Toddler busy bag exchange

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A good friend of mine recently hosted an activity bag exchange for young children and toddlers. Each Mum involved made 13 copies of an activity of their choice. We all got together for a chat and to exchange our bags with each other, leaving us all with 13 different activities to use with our own children. Here are the wonderful bags the ladies made. (While none of these are original ideas, they can be found in so many places across the web that I haven’t tried to give credit to sources in most cases.)

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Pizza factory. The children follow the order cards to custom-make each pizza according to their customer’s preferences. (Links to free printable order cards and other busy bag swap ideas here.)

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Popstick pattern match. Use the coloured popsticks to copy the picture patterns. Several of the cards have plain colours on the back to convert  the activity to a colour match instead.

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Button snake. Great for learning how to do up buttons; excellent for fine motor control. The felt pieces are pushed on and off the “snake” using the button head.

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Pipecleaner bracelets. Thread the cut straws onto the pipecleaners to make patterns and jewellery. You could do this as a colour matching activity if you have the right straws and pipe cleaner colours

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Sandpaper and wool pictures. Again with patterns to follow and copy, placing the pieces of wool onto the sandpaper to make pictures.

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Paper clip feet. Slide the paper clips onto the toes by colour or write a number on each foot for counting practise as well as fine motor skills. Young children can just pile the paperclips on top if it is too difficult to push them on.

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Tissue paper pictures. Tear pieces of tissue or crumple into balls to decorate the pictures or make you own with the blank paper and glue. Stickers and crayons are added for extra fun as well.

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Paint swatch pegging. Pincer grip (necessary for writing later) is exercised by opening the pegs to match them to the correct colour swatch.

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Shape puzzle. A simple make-your-own puzzle with foam sheet cut into geometric shapes

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Pop-pom push jar. Push the pompoms through 2 sizes of holes into the plastic container. (Tip: Use a drill to make the holes.)

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My youngest enjoyed the pompom posting and soon figured out that he could shake the small ones back out again – saving me the trouble of taking the lid on and off for him!

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Felt chains. Perfect timing for Christmas! While the rest of the family are producing reams of paper chain to decorate the entire house (or is that just my children?) the youngest can be practising with felt and velcro, to be made and re-made over and over again.

The last 2 bags were mine and I made sewing and threading activities and a basic gluing bag. Sorry, no photos, but check here and here for some gluing and fine-motor ideas.)

Other posts you may find helpful:

Ziploc activity bags for toddlers and preschoolers

Toddler busy boxes 

Sensory tub ideas

Montessori counting trays 1 to 5

It constantly amazes me how much we can get through in only 15-30 minutes of focussed time. I really encourage all those overwhelmed homeschool Mothers with multiple children that you only need a small window each day to teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills.

Montessori style hands-on activities make it enjoyable and interesting for the children and encourage them to be active participants and motivated learners. I have a good stockpile of useful materials collected and organised and in an hour I put together these counting activities for my 3 year olds who have just started doing some tray activities with me on a daily basis. For a more detailed idea of how to introduce these, see here.

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Natural materials like wood and rocks are very appealing. My older children love these rocks and all wanted a quick go of this tong transfer activity. The jewel beads are numbered 1 to 5 and placed in order around the segmented tray before the correct number of rocks are transferred into each section.
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These doves and little heart boxes are wedding favours from our local discount store. They are so cute the kids can’t resist playing with them. Half the battle to get children to learn is won when they are interested in what you are presenting to them. Make up a little story to go with it and they will be eating out of your hand. I told mine that the birds have been specially trained by the King and Queen to fly back to their own love heart bed for the night and gave them a couple at a time to count in order to figure out which bed they had to put them into. Taking the lids off to discover what number was inside was a good opening and closing activity in itself and added to the mystery. We also used a number strip to match the lids to as they do not yet recognise the numerals.

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A simple popsicle counting tray. You could colour-code the sticks for beginners to sort by colour first before counting and placing into the correct jar. These colours could also match the sticker on the jar for an added self-checking aspect.

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These iceblock fruits (the kind that come filled with water for freezing and adding to drinks) have been a hit from day one. They are a lot brighter and more attractive than they look in the photo and combined with some milk bottle lid numbers (liquid papered on) and a chip and dip tray from the local op shop, this took me about 2 minutes to put together.

