Your Guide to Busy Bags for Kids

Whether you’re traveling in the car, it’s a rainy day, or you’re just spending the day at home, keeping the kids entertained can be tough. Sure, as a parent, you want to engage with your children, but as a person, sometimes, you just can’t; laundry needs to be folded, dishes need to be washed, phone calls need to be made – and sometimes, you just want to sit in quiet while you scroll through your Facebook news feed or read a book without hearing, “Mommy, I need you!” Plus, letting your kids entertain themselves is important. It teaches them how to be self-reliant and allows them the opportunity to explore, learn and make discoveries on their own.

While letting your kids learn how to entertain themselves is important for them – and you – it can be difficult to do. Even though they may have enough toys to open up their own toys store, playing independently can be tough. Kids need guidance, which is why they constantly look to you to keep them entertained.

So, how do you encourage your little ones to entertain themselves on their own? – Busy bags!

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If you’re a parent who is looking for ways to keep your kids engaged independently, you are definitely going to want to keep reading! This comprehensive guide will tell you all about busy bags, including what they are, how to set them up, and how to use them. I’ll also share some ideas for busy bags that you can create. If you’re ready to spark the creativity of your little ones (and save some of your sanity,) you have come to the right place!

What is a Busy Bag?

As the name suggests, a busy bag is a bag that is filled with activities for children to engage with on their own. They are ideal for toddlers, preschoolers and even younger school-aged children. Mom or dad fills the bags (or boxes, if you’d prefer) with different age-appropriate activities, and the kids can easily grab them, open them up and enjoy interacting with all of the different activities that are stored inside.

Busy bags are great tools for keeping the kids entertained during quite time at home, or when you are on the go (the waiting room at a doctor’s office, a restaurant, or even in the car.) The activities in the bags will get your gets thinking, keep them amused, foster their independence, and afford you some distraction-free time. My little guys (ages 3 and 6) love them, and so do I!

How to Make Busy Bags

Making busy bags is pretty easy. Just grab a supply of bags that can be sealed (zip-top plastic bags or reusable bags that zip closed, for example,) some basic materials, such as pom-poms, lacing cards, craft sticks, crayons, printables, etc. Basically, anything that your child can use on his or her own and will fit inside the chosen bag is fair game.

Depending on the age of your children, you may also want to include some easy-to-follow in the bag. Basic words or pictures that illustrate suggested uses for the items may be helpful; however, instructions are not necessary.

When you start filling up your busy bags, avoid overfilling them. Presenting your children with too many things may lead to confusion and could make them become disinterested, which means the purpose of the busy bags will backfire. I have found that less really is more when it comes to making a successful busy bag. I also find that labeling the bags is helpful. I just write the activities on adhesive labels and attach them onto the bags. This makes it much easier to decipher what is in each bag (believe me, it’s much easier to read a label than it is to try to figure out what is inside the bag just by looking at it.)

Once your bags are made, store them in a space that is easily accessible. I like to keep mine in a box labeled “busy bags” in our arts and crafts closet. I know where they are, I can easily grab them, and they aren’t mixed in with the kids’ other toys (which means that they won’t be pulled apart and unusable when we actually want to use them.)

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  • Perfect for keeping preschoolers and children entertained while traveling on long road trips, airplane rides or even a rainy day at home.
  • ncludes all 12+ activities pictured in the attractive drawstring backpack
  • Crafts: color your own travel cup with straw, colored pencils, activity book, magnetic drawing board
  • Games: travel bingo, two lacing cards (colors vary), preschool card game, rainbow spring, animal slide game, kaleidoscope
  • Adorable stuffed owl will make a fun new traveling companion.

Introducing Busy Bags

Kids need direction. If you just give them a busy bag and they’ve never used one before, there’s a good chance that they aren’t going to have any idea how to use them. While the goal of a busy bag is to give your children activities they can do independently, providing them with some guidance at first will help you achieve that goal.

When I first started using busy bags, I sat down with my kids and introduced them. I explained what they were and how they were to be used. Together, we explored everything that was inside the bag and spend some time building with the craft sticks and dough that I put in it. After seeing that they were engaged, I stepped back and let them at it on their own. They were entertained for quite a while! I was totally impressed!

I introduced a few different busy bags that contained different activities – lacing cards, color sorting, printables and crayons – until they really got the idea of what the bags were and how they were supposed to use them. After about a week, the kids were eager to explore their busy bags on their own, and I was ecstatic because they were actually engaging themselves! It was totally awesome – and it still is!

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When to Use Busy Bags

There really isn’t a right or wrong time to use busy bags; you can use them whenever you see fit. However, some suggestions for when to use these tools include:

  • Car rides
  • Quite time at home (when you need to tend to things and can’t interact with the kids, or when you just want a little down time)
  • Restaurants (they’ll keep the kids happy while they’re waiting for their food)
  • Waiting rooms
  • Any time the kids seem bored and don’t know what to do with themselves
  • Hotel rooms
  • Plane or train rides

Honestly, there are limitless opportunities to use busy bags! They truly have become my go-to activity for my children. Thanks to these little activity bags, my kids have really developed a sense of independence while learning and exploring – and I have been able to hold onto some of my sanity!

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Busy Bag Examples

So, now that you know what an amazing tool a busy bag can be and how to make them, you are probably eager to start making your own. Here are some suggestions of busy bag ideas that you can make, based on age and type of activity (letter recognition, color recognition, fine motor skill development, etc.)

