Activities.

To learn more about Matthew, you can visit his website at or follow him on Instagram @makeitcreativity.

How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids © 2015 by Matthew Jervis. Published by Skyhorse Publishing.

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