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Sparkle pompoms, some gold plastic disposable plates and teabag tongs  with baby food jar lid numbers make another easy activity tray. If you make up a funny story about guests at a restaurant who are ordering different amounts of food and tell the children that they (as the chef/waiter) need to deliver exactly what the customer wants, they will be enthralled. My guests got progressively more greedy as the numbers increased and this had the twins giggling along. Somehow my children always find it funny when we pretend play about bad manners!

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These clips were a mistake right from the start. One side is shorter than the other and they are quite stiff so the children can’t get a good grip to press them open and clip them onto things. I let them have a try but we usually just end up sorting them into the compartments. I’ve kept them because they are bright colours and the kids do find them an attractive material to handle.

Six trays in an hour of prep (most of which was getting the stuff out and packing it away when I’d finished) and I am set for a good few weeks. I’m guessing that by the time the interest in these wears off, they will both be able to count to 5 and ready to move on to counting to 10 trays. Or back to initial sounds, or 3 letter words or… whatever takes our fancy next.

More posts you may be interested in:

Montessori tray activities – starting out

More ideas for 1 to 5 counting

Make your own baby and toddler Montessori toys 

circle time

Ziploc activity bags for toddlers and preschoolers

Noodle threading is always fun, just remember to tie one on the end to stop all the others sliding off while children are threading. When they have had enough of threading they can pretend to cook the noodles for dinner.

Ziploc activity bags are simply self-contained activities for toddlers, preschoolers and young children that include everything necessary for the child to complete the activity. Thus named because they are often stored in Ziploc plastic bags that are readily available from the supermarket. These bags have a plastic zip-style closing system that is easy for young children to manipulate, however we haven’t found them to be very long-lasting. Shoe boxes, trays or other containers are of course equally suitable but not so easily transported. Press-loc or snap-loc plastic bags are not as good because young children are not able to re-seal them independently, but if you don’t mind a few seconds to close each bag when they are done, they seem to last longer.

The kind of activity you can include is endless and their uses wide and varied. Some Mothers save them for school time activities while the older children require their attention. Others use them to take on holidays, while travelling in the car or when visiting with friends. They are useful for meals out in a restaurant, at home for mat time, blanket time, highchair time or table time activities. Whenever you need to keep a young child happily occupied these can be whipped out for hours of entertainment.

So what do you put in them? Almost anything really. Ideally they wouldn’t contain anything too messy if you want them to be easily transportable, but for home use anything goes.

Department stores have packs of paper shapes in the scrapbooking section which are great for gluing.

  • Glue stick and paper shapes for gluing

    When young toddlers first start to draw, tape one page at a time onto the table or highchair tray. For two reasons – it won’t keep slipping around and every page of the colouring book will not end up with a single blue line down the middle!

  • Drawing
  • Playdough
  • Stamping (stamp pads and ink stamps)
  • Lacing, threading or beading
  • Puzzles
  • Books
  • Construction toys
  • Pattern blocks
  • Stickers and sticker books
  • Small tea sets and mini teddies

    Finger puppets work best when the characters represent well knows stories that the children have heard you tell before.

  • Finger puppets
  • Mini whiteboard and eraser
  • Small chalk board and duster

    Simple stacking pegs are interesting once toddlers have the dexterity for it. This one kicked in at about 2 years when they could handle the quite stiff pegs.

  • Peg boards
  • Board games
  • Dot-to-dots and mazes
  • Colour-by-number
  • Stencils

You could include learning activities for basic maths and language skills. Starter Styles are a maths activity that cover a variety of beginning language and mathematical skills.

There are heaps of brilliant websites and blogs with an abundance of ideas for Ziploc bag activities;

Chasing Cheerios is one of my favourites with lots of wonderful toddler activities.

Natural Parents Network has some good ideas, including coloured pasta beading, pasta sorting, mini-books and stickers, lid sorting, playdough, cut and glue collage bag, and mini-playmats with cars and things.

Intrepid Murmurings has preschooler activity bags here.

There are lots of ideas for what they call “tote bags” here – just scroll down. They get better as they go.