Color Recognition

Create busy bags to introduce color recognition to toddlers or to encourage deeper thinking with older children.

Toddler Color Sort

Fill a busy bag with different colored envelopes (you can purchase colored envelopes, or you can color them yourself) and different objects that coordinate with each envelope. Plastic teddy bears, printed pictures, pieces of fabric, feathers; anything that can fit in the bag and your toddler can easily pick up can be included. Toddlers will sort the items in the bag and place the inside the envelope with the corresponding color; red items go in the red envelope, blue items in the blue envelope, and so on…

Preschool/Young School Aged Children Color Sort

For older children who are already familiar with their colors, use a busy bag to help them identify color words. Instead of using colored envelopes, write color words on the envelopes (help them figure out what the words say by writing the blue with a blue crayon, for example.) Kids will then sort through the items and place them in envelope that is labeled with the corresponding color word.

These are two of my personal favorite color recognition busy bags that I use with my kiddos, but there are tons of ideas you can use!

Literacy Skill Building

Busy bags are also a great way to foster literacy development in your kids.

Toddler Letter Match

Introduce toddlers to letters and encourage fine motor skill development with this busy bag activity. Write letters of the alphabet on the ends of clothespins and print letters of the alphabet on heavy cardstock. Cut the cardstock up so you have individual pieces for each letter. Toddlers have to pin clothespins on the corresponding cardstock letter; for example, they would pin a clothespin with a letter A on it onto the piece of cardstock with the letter A on it.

You can add another level of learning by printing images that start with each letter onto the cardstock; an apple, an alligator and an arrow on the letter A, for example.

Preschool/Young School Aged Children Letter Recognition

For older kids, encourage them to match uppercase and lowercase letters with this busy bag activity. Cut triangles out of brown construction paper and label them with lowercase letters; these will serve as ice cream cones. Cut scoops of ice cream out of colored construction paper and label them with uppercase letters. Kids will match the proper cone to the proper ice cream scoop. Who doesn’t love ice cream?!

Again, these are just two of my favorite letter recognition busy bag ideas, but there are tons of different activities that you can create for your busy bags.

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Number Recognition

Get kids familiar with their numbers with these simple, yet engaging independent busy bag activities.

Toddler Road Numbers

Toddlers love to play with cars, and this busy bag activity will allow them to do just that, while getting familiar with their numbers!

Either draw pictures of numbers that look like roads (just draw dotted yellow lines down the center of the numbers) or print them out. You can also include a picture of a number of cars that correspond with each number; two cars on the number 2, for example. Place a few cars in the busy bag, along with the numbers and kids can lay their road numbers out on a flat surface and drive their cars over them!

Preschool/Young School Aged Number Recognition

Older kids can develop their understanding of number recognition and the amount that each number represents with this interactive busy bag activity. Cut circles out of light brown paper and write a number on each one. Additionally, draw an amount of dots that corresponds to each number; three dots on the number 3. Place the circles, as well as a sheet of black dot stickers in the busy bag. Kids can place the corresponding number of dot stickers on each light brown circle, creating chocolate chip cookies!

There are so many different counting and number recognition activities that you can fill busy bags with!

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Shape Recognition

Shape recognition is an important pre-math skill. Busy bags are a great way to introduce shapes to kids and really get them to interact with them.

Toddler Dough Shapes

Fill up a busy bag with some Play-Doh and cookie cutters in different shapes. Let them enjoy playing with the materials while exploring and building recognition of different shapes at the same time! If your kids are anything like mine, this will keep them busy for quite a while.

Preschool/Young School Aged Children Shape Match

This busy bag activity will really familiarize older children with shapes. Cut shapes out of heavy cardstock and then cut each shape in two, creating different patterns as you cut each shape to create puzzle pieces. Kids will match the halves of each shape together, just like they would put a puzzle together.

There are so many different ways you can let kids independently explore shapes with busy bags!

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Car Trip Busy Bags

You can even use busy bags to keep your kiddos happily entertained. Added bonus: You won’t have to keep hearing, “Are we there yet?”

Toddler “Eye Spy” Car Trip Busy Bag

Fill up a bag with uncooked rice and a collection of small objects; magnetic letters, blocks, small toys, balls, etc. Close the bag, roll it over a few times wrap some heavy-duty tape around the top of it to prevent the bag from opening. While you’re in the car, toddlers can move the rice about and try to locate the different objects in the bag.

Alternatively, if you’re concerned about the bag bursting, you could use a clear plastic bottle instead.

Preschool/School Aged Children “Eye Spy” Car Trip Busy Bag

For older children, an eye spy activity that involves them locating objects while you’re traveling will surely keep them busy (I know it keeps my older guy very content!)

Just draw different pictures of objects you would see while you are driving on a sheet of paper, or grab some images from Word Art and print them out on a sheet of paper; a stop sign, a traffic light, a big rig truck, a police car, etc. Give your child the sheet of pictures and a crayon, and as your driving, he or she can look out of the window for the objects on the paper, crossing them off as they are found.

There are literally dozens of busy bag activities that your kids can use in the car that will make long trips more enjoyable for you – and for them!

Busy bags have proven to be a real life saver for me and my two little guys. They helped them develop a real sense of independence while teaching them valuable academic skills; not to mention, they keep them happily entertained. For me, busy bags make it possible to tend to chores, get some work done, or just enjoy a few minutes of quiet without feeling guilty that my kids are bored, or without needing me to constantly direct them.

I have no doubt that you and your children will benefit from busy bags, too!

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