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A family crams into a crowded house. There is chaos as one parent tries to work on a laptop, while the other cooks. A baby is crying in a highchair while another child is doing homework in a book. Illustration.

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7 ways to optimize your home for staying in with kids

How to make a better home—with kids—when you’re social distancing

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Does the novel coronavirus have you imagining life at home with your children for the next few weeks—or months?

Balancing activities, learning, and potentially your own workload as a parent can feel impossible. But a few small changes around your home can really help things run smoother, whether it’s creating a special reading nook for your kiddo or doubling down on organization.

Below, we’re sharing our best tips for making the most of your space when you have to be home with kids for extended periods. Have your own tip to share? Add them in the comments section below.

Create a cozy nook

We could all use a bit of extra self care at the moment, and many children feel most comforted when they are snuggled up in a special place. Grab a few extra blankets or pillows and make a reading nook in a corner; alternatively, many online stores sell easy-to-assemble play tents that kiddos will happily crawl in to with their stuffed animals. Pair this with a picture book, an audio book, or some music for at least a few minutes of uninterrupted play.

Make snacks accessible

There’s no getting around the fact that children of every age will undoubtedly ask for something more times than you can count—especially if you’re trying to work from home. Take one thing off the table by making snacks easily accessible by buying or repurposing household items: add a snack-specific shelf to a rolling cart or use a hanging shoe organizer packed with tasty morsels that kids can access themselves.

Don’t want to buy anything new? No problem; simple solutions work, too. Clean out a lower drawer in one of your pantry or kitchen cabinets and dump a bunch snacks inside. You might also add a few cups, bowls, and plates to the mix.

Designate a kid’s learning space

Just like adults, kids need a dedicated work space. Many of us don’t have space for a kids-only desk, but with a few tools you can accomplish the same thing. Grab an unused basket or tote from around the house and put in markers, pencils, a few pens, paper, and other supplies—the basket can move with your kiddo to different work stations.

Alternatively, stock up your child’s school backpack with everything they might need—iPads and headphones included—and use it to store their learning supplies. Younger kids love “typing” on an unused keyboard, especially if you set it up next to your own laptop. If you do want to buy a new desk for your child, opt for something compact and streamlined or a desk that you can reconfigure as your child grows (like the Elfa coloring table, below).

Use a visual calendar

Kids do best when they understand what’s coming, so a routine is key. And even if you don’t show your children a daily or weekly schedule, having a plan can make you feel better, too. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours making a color-coded masterpiece, however. A simple white board can do the trick, or change it up each day with a giant sticky Post-It that outlines the day’s activities.

Double-down on the mudroom

When kids are home a lot, chaos reigns. Children will drop shoes, socks, jackets, hats, sunglasses and the like throughout the house, peeling layers off without regard for order. Stop the madness with a bit of mud room organization. The ideal space? Cubbies for each person with a place for hanging items, a drawer for gloves and hats, and a spot for shoes.

Small-space living can make this a tall task, but even if you live in a cramped apartment, try to keep order. Hooks—everywhere—are your friend, as are baskets for shoes or a compact bench. Hang smaller hooks and utility boards where tiny hands can’t reach them, but where your keys and sunglasses can be safe.

ClosetMaid 3-Cube Storage Bench

  • $65

This well-reviewed bench comes in four colors and is beloved by editor Jenny Xie. She says, “I fantasize about having a spacious mudroom one day, but since I live in a small city apartment, this will have to do! It has enough ‘cubby charm’ for my entryway, while the bench seating is super helpful for unloading loading coats or packages.”

Plant a garden

With spring on the way and lots of time at home, there’s no better time to plant a garden. If you live in a small apartment, opt for container gardening with a few well-placed plants either inside or on a small balcony. When space is at a premium, don’t underestimate the power of going vertical. Simple utility carts become an overflowing mini-jungle, and a few hanging pots can work wonders on the ambiance of an outdoor space.

Also, don’t sleep on seeds or kits. These allow kids to see the full growing process and can keep them busy watering and monitoring the plants on a daily basis. Don’t want to buy seeds online? The New York Times has a guide on cultivating seeds from your own fridge.

EarthBox Garden Kit

  • $45

Want to turn that black thumb into a green thumb? Try out this wheeled garden box growing kit. Great for vegetables or flowers, the kit comes with foolproof instructions, the container, and fertilizer; just add planting mix, seedlings, and water.

Do what works

Have a three year old who won’t stop bugging you? Sometimes, we have to do what works, regardless of aesthetics. This can look different depending on the circumstances: If you have a compact toddler slide that can fit in the living room, now’s the time to move it indoors. Need to fill up the bathtub and let the kids run wild with shaving cream? Go for it. Does your kiddo love to mix and match all of the pots and pans? No judgement here.

Both kids and parents will need to be flexible over the next few months, and that’s ok.