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Preschool/Toddler Busy Activity Bags and Trays

Updated on August 3, 2013

Use busy bags and tray activities to keep toddlers and preschoolers busy during your homeschool

I have seven children and I homeschool. I have to juggle high school, middle school, elementary school and preschool all at the same time. How is a mom to keep her little ones occupied during homeschool? Busy Bags! Also known as Activity Bags, these are special activities perfect for toddlers and preschoolers to do during teaching time in our homeschool. They are simple to make and simple to use. I keep the busy bags in a special place and only bring them out during homeschool hours. I have also learned that I must rotate the activity bags often to keep them fresh. Here are 12 of my busy bags and how to make them. I am thinking of planning a busy bag swap with some of the other mothers in my homeschool group. For a swap, each person makes multiples of the same activity or busy bag, then each mom swaps the ones she made with ones that others have made. That way you get a variety of bags! I will be adding activities and busy bags as I build more, so stop back again. You can see my 2 year old having a great time occupying himself with a simple activity that is from one of our busy bags. He could do this all by himself and he did it over and over!

Busy Bag Basics

Or What's a Busy Bag anyway?

A busy bag or activity bag is a ziplock bag (or other type of bag) that contains a simple activity that your toddler or preschooler can do by himself or with you to learn new skills. They are simply little activities in a ziplock bag. It is important to use the ziplock bags that have the self zipper seal at the top so the little ones can open and close them by themselves. These are great to occupy your littles during homeschool times, while you are waiting for the food to be served at a restaurant or during a church service or event such as a wedding. They are simple and portable. Throw some in your diaper bag or your child's backpack. You can adapt any of these ideas to your own child. Many of my bags are simply enough for my 2 year old to do all by himself. The pom pom stuff it kept him occupied for a good 30 minutes!

Pom Pom Busy Bags

Pom Pom Stuff It - This is the one my little guy is playing in the intro picture

This is so easy to make. Simply get a plastic container with a lid and cut a small hole in the top of the lid. Then gather pom poms. Your toddler can dump the pom poms out and stuff them back in through the hole. My little guy is just barely two and he loved this activity! He did it over and over again! My 3 year old also loved it. Even my big guy at eight wanted to try it. This activity builds fine motor skills and you can teach colors and sorting and counting as you drop the pom poms into the container.

Get a big bag of Pom Poms! - You will use these for so many different activity bags!

Creative Arts by Charles Leonard Pom-Poms, Assorted Sizes/Colors, 300/Bag (69330)
Creative Arts by Charles Leonard Pom-Poms, Assorted Sizes/Colors, 300/Bag (69330)

So many of my busy bags use pom poms. I love all the assorted colors and sizes. You need a big bag. The kids love these too. My bigger kids love using the leftover pom poms to make all kinds of crafts and my little kids love the pom pom activities!

 

Pom Pom Color Sorting

This activity can be done several different ways. It grows with your child. The simplest way to play is to put one pom pom in each slot of an old ice cube tray. Two year olds can pick up pom poms and put them into the holes. You can teach one to one correspondence as you play this game. Older toddlers and preschoolers can match the colors of the pom poms to colors on the bottom of the slots. As your child builds fine motor skills, he or she can use a large tweezer or pincher to grasp the pom poms and put them into the slots. To make this game, I picked 2 of each color of pom pom. Then I got an old ice cube tray and colored the bottom of the slot with corresponding colors. This one didn't fit into a gallon zip lock bag, so I store it in a 2.5 gallon zip lock bag. I have a smaller plastic container to store the pom poms in also.

My three year old was thrilled when she figured out the tweezers!

You can see the excitement on her face when she finally figured out how to manipulate the large tweezers to pick up the pom poms!

Pom Pom Transfer - Another really simple Busy Bag to make!

Here's another pom pom activity that uses the tweezers. Use 2 bowls. Start with all of the pom poms in one bowl and have your child transfer the pom poms from one bowl to the other using the tweezers. You can use assorted sizes and colors and teach colors and compare sizes as you do this activity with your child. Or let her do it on her own. All you need for this one are two bowls and assorted pom poms. (Didn't I tell you to get the big bag of pom poms?!)

