Don’t look now, but back-to-school time is here! Peeeeewwwwww…. did you see that? That was your summer. It just flew by!

I love spending extra time with the kids over the summer, but I’ll admit I do a little happy jig when it’s time for them to go back to school. The constant complaining of being “bored” and the just-as-constant fighting with them over too much screen time and not enough reading/workbook time gets tiresome. Plus they miss their friends and a regular schedule. School is a good thing.

Like many of you, my kids first day of school is a half day. It’s one of maybe half a dozen half-days throughout the school year.

I don’t know about you, but I find half days tricky as a working mom. I can never convince myself to just be off. After I send the kids on their way in the morning, I find a nice little peaceful working groove while they’re gone, and it’s hard for me to turn that off after they come home.

But of course, after they come home, they demand attention.

So what’s a momma to do? Throw some lunch at them and then encourage some mother-freakin’ independent play for a few hours, that’s what!

If you find yourself needing a way to keep kids busy on half days, fear not! Here are 7 of my favorite creative (and mostly screen free!) independent activities for kids to occupy themselves on half days so you can actually get some work done.

Here are 7 creative ways to keep kids busy on half days - so you can actually get some work done!

1.  Jigsaw Puzzles

Age-Level: 5-10

Interruption-free Time: 10-30 minutes

Jigsaw puzzles are a time-honored screen-free way to keep kids of all ages occupied. But Remember that younger students may have less stamina and tolerance for these types of puzzles than older, even if the puzzles are age-appropriate. So they may be closer to the 10-minute mark than the 30.

2.  Play-Doh

Age Level: 5-8

Interruption-Free Time: 20-30 minutes

Play-Doh is another time-honored, classic toy that never seems to go out of style (The smell alone brings back fond memories of my childhood!) For kids who may be starting to outgrow Play-Doh, try giving them a fun challenge like making a Play-Doh version of themselves, creating a structure with Play-Doh and pretzel sticks, or creating their name out of Play-Doh.

3.  GoNoodle

Age-Level: 5-10

Interruption-Free Time: At least 30 minutes

This is the one and only device-based activity but, honestly, it’s a pretty cool one. If you haven’t heard of GoNoodle before (NOT an affiliate link) is a free, interactive, web-based program that encourages kids to move around and burn some energy to fun rhyme-timey songs. Appropriate for ages 5-10, the original songs and moves are catchy enough to buy you at least 30 minutes good minutes of interruption-free time.

4.  Sidewalk Chalk

Age Level: 5-9

Interruption-Free Time: 30 minutes

Sidewalk chalk is a great way for artistic kids (or… kids who just like to draw on any- and everything, like mine) to color their world without fear of getting in trouble. I give this bonus points for this being an outdoor activity, which is a great way to take advantage of the weather while it’s still warm outside. Hopscotch, mazes, or free drawing can keep kids occupied for a surprisingly (and refreshingly) long time!

5.  Red Plastic Cup Tower Building

Age Level: 5-10

Interruption-Free Time: 30 minutes

Props to my friend Lara who introduced me to the simple pleasures of building towers with red plastic cups. I first witnessed this activity at a birthday party for her 9-year-old, and I was completely awestruck at how well it held the kids’ attention! This has become a go-to activity for parties, play dates, all those other “I’m bored” moments.

6.  Building a Fort

Age Level: 6-13

Interruption-Free Time: 30-90 minutes

Something magical happens when my kids construct a playspace that’s all their own – the independence and mystery and privacy is thrilling to a young person who doesn’t typically get a lot of those things. Forts don’t have to be super complex – pillows and blankets and maybe a couple of chairs are usually all that’s needed to create this small hideaway.

7.  Playdates

Age Level: 5-14

Interruption-Free Time: 45-90 minutes

All of the above activities can be combined with a playmate, and play dates are my absolute favorite way to keep kids busy on half days when I need to get a few things done. At the risk of stating the obvious, the key here – especially if you’re planning on getting work done while the play date is happening – is to make sure the playmate is someone your kids get along with well. Nothing ruins your work groove and a good playdate faster than constant bickering and arguing between “friends.” Obviously, younger children will need constant supervision (but hey, that’s what laptops are for, amIright?), and I even make sure my older kids are within earshot of me at all times.

Ok, The Kids Are Occupied… Now What??

After I set the kids up with their activity of choice, I go into “get it done” mode. Remember, you’ll have on average about 30 minutes of uninterrupted time before you’ll have to get the kids set up for the next activity. To take advantage of this time, I deploy my super-simple 4-step productivity strategy and do what I can in those 30 minute blocks. (I will have an even more detailed post of my most effective productivity strategies coming soon – I have literally tried them ALL!)

What are your favorite ways to keep kids busy and playing independently on half days? Are there any that I missed? I’d love to hear from you, so drop me a note in the comments below!

Cheers to the Journey, you busy, multi-taskin’ momma, you!