I recently wrote about Busy Bags when I posted the 2nd Annual Busy Bag Sign Ups on Instagram. If you’re unfamiliar with them, Busy Bags are “self-contained educational toys and Montessori – inspired learning games for toddlers or preschoolers that are easy to pack or pull out.” They’re often used during quiet time and are simple tasks that are mostly self-directed. They’re often great for challenging and developing fine motor skills, and always great fun for kids! Here’s how to create the ultimate busy bag binder for your preschooler.
Originally published September 2015. Updated March 2020.
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Last year I hosted a local Busy Bag Swap with friends from my mom’s group. The idea behind these swaps (local or otherwise) is that everyone is responsible for one activity. I keep my swaps between 10 and 12 people because that’s really all that will fit in a 2″ binder, but you can do more or less. (You don’t have to stick to a binder either! I’ve seen awesome “quiet time bins” (boxes, totes, etc.) on Pinterest.) If there are 10 in the swap, then each person creates 10 of the same activity. You can meet in person or arrange for one person to swap the activities and return them. The end result is an awesome Busy Bag Binder filled with 10 great quiet time activities.
Even when I host these swaps I like to customize Benjamin’s binders for our specific needs. In September we are traveling a lot and so there are a few activities that I’ve added and a couple that I thought better left to do at home. All you need is a 2-inch binder and binder pencil pouches, to get started! The following activities are geared toward children, ages 2 to 4.
Classic Coloring Pad and Crayons
I put this paper pad in the inside cover pocket. The 24-pack of Twistables fit the pencil pouch perfectly, while still lying flat!
I found these cute lacing cards in Target’s One Spot last year (score!) but there are tons of lacing cards on Amazon. I especially love these Eric Carle lacing cards! If you want to go the DIY route, try cutting simple shapes out of craft foam sheets and punching the edges with a hole punch. Easy peasy.
DIY Sticker Books
STICKER BOOKS! Who doesn’t like stickers? Answer = no one. I found these hardcover blank books this summer in Target’s One Spot and seriously wish I would have bought more! Now, I can’t find them in store anywhere but here is a similar 6-pack of blank books that can be used just the same. This was my toddler activity for the Busy Bag Swap and I customized each cover with stickers, stamps, and each child’s name. (see here) I included several sheets of stickers in each pouch. Benjamin got a swap like this last year and it was such a hit that we’ve just kept it going!
This is such a fun version of color wheel matching! Benjamin loves dinos. My friend Julia did this one for the swap and included this extra dinosaur match, which will be fun and challenging as well. Last year I made felt color wheels for the swap which you can easily recreate with felt and clothespins.
Read next: Tot School Color Sorting
I LOVE these felt marble mazes that one of the swap participants made. So simple and cool! I had actually never seen this before and think it’s pretty genius. The marble is sewn completely within the felt. Here are some felt marble maze pattern ideas and tutorials.
Craft Stick Puzzles
To make these, grab a stack of jumbo wood craft sticks, book illustrations, photographs, markers, or paints. Here is a great tutorial on Motherhood on a Dime. Another idea is to line up the sticks and put a little tape across them to hold the sticks in place. Then you or your child can decorate with paint or markers. Adding numbers to the sticks in chronological order might be helpful as well.
This is such a cute game! Just something to be aware of though — everyone who plays this game will need their own card and set of cars, which means you’ll need to print at least two sets of everything.
Jessica, of Happily Hughes, printed and laminated these fun “I Spy” sheets for each binder. This is one that will require a little adult participation as you’ll be challenging your youngster to find something and circle it. Live Laugh Rowe has the cutest I Spy printables and I’m definitely going to make these for Benjamin as the holidays roll around. I also love this DIY I Spy Game on Dabbles & Babbles. Want to create your own with your child’s favorite trinkets? Gather a bunch of small items and place them on a giant white board. Photograph, print, and laminate! Bam.
Learning Games: Shape Activities
What would the ULTIMATE Busy Bag Binder post be without a FREE printable?! Here is the FREE Playdough Mini Mats Printable and Instructions for Parents. Print, laminate, trim, and enjoy! Be sure to follow me on Pinterest for more fun ideas! Also, remember that you can create this for ANY age group. Here are Baby Busy Bag ideas and here are School Age Busy Bag ideas!
Edited to add: One tool that would be VERY beneficial to your binder and activity making is this Scotch Thermal Laminator! I learned the hard way how much more cost effective it is to go the DIY route than to do it in a store. I’m also a HUGE fan of the Scotch Self-Sealing Laminating Pouches, and have them in every single size! So quick and easy!
Everything You Need to Create the Ultimate Busy Bag Binder
For more fun things to do at home, check out these 5 must-have board games for preschoolers.