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Back when I taught Kindergarten, center time was one of the favorite times of the day. It was the time I met with guided reading groups while the rest of the children worked independently in centers. They loved centers!
Now that I have number two on the way, I thought the concept of center time would work perfectly with my toddler. If my second is anything like my first, there will be lots of time I’m trapped under a feeding baby. I want something to keep W happy and busy all by himself.
If you scroll through Pinterest, you’ll find a ton of posts on independent play boxes called busy boxes. Busy boxes are simply boxes filled with materials and activities to encourage independent play. There really is no limit to what you can do with them. You can throw in some play dough, arts and craft supplies, even crayons and paper, and you have yourself a busy box.
The key for the busy box is knowing your toddler. What are your toddler’s favorite activities? Can they be trusted with a bottle of glue and some paper? Will they attempt to eat every grain of sand in the sensory box? While one child may devote hours to a busy box filled with stickers, another may toss it aside after only a few minutes.
With my toddler in mind, I came up with five different busy boxes. The goal is to add to my collection each month until the next baby arrives. So, be sure to check back next month (or simply subscribe to my newsletter) for five more busy box ideas.
5 Brain-Boosting Busy Boxes for Toddlers
What you’ll need:
- Boxes: You can use whatever box you want. If you have a ton of old shoe boxes lying around, use those! You can head to the dollar store and pick up those great multicolored baskets. Or, you can use ziplock bags and call them busy bags instead. I went for these plastic shoe storage boxes because they are nice and sturdy.
- Supplies: Here’s the fun part. You can find materials almost anywhere. You do not have to spend a fortunate making these boxes. Check out the dollar store, the dollar section at Target or even in your own home. We already had a few match box cars lying around, so I decided to throw them into a box. I also had some dried black eyed peas that I thought would be a great addition to a construction-themed box.
5 Busy Box Ideas
- Construction Zone: This busy box was my toddler’s absolute favorite. It was so easy. I added some dried black eyed peas and a few construction vehicles. *Substitute the peas for any type of bean, sand, rice or pasta. Though, I have found beans are a lot easier to keep clean than rice or sand.
- Pom-Pom Sort: This activity is not only fun, but it helps strengthen those fine motor skills (important for writing later on). I used lots of colorful pom-poms, fun plastic chopsticks and colored paper muffin cups.
- Dry Erase Cards: My kindergarteners always went crazy for any type of dry erase board. You can make a dry erase board in a few different ways. Laminate a few index cards. Use large plastic tape or contact paper to cover index cards. Or, find some plastic photo album sleeves (like I did) and add index cards. I really like the photo album sleeves because it’s really easy to change them out. I added some letters, numbers and shapes on a few for my son to practice tracing. I also left a few blank. *Note: I use dry erase crayons because I know the markers will only end up all over my toddler. A partner-less sock makes a great erase!
- Parking Garage: My son is currently obsessed with cars. I easily made a cute “garage” out of one of his shoe boxes. I threw in some match box cars and called it a day!
- Pipe Cleaners & Straws: This one could not be easier to make. Add some pipe cleaners and straws for another activity to help build those fine motor skills. *Note: you could also add in some beads to put on the pipe cleaners. I don’t fully trust my son to eat the beads and throw them all over the room at the moment.
You may want to introduce the boxes to your toddler before letting them go off to play independently. Some of the boxes, like the construction zone, don’t need much explaining, but others may need a little parental guidance at first. For example, I demonstrated to my son how to push the pipe cleaners through the straws. I also showed my son how to pick up the pom-poms with the chopsticks. It also may be worth your time to go over the proper way to clean up the boxes when you are finished.
More Busy Box Ideas
I found some more busy box ideas on pinterest. Here are a few that I thought were cute!
- 8 Busy Box Ideas from Sow Sprout Play.
- A Busy Bag Round-Up from Small Potatoes.
- Busy Boxes for Fine Motor Skills from More than ABC’S and 123’s.
- Busy Boxes from Play at Home Mom LLC.