Today I want to share something I made for my 2-year-old kids (and several other friends of similar age) a while back. My hope is to communicate that a) busy parents with tight budgets and schedules can make legitimately fun, developmentally appropriate, Pinterest worthy playthings for their children, b) sometimes the stuff you can make for them is better than the toys you can buy, and c) you don't have to be a gifted crafter to do this stuff.
I will admit that creative projects like this are really fun for me. I had seen the idea of "busy bags" on Pinterest with tons of cute, simple ideas to keep toddlers busy/happy/quiet, and knew I wanted to do something like that for my own children. When two friends with kids around the same age as my twins announced they were having a baby, I knew this would be a perfect gift to make for their toddlers to keep them occupied while they deal with the baby.
Tip 1: Plan to make the same thing for several people at once
I realized quickly that the supplies you generally need for these kinds of projects are most cost-effective and readily-available in larger quantities than you would ever need to make just one. For me, having two other families to give to was a good opportunity. I've also heard of having a busy bag exchange, just like a cookie exchange, where each participant makes the same thing for the number of families participating and walks away with a whole assortment of activities from each person.
Without further ado, I present my "busy box":
That's right, folks. I stuck a piece of construction paper on the lid of an old shoebox. I used only shoeboxes that had the lid attached to the bottom of the box in some way. I figured the fewer parts to find on a cluttered floor the better. I wrote the child's name on each one- it makes it so much more special for the child when they see their own name on it!
Most of the ideas online called these "busy bags", and the items were kept in ziploc bags. I decided I wanted something a little more special and neat-looking than a see-through bag- so far I am happy with my choice. The box is also easier than a ziploc for toddlers to close themselves.
Tip 2: Put all the materials in one, easy-to-open-and-store container
Inside the busy box:
Now let's talk about the goodies inside! I looked at a lot of ideas on Pinterest and blogs and loved many of them, but was hoping to get more bang for my buck than most of the ones I saw online- I wanted something that my kids could creatively use for a variety of activities, not just one.
Tip 3: Make things that can be used in multiple ways
First we have the felt pockets:
I found some sheets of felt on sale and got six colors (for whatever reason the purple looks like dark blue in the pictures... sorry about that). I am NOT a sewer, but I was able to sew a straight line on each side with my mother's sewing machine to create a pocket in which to sort items. I also drew around the outside of shapes and letters that I cut out of the same felt and drew around them with a sharpie on the front of each pocket to create something like a puzzle.
The rest of the materials are smaller pieces- pom-pom balls, craft sticks, and felt cutouts- all in the same colors as the felt pockets.
The ideas kind of grew as I was putting everything together- I had not thought of putting the shapes and letters that I had in the cutouts on the craft sticks until I had finished everything else and was testing out different ways to play with them. I have 3 sticks in each color- one with the corresponding letter, one with the shape, and one blank. There are also 3 balls in each color.
Tip 4: Include kid-friendly directions
The last thing I have in the box is a set of laminated cards with pictures of the different ways the items can be combined to make different games. I probably wouldn't have done this if I was just making it for my own kids, but since I was making them for friends as well I decided it would be a good idea to share some of the ideas I had for how to use what I had put together. Obviously part of the point is to just allow kids to explore and use the items creatively however they want, but the direction cards actually seem to make it feel more like a "real game" for my children- they like to pick out one of the cards and seem to think of it like a challenge. Again for mostly for my friends, I also wrote out directions for each idea on the back so that the parent could explain to the kids how to use it if they wanted.
So in all, I bought 6 pieces of felt, a set of pom-pom balls, and a set of craft sticks. I drew the shapes and letters on the sticks and pockets, sewed the pockets, took pictures of everything and made the direction cards on the computer to print, and cut out the shapes and letters. Pretty low-cost and not too difficult!
What are your favorite materials to have on hand for toddlers to play with? Have you made any of these busy bags? Leave your ideas in the comments- I'd love to hear them!