When you bring home a new baby, life is turned upside down for older siblings. Suddenly parents are very busy taking care of all the baby’s needs. An older sibling may be feeling bored or ignored. What’s a family to do? Busy bags to the rescue!
Busy bags (activity bags or quiet boxes), are essentially simple and engaging activities that your child can do independently while you attend to other things—typically baby. That means you will want to scale the activities to fit the skills of your child. Most busy bags use inexpensive materials, often found around your house. Prepare them in advance so they are ready at the moment you need them.
Another trick to busy bags is to only include materials that can be cleaned up easily and won’t cause permanent damage. (Don’t ask us how we know!) This excludes typical art supplies like crayons, markers, and scissors for many kids. Save those for times when you are able to provide a little more supervision.
Like most things in our world nowadays, you can check Pinterest and find about a billion, okay, maybe only a million, ideas for busy bags. But to save you some time, we have included some of our favorite ideas below.
There are many storage options. One of the easiest is for each activity to go into its own large Ziploc bag. Some people prefer pencil pouches or boxes. It doesn’t really matter how you store them, just that you have them ready when you need them.
These busy bags use items that you have around the house or can purchase easily and inexpensively.
1. Pushing Pipe Cleaners Kids love pipe cleaners! All you need are pipe cleaners and a colander. Grab that one you never use from the kitchen or hit the dollar store. They will have a blast pushing the pipe cleaners into the colander holes. An alternative option is to remove the label and wash out an old parmesan cheese container. Yep, the kind with the green lid. Cut the pipe cleaners in half and watch your toddler have a blast inserting the pipe cleaners into the container.
2. Pipe Cleaner Letters If your kid is learning letters, print off some large-print alphabet pages. Let your child use the pipe cleaners to either cover the letters on the page or re-create the letters next to the page.
3. Tongs and Pom-Poms The possibilities of this simple combination are almost endless. Your child can use tongs to put pom-poms in a water bottle or to transfer from one bowl to another. If your child is working on matching colors, take an egg carton and paint or color the bottom of each spot. Have your child put the pom-poms in the corresponding color spot. Mama OT offers 50 ideas of things to do with tongs!
4. Bean Box (Sensory Boxes) These can’t be kept in a bag, but the bean box is a favorite with children who are past the put-everything-into-the-mouth stage. You will need a large plastic tub. Buy some beans in bulk and dump them into the box along with a variety of small trinkets, cups, spoons, and whatever else you find around the house. Kids will play in the box much as they would in a sandbox, but it is so much easier to clean up. Some people use rice or shredded paper in place of beans, but we find beans easiest to clean up when we’re done.
5. Velcro Popsicle Sticks It might surprise you how long kids will sit and play with these. All you need to do is get some large popsicle sticks (the colored ones are more fun) and self-adhesive velcro dots. Add a soft dot to one end and a scratchy dot to the other of each popsicle stick. Voila! Kids can make shapes, letters, or whatever their little hearts desire.
If you’re short on time, many toys make for great busy bags!
1. Mr. Potato Head Instead of leaving this classic toy on the shelf for any time play, make it into a busy bag. Mama OT explains that not only is Mr. Potato Head fun, but it’s also a great toy for development! Keep an eye out at garage sales and other resale shops to keep the cost low.
2. Lacing Cards These are another great option, especially for older toddlers and preschoolers. Whatever your child loves, from animals to princesses, you can probably find a set of lacing cards to fit that theme and capture your child’s attention.
3. Perler Beads Did you know that Perler beads come in two sizes? Those tiny ones are perfect for older preschoolers, but there are bigger ones that even some toddlers can enjoy. They can make their own design or follow templates. They can create a project to keep or to dump, depending on how they feel that day.
4. Beads and String You can buy these as kits or assemble them yourself. Young children will love the large wooden beads to string on a shoelace. Older children will enjoy stringing pony beads to make necklaces and other creations. It is easy to scale to your child’s ability.
5. Dollar Spot at Target We know we aren’t the only ones who get caught looking through the dollar spot at Target. Next time, go with busy bags in mind. You might be surprised at how many great items there are to keep your kids busy and for very little cost. You might consider checking your local dollar store for more ideas.
However you use them, busy bags are an all-around win. Your older child will feel special as you pull out new activities just for him or her. You will be able to take care of the other things calling your attention.
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