Magnetic Pom Poms

Simply hot glue mini magnets to the bottom of some more pom poms. Use a metal cookie sheet as your board. This busy bag activity can be used in so many different ways. Have your child copy or make patterns with the colored pom poms, move them around to free "draw," or create shapes with the magnetic pom poms. This would be a great homemade gift too! You could also use a magnetic white board as your board. You can add a magnetic letter or number and have them copy the letter or number using the pom poms. Older kids can spell out words using the pom poms.

Hot Melt Glue Gun with 40 Glue Sticks
Hot Melt Glue Gun with 40 Glue Sticks

I use my hot glue gun all the time!

 
EZ Baker Three Piece Cookie Pan Set
EZ Baker Three Piece Cookie Pan Set

I use these metal trays for many of my activities.

 
Sterilite 72408012 Stacking Ice Cube Tray, White, 12-Pack
Sterilite 72408012 Stacking Ice Cube Tray, White, 12-Pack

Ice Cube trays are so versatile for activity bags!

 
Bug Kit with Small net and Tweezers
Bug Kit with Small net and Tweezers

I used the tweezers from this set for many of my tweezer activity bags. My 2 year old also loves putting pom poms into this container and catching them with the net.

 

Which is your favorite Pom Pom Busy Bag? - (Pom Pom Transfer is shown in the picture)

So which one do you like best? It's surprising, my favorites are not always my kids' favorites.

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Color Busy Bags

Dinosaur Color Sorting

This is a color sorting busy bag. I found these little dinosaurs that I think originally came from a math game. Somewhere over the years we lost the math game, but we still had the dinos. Since there were six different colors of dinos, I used a 6 cup muffin tin for the base of this activity. I cut out circles of construction paper to match the colors of the dinosaurs and taped the circles into the bottom of each cup. The kids take the dinosaurs out and put them back in by color. My 2 year old just likes taking them in and out, but my 3 year old can sort them by color. Of course they all like to simply play with the dinosaurs. As long as they occupy themselves, I am happy. I don't need them to do the activity a certain way. You could also use assorted objects in various colors for each cup--they don't have to be matching items.

Colored Clips - This one builds fine motor skils

This is another color matching game. I cut rectangles of cardstock and used colored paper clips. I picked the largest paper clips I could find to make it easier. This one was too hard for my 2 year old to manipulate, but my 3 year old could put the clips on by herself. Start with all the clips off of the rectangles, then put them back on according to color. Eventually I will probably print the color words on the rectangles with a marker, so the kids can begin to recognize their color words. Now I have to hunt for paperclips in more colors! I'd recommend having extras of each color so that if the clips get bent, you can replace them easily. Start off with just a few clips and as your child develops fine motor skills, add more clips or smaller clips.

She's concentrating hard!

My 3 year old enjoyed this activity, but she had to work to get the clips onto the cards. It might make it easier if the card stock was a bit stiffer.

Color Wheel

Use clothespins and card stock to make this activity. Trace and cut a large circle from card stock (the stiffer the better). Then divide the circle into pie pieces Color each pie piece a different color. Color the tips of the clothespins with matching colors. You can also write the color word on the clothespin. The kids clip the clothespin onto the circle to match the colors. You could also extend this activity bag by putting shapes or numbers or letters on the circle and the clothespins. This one would be great for preschool up through early elementary school age.

Which color busy bag do you like?

Which is your favorite color activity bag?

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Other Assorted Busy Bags

Magnetic Fishing Busy Bag - All of my kids loved this activity bag!

This one was a big hit with all of my kids! It is so simple to make this magnetic fishing activity. I cut very simple fish shapes from fun foam and attached a paper clip to the nose of each. For the fishing pole I used a chopstick and some heavy string. I hot glued a little magnet onto the end of the fishing line. I also hot glued the string to the stick. I'd recommend a shorter string for younger fishermen to keep them from getting frustrated. My 2 year old simply put the magnet on the fish with his hands and then picked up the fish. My three year old could fish but it took her a long time to "hook" the fish. My 6 year old and 8 year old were fishing pros! Store all the pieces in a zippered ziplock bag. I ended up making 4 fishing poles since many of my children wanted to play at the same time, but I found if you store all the poles in the same bag, they tend to tangle. So if you need to make extra fishing poles, simply store them in another bag until you need them. My kids played this for a long time! This one would make a neat, frugal homemade gift for Christmas or a birthday too.

