By Kristy Wilson
Do you need a quiet playtime activity for your little ones with cold weather temps outside? The solution…the “busy bag.”
I had never heard of the “busy bag” concept until recently when we met up with a friend and her family for lunch. When we sat down to eat my friend asked if our little girl would like an activity to work on while we were waiting on our food. She had several little activities packed in her diaper bag that were engaging and educational for our little one. My daughter loved the activities and preferred them to the typical crayon and place mat colorings that we did. Confession, I loved that she was using her imagination instead of my using an episode of “Curious George” to occupy her so that my husband and I could have a somewhat meaningful conversation with other adults.
My friend told me that these activities were called “busy bags” and that she first heard about them at her local library which hosted a “busy bag” workshop. While at the workshop my friend was able to create quite a few activities for her little guy to play with, which she said had been particularly helpful in keeping him occupied at times after the more recent birth of their second son. I was intrigued! Of course later that night I started my Pinterest search for “busy bag” activities and found tons of pins. Why had I never heard of these things?! The activities are hand-crafted, but no you don’t necessarily have to be crafty, most are inexpensive, and many are compact to fit into a diaper bag, purse or the like.
Later that week my friend sent me a message saying that she would be hosting a “busy bag” exchange. My mind was blown! I just learned about these great activities and now I had an opportunity to create one and get 12 others in return? The idea behind a “busy bag” exchange is similar to a recipe exchange or cookie exchange. You bring one “busy bag” to a party of several other parents making enough of your bag to share with each parent in the group. They in turn do the same and then everyone leaves with the number of activities that there were participants. For me, there were 12 other participants in the group, so in total we ended up with 13 busy bags after keeping one of the activities that I made to share. This required a bit of planning on my friend’s part, but nothing too intensive. She sent an email with approximately 20 links to age-appropriate “busy bags” for the group and asked each participant to respond letting her know which one they would be bringing. She offered that if none of the suggested ones were appealing that the parent could elect to do another one of his/her choosing as long we let her know so that she could ensure that there would not be duplicates. What an awesome idea!
Below you will find links to the “busy bags” that I made for the exchange. I made 4 separate activities. Not to be confusing, but the exchange I participated in was divided up into a toddler group (ages 2 and under) and a preschool group (ages 3-5). Since our daughter is two and a half I opted to participate in both groups! Then I thought that my sister who has two little kids in those age ranges needed a set of activities for her kids too, so I made two more activities. Essentially, I made one activity per kid for the exchange. So here they are along with my critiques and a couple of other links to “busy bag” activity ideas.
1. Paint Chip Color Match: I found this one to be much easier than it seemed. For the most part I ended up with a similar product, but I took some short cuts. I used a color swatch card that had 3 varying shades in the same color family. I used a whole punch similar to the one shown, then glued the punch out on to the end of the clothes pin. I also wrote the color on the clothes pin so that as the child grows in skill he/she can practice letter recognition and color names.
Note: Be aware that it can be a bit awkward when doing an exchange to go into a hardware or home improvement store and gather 15 of the same color swatches for a variety of colors. While they are technically free, I just felt a bit awkward. Especially with the Behr rep standing right behind me! So, I just explained that I needed them for a craft for some kiddos and he was happy to have me take them.
2. Shape and Color Memory Match: I did not get near as fancy with this one. I suppose that if a person is only making one and he/she wanted to make sure that it would really hold up, then following these exact steps would be good. I found the things needed to create the one at this link to be too expensive to make for 13 kiddos, so I modified it a bit. I purchased thin sheets of black foam at Hobby Lobby and cut into small squares to use as the background. I found a cheap pack of varying shapes of stencils (triangle, clouds, square, lightning bolt, clover, etc.) in the craft section at Walmart and traced them on to colored sheets of felt (also from Walmart) that I felt corresponded to the shape (i.e. blue for the clouds, yellow for the lightning bolt, etc.). I then cut out the felt shapes and glued them on the black foam squares. Much less expensive and still equally as fun!
3. Velcro Shape Sticks: This one was fairly simple and our little one really enjoys playing with it (see picture!). I modified it slightly because I was able to find colored Popsicle sticks at Walmart. The addition that I made was writing the color on the reverse side of the shape. For example, all the pieces that went to one shape had “square” on the four corresponding sticks, then on the back of each stick I wrote “blue”. I thought this would allow my daughter to start recognizing the letters in the colors of the shapes.
4. Wacky Sacks: I won’t be misleading about this at all…this one was more labor intensive and challenging for sure! Having said that, it was worth it! I chose (this is one reason that it was more labor intensive) to make homemade playdough simply because it is edible and I thought that if a balloon popped and a toddler ate a bit before the parent noticed, then it would not be a big deal. So, here is the link to the homemade playdough recipe that I used. I did not add coloring or flavor to mine. The filling the balloons is the hardest part, and I honestly didn’t come up with a great system other than shoving small balls of dough through the stretched out balloon necks and pushing it as far to the bottom as possible. I did varying sizes of balloons for each kid and varying funny, sad, happy, sleepy, etc. faces. Beyond the squishy entertainment value of these things, I will use them to work on feelings recognition with my little one.
Helpful Resources for “busy bags”:
The I.D.E.A. Store This is a great place to purchase inexpensive, bulk materials. They didn’t have a complete selection of all of the things that I needed, but the things that I was able to find (ex. clothes pins) I bought in bulk for super cheap!
Overall this was a great experience and once we have played with all of our busy bags and the fun has worn off from them (this is likely to be never!) I will look for some more “busy bag” activities to make. While these activities tend to be for younger kids if you have a range of kids you might consider having your older children assist in making the activities for the younger children. Also, chambanamoms.com has recently posted minimalist gift ideas…a gift of 8-10 of these activities for a family that has little ones would be an amazing non-traditional gift.