Are you looking for simple, hands-on learning activities to do with your preschooler? Or perhaps you have an active little one who needs a screen-free occupation while you homeschool the older kids or catch up on housework? Preschool busy bags are a great tool to try and they’re easy and frugal to put together!
What Are Preschool Busy Bags?
Busy bags (sometimes also called “tot trays” or “activity bags”) are typically small storage bags that each contain a bundle of prepared supplies for an activity. For example, a busy bag may have buttons with numbers on them, as well as ribbons or pipe cleaners to string the buttons on.
Preschool busy bags can be as complicated or as simple as you desire. The activities may include letters and numbers, colors, small motor skills, puzzles and mazes, sensory activities, and more.
Supplies can also be fairly simple and frugal. By using items you find around the house and outside, as well as perhaps a small trip to the dollar store, you’ll have all you need for several fun and educational preschool busy bags!
How Can You Use Busy Bags?
Preschool busy bags have several helpful uses for families, including their homeschool activities.
- Keep a small bin of busy bags nearby for preschoolers to play with as desired.
- Have another bin reserved for special bags you can pull out for the preschooler while you teach the older kids or get dinner started.
- Help them learn responsibility and diligence by teaching them to carefully re-assemble and put away their bags every time.
- Store a basket of busy bags in the car for long rides or waiting times.
- Bring a bag or two with you for doctor appointments and have them play with them quietly while they wait.
- Rotating your busy bags and refreshing them every so often will help keep them interesting and in use.
Need Motivation to Make Busy Bags? Throw Party!
You can also consider putting together a busy bag exchange party with some friends! Each of you can choose a busy bag idea to bring along with enough supplies for everyone in the group to make one. By the end of the event, you’ll all have several new busy bags to share with your kids!
5 Great Preschool Busy Bag to Get You Started
At our 2019 Oregon Home Education Conference, OCEANetwork hosted a hands-on workshop for moms where we assembled the following busy bags together to take home. Use the supplies and instructions below to make your own starter set of preschool busy bags!
Clothes Pin Busy Bag Kits
(Activity 1 and 2 adapted from this idea by Coffee Cups and Crayons).
– 2 paper plates
– 1 plain strip of white paper, laminated
– 1 strip of paper with colored dots, laminated
– 26 Clothes pins: Red, yellow, blue, and green clothespins (You can find these at the dollar store, OR use plain clothes pins and use sharpies to add a dot of color to them)
Activity 1: Number Match
– Use a sharpie to draw numbers 1-10 around the edge of one of the plates.
– Use a sharpie to number 10 of your clothes pins with numbers 1-10. (They’ll be matching numbers, not colors, so pin color shouldn’t matter.)
– Children practice number recognition by matching the clothes pin numbers to the plate numbers and attaching them one at a time.
Activity 2: Lower/Upper Case Letter Match
– Use a sharpie to draw lower case A – Z around the edge of one of the plates.
– Use a sharpie to label the other side of the clothes pins with upper case A – Z. (They’ll be matching letters, not colors, so pin color shouldn’t matter.)
– Children practice letter recognition and lower/upper case matching by matching the clothes pin letters to the plate letters and attaching them one at a time.
Activity 3: Clothes Pin Color and Letter Match Strips
– Cut out a horizontal strips of white paper.
– Print this color dot sheet and cut out one of the strips.
– Laminate both the color dot strip and a plain white strip of paper that’s about the same size.
– Use clothes pins that are red, yellow, blue, and green or add colored dots to your plain clothespins using sharpies.
– Children match the colored pins to the colored dots.
– Use a dry erase marker to write letters or numbers on the blank strip.
– Children use the pins with letters and numbers written on them to match to the letters written on the strip. Practice spelling different words, too, using the matching pins. For example, use a dry erase marker to write “CAT” on the while laminated strip. Then have your child clip the matching letter pins to the strip.
Craft Sticks Busy Bags Kit
(Activities based on this idea from Powerful Mothering.)
– Colorful craft sticks
– Velcro dots
– Craft stick pattern cards (You can download some free here and here.)
– Shape cards like these (print multiple pages on one sheet to reduce size)
Activity 1: Craft Stick Building
– Attach velcro dots to colorful craft sticks (a rough side on one tip and a fuzzy side on the other tip. You can also do double sided, although we just did one side).
– Children can enjoy creative building with craft sticks in any pattern they choose, connecting the ends together.
Activity 2: Craft Stick Pattern Matching
– Children can use colorful craft sticks to match the pattern on each of the pattern cards.
Activity 3: Craft Stick Shape Matching
– Children can use colorful craft sticks to build shapes matching each of the pattern cards.
Straws & Pipe Cleaners Busy Bags Kit
(Activities based on this idea from Happy Brown House.)
– Pipe cleaners
– Printed alphabet mat/page (we used this one But you could also use a free one like this one from Krafti Mama.)
– Drinking straws
– Shoe lace
– Craft foam
Activity 1: Building with Straws and Pipe Cleaners
Show children how to build structures by putting straws on the ends of pipe cleaners that can be bent like joints. Make squares, cubes, houses, bridges, and anything else they can manage with the pipe cleaners and straws.
Activity 2: Alphabet Mat Matching
– Cut plastic straws into 26 1-inch long pieces
– Write the letters of the alphabet on the straws (upper case is easiest)
– Children can practice letter recognition and matching as well as fine motor skills by propping the straw pieces up on the mat on the matching letters.
– Standard straw diameter is more challenging to stand on end and is for older kids. Try using jumbo or smoothie straws for younger kids, or cut a piece of foam into 1-inch pieces for younger kids to place on the mat.
Activity 3: Straw Threading
– Tie a knot or two on the end of a shoe lace
– Children can practice fine motor skills by threading the straw pieces on the shoe lace. Optionally, use the alphabet pieces to build words or thread the letters in order.
Rainbow Busy Bags
(Activities based on this idea from Views from a Stepstool and this idea from Glued to My Crafts.)
– Colorful foam sheets
– Foam brush
– Wiggle/crazy straws
Activity 1: Rainbow Assembly
– Cut half circle shapes out of foam sheets for the following colors, cutting them smaller as you go down the list to make a layered rainbow: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet/purple.
– Children can use a small bit of water in a bowl and the foam brush to apply water to the pieces and make them stick together into a layered rainbow. Alternatively, use velcro dots.
Activity 2: Crazy Rainbows
– Cut foam sheets of various colors into 1 – 2 inch pieces.
– Cut a slit in the center of each piece
– Children can practice fine motor skills and color recognition by threading pieces onto straws in a specified pattern or being creative to make their own crazy rainbows.
Pom Pom Busy Bags Kit
– Colorful pom moms
– 1 clothes pin
– Plastic lidded containers (cleaned plastic food tubs work best)
– Caterpillar printable (we used this one but you could download this one from Powerful Mothering for free as well)
Activity 1: Pom Pom Push
– Use a knife or scissors to punch one or more holes into the top of the container lid – Children can practice fine motor skills, color matching, and cleaning up (lol!) by pushing pom poms into the container and dumping them out again.
Activity 2: Pom Pom Drop
– Remove the lids from several containers.
– Fill one container with pom poms
– Children can practice fine motor skills and sorting by using a clothes pin to drop pom poms from one container to another.
– Have them separate the colors, pick the color you call out, etc.
Activity 3: Pom Pom Caterpillar
Children can practice counting by placing a pom pom on each section of the caterpillar as they count out loud.
More Ideas for Preschool Busy Bags
Looking for more ideas for busy bags? Check out these sites:
- Simple Color Sorting Activity at The Measured Mom
- Egg Carton Color Sorting at The Imagination Tree
- Paper Clip Color Sorting at Motherhood on a Dime
- Pipe Cleaner Color Match at Fun & Engaging Activities for Toddlers
- Cutting Practice & Learning Shapes at Learn with Play at Home
- DIY Shape Sorter at Teaching Mama
- Alphabet Tracing Sheets at Money Saving Mom
- Alphabet Lacing Cards at Homeschool Share
- Rainbow Sight Words from Preschool inspirations
- Lego Letters at Wildflower Ramblings
- Preschool Math with Beads at Kids Activities Blog
- Counting Sun Spots Busy Bag at I Can Teach My Child
- Counting Felt Chain at Glued to My Crafts
- Sensory Busy Bags from The Chaos and the Clutter
- Try “Quiet Books” instead of busy bags for portable activities! here are 45 templates and ideas from The Yellow Birdhouse
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