Have you ever wished your children at home or in your classroom would play quietly and purposefully, allowing you to give your attention to something else? It is possible! When I was a Kindergarten Classroom teacher one of my favorite teacher tools was the learning centers in my classroom. I have used this same concept here at home now with my own kids to create Busy Boxes. With a little direction, your kids can use what is inside the Busy Box to play quietly and purposefully for a short time while you get some work done!
I have been, or can be if you click on a link and make a purchase, compensated via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value for writing this post. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. Please read my full disclosure for more information.
What are Busy Boxes?
A box, bag, shelf, drawer or basket that holds engaging activities that your children want to use for play and learning.
Easy to learn activities that are quiet, purposeful, and independent.
When my son was done with nap time but I still needed that break we started using busy boxes. I used gift bags to put his activities in. Each one was labeled with a different day of the week and had different activities with a similar goal- help him with fine motor and pre-reading skills! I would give him his bag for the day, show him how to do each activity and he took 30 to 40-minute quiet time at a little table in his room with the bag.
It did not always go as planned. Sometimes he would take the activities and use them in his own way or ditch them to play with something else in his room. But it was a great way to get him in the habit of playing independently and purposely. He was excited about that quiet time away from me because it was new and fun!
Why would I need Busy Boxes?
Work at home moms who need to give all their attention to an important phone call or appointment.
Stay at home moms who want to get some chores done or have a kiddo who is outgrowing nap time.
Teachers searching for learning centers or small group ideas.
Homeschooling families with Pre-School age kiddos needed some fun learning.
One of my good friends just started working from home a few days a week and she said to me, “I need some ideas to keep my kiddo busy and quiet when I need to make a call.” These busy boxes are the perfect solution!
When I taught Kindergarten it was my favorite thing to teach the kiddos their skill through play. I had reading, math, writing and art centers in my room. The activities at each center changed with the seasons and themes in my class but the kids learned many skills using that time they were allowed to play.
What is inside a Busy Box?
Educational toys, games, crafts, and books to independently engage a young child.
1-4 Activities that inspire math, reading, and other skills early learners are building through play.
You can get as creative with the contents of the box as you are able. Some ideas of places I go to look for activities, manipulatives, and crafts include but are not limited to the back of their toy closets (reimagine toys that are long forgotten), the Dollar Tree, the recycling bin, the back yard, the library, and even Amazon!
Some things I have included- small puzzles, I Spy Books, Play Dough or slime, lego bricks, laminated coloring or activity pages, letter and number cards, toilet paper tolls. I love using things around the house in new ways for these boxes too. The list is only limited by your imagination!
Gather the contents based on a central theme, skill or even learning style.
Organize in an easy to access space.
Take time to sit with the kid while they first explore and play with the box.
Introduce the activities and model how to use them.
After the initial introduction, you should be able to set the kiddo free when you need that time.
Helpful Hit: Busy boxes are not always made available. Absence makes the heart grow fonder you know. Everything is more exciting if it is new! Only use when you want that independent playtime.
I really love making seasonal and holiday-themed boxes. Think of all the little Christmas tinker toys your kids get each Christmas. I save them and pack them away with the Christmas decorations. Then when it’s that time of year I have some great content for brand new busy boxes.
Filling your child’s “Attention Cup”.
Attention Cup Filling is key to getting them to use the busy boxes independently.I have talked before about the Love Languages of children you can check out the post here. These kids are ours and long for our attention and approval. If you want the busy box to work its best, you need to do something very engaging and attention giving with your kiddo before you expect them to use the box independently and quietly.
Attention Giving Ideas:
Read a story together
Play barbies together (my daughters favorite)
Do a craft together
Go on a walk together
Really just anything where your child has all your undivided attention! And I know this is so hard but put your phone down and look them in the eyes while playing whatever their little hearts desire. Here is a blog I wrote all about filling your kid’s attention cup!
I usually create 3-5 different boxes to use a week. Label for the day or theme. If you are wanting to do something like play dough, slime or markers in your box be sure to have a “mess keeping” plan. I bought a baking tray from the dollar tree and taught my kiddo to keep the mess in the pan when he was playing. You know your kid- if they cannot be trusted with this kind of power then don’t go there. Playdough in hair and carpet is a real pain in the behind.
Busy Box Theme Sample List
As I said before if you subscribe I will send you access to my Busy Box Freebie Library. It will have a master checklist of Busy Box theme ideas. I wanted to give you a few here at the end of this post to get you started.