One of my fondest memories as a child is going to my mother's beauty salon and having my hair washed by a hairstylist in the big grown-up sinks. I realized many years later that washing my hair was just one way to buy time until my mother could finish her paperwork. But as a child it was special, memorable, and enchanting. I continue this tradition today with my own children, who often request to visit my office. The kids are always happy to obey the rules in exchange for a trip to the cafeteria, free time in the break room, computer games on a spare laptop, and a peek inside the special toy box I keep only at the office. Whether it's a planned day at work or an unexpected event, you can make the day go smoothly with just a little forethought and creativity.
First check in with your supervisor to clear the way for a visit from your children. This can be for a specific day or anytime in the future for unexpected visits. Not all work environments are safe for kids and those that are may have restrictions. If you work in an office, see if there is a free computer or workstation available for the kids to use. Stock the desk with supplies just for them: paperclips, sticky notes, pens, maybe even a disconnected phone for fun. If your work is more service-oriented, try to find a uniform shirt, badge or hat they could wear to make them feel official.
Of equal importance is taking time to have a talk with your children in advance of the visit. Make sure they understand the work rules and any safety concerns. Kids are accustomed to being quiet in libraries, churches, and at school assemblies, so try to relay your expectations by giving them an example that is familiar to them. Tell them what to expect of you, too, and some of the fun things you have planned, such as a trip to the company store and where you'll have lunch. Giving children something to look forward to teaches them that there are rewards for their patience as you finish your work.
Kids love to emulate their parents. Consider giving them "jobs" to do during their visit that would be of help to you and a valuable learning experience for them. Elementary school age kids can sort, file, and color-code with minimal instruction. Explain the task, give them all the supplies and try to gauge each job to run no more than 30 minutes. Young children need frequent breaks and should be situated close to you so that they feel secure in a new environment. Even if they frequently visit your workplace, keep them close by to supervise their behavior and ensure their safety. Older children might have their own schoolwork to do and can use the time to complete research or type up a report. Still, they need breaks too, so include time for refreshments or a walk outside together.
To break up the day and still get work done, include your children in errands you do around the office. Young children can help make photocopies, sort them out, and accompany you to deliver documents to co-workers. Instead of phoning a colleague, take your children along and go in person.
Like most people, kids would rather play than work, so include some time for "recess" at the office. Many work places are close to parks, trails, or even have their own recreational facilities. Take twenty minutes and throw a Frisbee around or play catch. You might even find some of your co-workers joining you!
In school, kids often get "free choice" time as a reward for finishing work. In the classroom they would be allowed to select from a center or station focused on a particular theme: blocks, imaginative play, manipulatives, reading corner. An easy way to set up a few stations of your own at work is to stock up in advance of their visit. That way, if you have an unexpected non-school day, you're ready for a full day at work with the kids. Once they've helped you around the office and completed their "work," present them with some options and let them choose. Here are a few ideas to get you started: