Busy Box: a simple, quick, and easily accessible quiet-time activity for toddlers and preschoolers.
Are you familiar with the Busy Box? Some refer to them as quiet boxes, busy bags, all-by-myself bins, and other similar names. If you haven’t yet jumped aboard the Busy Box train, now is the time. Seriously, these babies keep my little ones entertained for minutes, sometimes hours at a time. Yes, hours.
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These boxes (or bags) are great for quiet time, lifesavers when it’s time to make dinner, and are often reliable for those times when you just need a minute alone (you mamas know what I mean). Whether it’s 5 minutes of peace on the toilet or some time to relax and scroll through your social media feed, we all need a few minutes here and there without children demanding all of our attention; these busy boxes can provide that much needed solace.
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WHAT IS A BUSY BOX?
Essentially, they are containers filled with simple activities your little one can do on their own–that last part is key. Because they can do these activities without assistance, it gives you time to do whatever it is you need (or want) to do without having your child tugging at your clothes. I usually get a busy box out a couple times a day for my preschooler. This keeps him entertained while I cook dinner or care for his little sister. If it’s a toddler-friendly activity my 1-year-old will often join in on the fun.
BENEFITS OF THE BUSY BOX
Finding wholesome activities to keep a toddler and preschooler busy is not always easy. It’s especially overwhelming when you try to throw together an activity in the midst of boiling your dinner noodles. Screentime alternatives are often a quick and easy solution to child boredom. I know have relied on PBS (where are my Daniel Tiger fans?) to keep my 3-year-old distracted while I pull hot food out of the oven. But, if you are like me, I try to reserve screentime entertainment for emergencies and I avoid it in our daily routine if I can.
I have discovered that if I take a few minutes before the week begins to prep simple activities for each day then I have quick, ready-to-go activities to use as needed. It makes each day run more smoothly. I avoid the scramble to entertain children as they whine for attention while I attempt to contain the overflowing stack of dirty dishes.
HOW TO MAKE A BUSY BOX
What you will need:
- 5-7 bins or storage containers
- 5-7 small, quiet activities for each box
To prepare these activities I purchased 6 bins; at the time my husband worked Monday through Saturday so I wanted one bin for each day. You can do more depending on how many activities you want to have available during the week. If you are very ambitious you could even do 2 for each day. But one a day is plenty for my kids. As I mentioned, some of these activities keep them preoccupied for hours.
I initially got these clear 6 quart Sterilite storage bins from Walmart for about $1.00 each. You can buy similar items such as these STERILITE 6 Quart Storage Bins with latch lid, 12-Pack on Amazon. Although they cost a bit more, I prefer the bins with the latch on lid because it is more secure to store; this is particularly helpful when the bin is filled with a material you’d rather not accidentally drop and spill onto the floor–such as rice (I may or may not have found rice in the crevices of my kitchen for weeks after one such accident).
But, you can use any type of bin, storage container, zipper pouches, etc. The type of container you should use will depend on which types of activities you choose. For example, if I often use activities which involve dried beans or other sensory materials, I may want something to contain them, like a bin; the child can simply play with the items directly from the box. But, if the activity is to sort colored pom pom balls by color or size, that activity can be easily stored in a zippered pouch.
Next, I chose 6 activities that would fit into each box. I have gathered so many ideas for busy box activities, it’s unreal. I find many of ideas on Pinterest, or I come up with my own based on materials or items I have around the house. The difficult part for me is to decide which activities to use each week!
SIMPLE ACTIVITY IDEAS
I often choose activities that cater to my child’s specific interests. For instance, recently my 3-year-old son has been obsessed with trucks, counting, and shapes, so I create activities that surround those topics. More specifically, because my son loves trucks, I may fill one bin with a cup or two of rice, and let him use his construction trucks to dig, scoop and dump the rice. For a counting activity, I may put beads and pipe cleaners (aka craft straws) into a bin. My little one will count beads as he strings them onto the pipe cleaners. For shapes, I might give him Popsicle sticks and reference pages with pictures of different shapes and he can practice building each shape out of sticks.
Sometimes, I fill one box with knick-knacks and random objects I find around the house (basically junk), and my kids love it; it’s arguably their favorite bin week after week. To keep these simple, I often create activities out of random materials and objects I already have. Because of this, many of our bins are sensory based (read this article to find out why sensory activities are so important for your children); I have used rice, dried beans, or rocks from our yard with some scoops or toys. The activities are simple and the options are endless.
ROTATING YOUR BUSY BOXES
Initially, I planned to put new activities into the boxes each week. But my little ones rarely tire of the activities after only one week. Often, I keep the same 6 activities for 2 weeks before I switch them out for new material. At the end of each week (or after week 2) I put the items into Ziploc bags and store them in a large organized storage cabinet. I rotate through the activities every few weeks; because of this, I don’t have to create new ideas every time. It makes refilling my busy boxes quick and hassle-free.
You could label every bin for each day of the week. However, I left mine unlabeled so each day I could simply pick any box, or let my child choose; I’m all about keeping things simple.
WANT TO SEE MORE BUSY BOX IDEAS?
As I refill my boxes each week or two I will document my activity ideas and provide pictures of sample activities and material lists for things you may need to purchase and/or make in advance. What are your favorite quiet time activities for kids? What activities would you like to see put together into a busy box format? I always look for new things to put into our busy box rotation, and I’d love to feature your ideas! Comment below with your suggestions.
Thanks for reading!