I first discovered the concept of activity bags around the time my twins were born. We had JUST moved, I was hugely pregnant, on bed-rest for awhile, then tending to two newborns who were nursing around the clock and mostly only sleeping in arms. I also was trying not to rock my two-year-old’s world any more than possible (fat chance!).
The main concept is that you assemble or make a self-contained activity that fits into a small bag. When you need a quick (or long) activity to occupy your bored or busy kid, you bust it out! Some are great for on-the-go, airplane or car rides, at the doctor’s office, etc, while others are a bit more messy and best for home.
So when I happened upon a toddler activity bag exchange with 12 other moms, I jumped at it! We agreed to some guidelines (one activity had to fit into a gallon ziplock, 12 activities had to fit into a flat rate priority mailing box, we couldn’t spend any more than $20 for all the bags combined, etc) and then got to work. I chose something easy that I knew I could do sitting down — homemade mini-books and stickers. Once they were assembled, I sent them off, and in a few weeks I got a box with 12 different activity bags landed on my doorstep. Jackpot!
I kept them in a tub by my chair in the living room, and would pull one out whenever Emma needed a new activity. I made sure to not keep them out all the time, so they stayed “fresh”. It worked so well, I eneded up using the concept with various other of our toys and activities — I think this probably was what spawned my toy rotation plan a bit later.
Anyway, recently I offered to make some activity bags for my twins club auction, and also for a friend’s toddler. Many of them are just so easy to assemble! Others take a bit more work, but if you are doing it in bulk it feels pretty productive. This time I did 7 bags: colored pasta beading, colored pasta sorting, mini-books and stickers, lid sorting, playdough, cut and glue collage bag, and mini-playmats with cars and things.
Here are some details about each bag:
Playdough: Emma and I just whipped up 4 batches of Grandma Cynthia’s awesome playdough recipe! I divided each batch in half for two sperate bags, separated the colors in small bags within the larger ones.
World’s Best Playdough Recipe
1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
Combine in saucepan. Gradually stir in gradually 1 cup water mixed with 2 tablespoons oil and 1teaspoon food coloring. Cook over medium heat until a ball forms. Knead until smooth. Add glitter during kneading, if desired.
Need playdough toys? Try butter knives, chopsticks or straws, dowels for rolling, plastic (or other non-sharp) cookie cutters, muffin tins, measuring cups, potato mashers, garlic press, meat tenderizer/mallet, plastic people or animals, plastic easter eggs…
Mini-books and stickers: this one is pretty self explanatory. Kids love little books their size to write and draw in, adding a big assortment of stickers makes it even more fun. I use plain white paper for the inside of the books, colored construction paper for the outside, staple and cut them in 4-5 different orientations and sizes. Adding in some short little library pencils (or colored pencils) is great, too.
Lid Sorting — Collect those lids! I collect the plastic and metal lids from tubs, bottles and jars, wash them in the dishwasher and put them in the bag. Here are some things to do with them:
- Just let them play! Lids can be cookies, pies,
cakes, plates, or….?
- With younger kids, let them explore while you
narrate or talk with them about what they are doing, seeing &
feeling (using words to describe color, size, texture, materials,
- Use different sheets of colored paper, bowls or tubs
to sort the lids. Sort by color, size, words or no words, etc.
- Stack or nest lids by size from big to small
- See if you can find any matches! Collect more lids
and play a matching game where one person chooses a lid and the other
finds the match.
Collage Bags — Another easy one. I get a few magazines out and cut out tons of images from them — pictures of food, kids, dogs and animals, toys, anything that catches yours or your kids eye. In the bag, I add a gluestick, different colors & types of paper or cardboard to glue onto, and whatever else I can find (pompoms, cut ribbons, confetti, etc)
Mini-playmat and toys: This one is awesome! So awesome, in fact, I am going to give it its own post tomorrow. Stay tuned!
A few other ideas of things I’ve made, received or seen elsewhere: mini feltboard and shapes or face parts, cars and fabric & velcro tracks, muffin tin crayons, collections of small things to sort, sandpaper boards & yarn art, dry bean sensory play, I-spy bags, laminated play mail, homemeade picture puzzles, “stained glass” (tissue paper) art, magnet collection, mini “memory” game, clothes pin color matching, lacing cards, beanbag toss….
The list really does go on and on! There is so much out there, if you just google this type of thing. And once you are thinking about it, more keep coming to mind! I’ll definitely post more ideas, as we try them. If you’ve done this or decide to try some yourself, please come back and let me know what you did and how they worked!
Adding an update to a few more awesome activity bag links I have found since posting this article. Check out Tried & True for some gorgeous pictures of her activity bags (and great links), and My Delicious Ambiguity for a the MOTHERLOAD of “Busy Bag” ideas, including this awesome Linky featuring a whole ton of activity bag posts! Thanks to these mamas and to all who continue to inspire me — I am planning a bunch more acitivity bags for my girls very soon!