Many work-at-home moms will say that time with their kids is one of the best perks of their employment arrangement. But they will also admit that time with their kids is one of the biggest obstacles in their employment arrangement.
Fortunately, with some thoughtful preparations and clever design ideas, anyone can create a smart space that excels at two jobs: home office for the boss, playroom for her smallest staffers. Done well, a double-duty setup earns mom a chance to turn her attention to the task at hand without having to banish the children to a back room to watch TV. And putting the kids to work executing the plan gains them the opportunity to put their mark on the final product, making them even more excited to play when mom has to punch in.
Here are a handful of tips for promoting a playroom-meets-workroom scheme in your house:
Behind The Desk
If your children are school-aged, consider setting up workstations for both you and the kids — they can tackle homework while you tackle your to-dos. And having you plugging away beside them will set a ‘taking-care-of-business’ tone. Consider installing a long work surface along one wall, and then break up the counter into individual workspaces using drawers underneath as dividers. Each person’s “cubicle” should contain the supplies he or she needs to complete their work — colored pencils, notebook paper, calculators, and graph paper for them; staples, envelopes, notepads, and pens for you. Allow each child to select desktop accessories to personalize their place.
Those with younger children might consider orienting their desks away from the wall, instead facing the room so that they can keep an eye on petite players while working. You also should be sure to wrangle wires and lamp cords to reduce the risk of having your electronics and accessories yanked from the desktop. Opt for a surge protector that closes to keep little fingers out of dangerous outlets, and then mount it to the underside of the desk to hide it away. Cable cord organizers and slim PVC pipe can also be employed for containing cords.
To accomplish its primary responsibility — keeping the children entertained and safe while you’re on the job — the playroom needs to both work hard and play hard. So set yourself up for success by including a number of zones that are both functional and fun. Outfit one corner with bookshelves or cubbies that can house baskets and bins for toys and books, then use the upper shelves for stowing those off-limits items that are necessary to an office but don’t need to be desk-side: the printer, a file sorter, and reference books.
Turn another nook into a craft corner complete with a small table, old magazines, paper, glue sticks, safety scissors, crayons, markers, stickers, and more (depending on the child’s age). Nearby, have the kids help you tape off and paint a chalkboard wall, which will provide them a creative outlet and may also come in handy for jotting your own notes and messages.
Lastly, give little ones a place to flex their imaginations, whether it’s a play kitchen, pretend train yard, or costume closet. Get the kids involved with collecting wacky clothes and accessories from thrift shops, party stores, and relatives to fill a DIY dress-up bin. For added appeal, spend time together decorating the outside of the trunk with paint or decals — in one afternoon, you can transform a simple wooden box into a treasure chest, a princess carriage, a pirate ship, a race car, or a jewel box that will play into your children’s fantasies for hours to come.
While blinking gadgets and buzzing gizmos provide a temporary distraction for your kids, they’ll likely distract you, too — and in the long run, such toys won’t hold their attention in a healthy way. When filling up the aforementioned baskets and bins, consider quiet toys like books, dolls, board games, and puzzles, as well as plenty of soft surfaces such as pillows and stuffed animals.
And unless you want to fight to focus over the songs and silliness of your children’s favorite cartoons, it’s best to skip including a television in this space. Instead, I recommend offering a kids’ hideaway for times when you need to make an important phone call or spend a few moments intensely concentrating: a reading tent, fabric fort, or pop-up playhouse, for example.
Change of Scenery
No matter how well you design your office-playroom combo space, eventually the kids will get bored. Be ready to offer them a change of scenery. If your kids are old enough to play outside on their own, situate your desk at a window that overlooks that backyard and be sure that your outdoor playset strictly meets safety standards.
For example, swings and other hanging components should be attached to a beam rather than monkey bars; the ground cover should be a soft material such as wood chips, sand, or rubber mulch; and the swing set should have a clearance of six feet around its entire perimeter. For added assurance, regularly check wooden playsets to ensure the framework is in good condition. (This can also be turned into a game with your kids — have them play “inspector” and look for problems with the equipment.)
Feel more comfortable being on site? Create a portable workspace for yourself with a Wi-Fi-enabled laptop and a wheeled file/supply box that can be rolled out onto the patio or deck whenever your kids want some fresh air.
What big ideas do you have for accomplishing work tasks while in the company of little ones?