The fish were biting! - All the fishermen were happy!

Animal Matching Puzzles

I had this cute 2 piece puzzle set from when my oldest was little. It was perfect to put in a busy bag. Even my 2 year old can match the mommy animal with the baby animal (and I heard some cute noises while they played). You can use any simple puzzles for a busy bag or as your kids skills progress, use puzzles with more pieces for busy bags.

Dot Art Busy Bag - Get some bingo markers and some paper to put in this bag

The girls loved this busy bag! I simply put a few different color bingo markers and some paper into the bag. They did "dot art" with the bingo markers. This allowed them to "paint" without all the mess. My 6 year old made scenes using the dot markers and my 3 year old just made more abstract art. I don't let them use these all the time, so it is a special treat when they can get these out to play. You could have them do letters, shapes or numbers with dots. You could even give them a simple outline of a letter to fill in using the dot markers. Extend this idea to teach colors, letters, numbers, how to spell their name, the possibilities are endless.

Fill your Dot Art bag

I used bingo markers and then I discovered they sell dot markers. Oh well, when my bingo markers run out, I'll get the dot makers!

Stringing Straw "beads" - Use Pipe Cleaners to string them on

I cut plastic straws into 1-inch strips. I stored these in a little plastic container. I added pipe cleaners to the bag. The kids simply string the straw "beads" onto the pipe cleaners. You can extend this by making pattern cards for them to copy. This one was a big hit with all ages.

Here's what is in the Straw "Bead" Busy Bag

Add interest by adding different color pipe cleaners or different colored straws. My 3 year old insisted on a pink pipe cleaner.

Snip and Cut - kids love scissors!

This one is almost too simple, but what little kid doesn't like to cut things? To give those little ones practice using scissors, simply put a safety scissors, long strips of paper and a bowl into the bag. The kids snip little bits off of the long strips into the bowl. This builds manual dexterity and fine motor skills. And you won't have your preschooler cutting things you don't want him to cut!

Do you use busy bags? - My 3 year old is using the Straw Bead Busy Bag in the picture

Do you make or use busy bags?

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Magnetic Tray Matching

Alphabet Match - This is a tray activity

It is so simple to make magnetic matching games. I used the metal cookie sheets (in the above Amazon module) and magnetic letters. Then I printed the alphabet in capitol letters using a very large font onto sticker paper. You could also just use labels and neatly write the alphabet with a black marker. The goal is to have the child recognize and match the letters. I made a similar tray with lowercase letters, numbers and assorted shapes in different colors. These trays will fit into a 2.5 gallon size zippered bag.

Here's my lower case alphabet tray

Color and Shape Matching Tray

I simply drew the same color and shape on the stickers and then placed them on the metal tray.

Number Matching Tray

I used a one and a zero to make 10 so my kids will learn that 10 is a 2-digit number.

Supplies for your Magnetic Trays

Lakeshore Magnetic Letters - Uppercase
Lakeshore Magnetic Letters - Uppercase

Use an alphabet set for your number tray and then you can use the rest of the letter for freeplay or to teach your kids how to spell their names or beginning sight words.

 

So are you ready to make some busy bags?

Will you use any of these ideas and make your own activity bags?

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Do you have zipper bags?

Make sure you use the bags with the actual "easy zipper" closing so little hands can zip and unzip the bags by themselves!

20CT GAL Slide Stor Bag
20CT GAL Slide Stor Bag

Great for busy bags!

 

Do you have any more ideas for my busy bags? - How do you suggest keeping the littles busy and occupied (and happy)?

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    • takkhisa profile image

      Takkhis 4 years ago

      Hi! I am glad to see your lens and you have got some great ideas here :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Dollar Stores have great supplies for Busy bags at a great price!! Thanks for this great post!

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 5 years ago from Arizona

      I've never heard of this before but it's a great idea. I have a preschooler and a toddler so these games will come in handy. Thanks!

    • profile image

      Kellenmadagan7 5 years ago

      I love the fishing game.