Busy bags are popular with toddler moms on the go, but they’re a terrific tool in the classroom too. Keep them handy for the times when some kids have finished their work and are waiting for others, or those unexpected indoor recess days. And they’re not just for toddlers; there are plenty of busy bag ideas that older kids will benefit from too.
New to busy bags? The concept is simple: Fill a sealable bag with items that kids can use to occupy themselves. (They’re also known as quiet bags for this reason.) Some are just for fun, but most of the busy bag ideas here help teach or practice skills that kids need from pre-K through elementary grades. They’re a valuable addition to any classroom.
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1. Match ABCs with clothespin clips.
For little ones just learning their ABCs, this busy bag idea is a snap. Write the letters on clothespins and put them in a bag with some flash cards. Done!
Learn more: Craftulate
2. Count to ten with strawberries and seeds.
Get the free printable strawberry cards at the link below, then bag them up with some seeds for practice counting to ten. (Make sure kids know the seeds aren’t for eating.)
Learn more: Boy Mama Teacher Mama
3. Pair up uppercase and lowercase letters using plastic eggs.
Chances are good you’ve got a bunch of plastic eggs lying around anyway, so put them to good use. Write uppercase letters on one half, lowercase on the other, and let kids match them up. Store them in the bag by nesting the egg halves inside each other. (Get more plastic egg activities for the classroom here.)
Learn more: Motherhood on a Dime
4. Assemble wood craft sticks into engineering masterpieces.
Pick up a few packs of colored wood craft sticks at the dollar store and attach Velcro dots to the ends. Kids will have no end of fun coming up with new creations, getting some fine motor skill practice along the way.
Learn more: Powerful Mothering
5. Let them practice tying their shoes.
This is a skill some children struggle to master, so this busy bag idea gives them a chance to tie, tie again. Visit the link below for free printable shoes, then put them in a bag with laces, strings, or ribbons.
Learn more: Therapy Fun Zone
6. Use bottle cap letters to spell simple words.
Save your bottle caps and use them to make this busy bag, which gives little ones practice spelling simple words. Get the free printable cards at the link. (Here are more ideas for using recycled materials in your classroom.)
Learn more: This Reading Mama
7. Construct shapes using Wacky Tracks or pipe cleaners.
Learning shapes is more fun when you get to make the shapes yourself. Bag up some shape cards with pipe cleaners or Wacky Tracks fidget toys ( Get 6 for $7 on Amazon. )
Learn more: Extremely Good Parenting
8. Stack sticks to match patterns.
Here’s another use for those wooden craft sticks—pattern practice. Print out the free cards at the link below to get started.
Learn more: Keeping My Kiddos Busy
9. Sharpen their scissor skills.
This busy bag idea will need refilling from time to time, but the prep is easy. Just print out the sheets and cut them into strips, ready for little fingers to strengthen their scissor skills.
Learn more: Fun With Mama
10. String pool noodle “beads” to master numbers and patterns.
Bead stringing is one of the most popular busy bag ideas. We love this one for using pool noodle pieces instead, which are so much harder to lose! Challenge kids to string them in patterns or by number, using the free printables at the link. (There are so many ways to use pool noodles in the classroom! See them here.)
Learn more: Planet of the Apels
11. Drive toy cars along letter road cards.
Who doesn’t love combining learning with play? Kids will enjoy tracing these free letter road cards with a toy car or two. You can put them in a small photo album or leave them loose so students can spell simple words or put them in order.
Learn more: Playdough to Plato
12. Stack blocks to practice patterns and counting.
LEGO bricks are a staple of many busy bag ideas. This one is good for younger learners, using only square bricks to match the patterns on the printable cards.
Learn more: Mama Papa Bubba
13. Put together a Popsicle stick puzzle.
Is there anything wooden craft sticks can’t do? Print out a picture and mount it across sticks placed side by side. Then use a sharp knife to cut them apart. Kids will never tire of reassembling them.
Learn more: The Chaos and the Clutter
14. Copy patterns with paper clips.
Lots of busy bag ideas focus on pattern recognition because it’s such an important early skill. Use colored paper clips from the dollar store to recreate the patterns on this free printable. Hone fine motor skills by linking them together, too.
Learn more: From This to That Early Learning
15. Link up colors and numbers.
If you worry about paper clips getting lost or being too small for tiny fingers, use plastic chain links instead. The printable cards at the link below help kids practice counting and even simple addition. (Buy 240 plastic links for $8 on Amazon.)
Learn more: Mother’s Niche
16. Build something new with LEGO challenge cards.
We love these free LEGO challenge cards! They’re perfect for kids who sometimes have trouble coming up with ideas. For a real challenge, tell them they have to use all the pieces in the bag for every creation!
Learn more: Artsy Fartsy Mama
17. Assemble a felt gingerbread man.
Work on motor skills and pattern matching with a felt gingerbread man busy bag. Find the pattern cards at the link below.
Learn more: Powerful Mothering
18. Play with pom-poms for counting practice.
There’s something irresistible about pom-poms. Throw a handful in a busy bag along with number blocks or cards and small containers (paper muffin liners can easily be replaced as needed).
Learn more: Life Over C’s
19. Design a crazy creature.
Mr. Potato Head is endlessly popular, but this busy bag idea encourages even more creativity! Pair a set of plastic body parts ($7 on Amazon) with playdough or modeling clay, and kids can invent their own little monsters.
Learn more: Little Lifelong Learners
20. Sort and sequence story circles.
Students can use story circles in a variety of ways. They can sort them, sequence them, use them to spark a storytelling session, and more. Get these free story circles at the link.
Learn more: Powerful Mothering
21. Engineer a stack of plastic cups.
Why do kids love stacking plastic cups so much? We may never know, but busy bag ideas like this take advantage of that obsession. Plastic shot glasses and a pack of index cards provide the tools for whatever kind of stacking kids can dream up.
Learn more: Lemon Lime Adventures
22. Tell a story inspired by a variety of objects.
Storytelling busy bags will appeal to budding writers. Place a variety of related or unrelated objects in the bag and encourage students to write a story based on one or more of them. Change out the objects from time to time to keep kids interested.
Learn more: NurtureStore
23. Stretch your skills with a geoboard.
You can buy a set of geoboards ($17 for 6 boards with bands on Amazon) or make your own if you’re feeling crafty. Either way, place them in a busy bag with a handful of rubber bands and some free printable pattern cards to give them ideas.
Learn more: Colorful Tangrams
24. Turn paint strips into an alphabet slider.
Students can discover new letter combinations and words with these easy DIY paint chip alphabet sliders. This is an ideal busy bag idea for little ones learning to read.
Learn more: Kids Activities Blog
25. Learn the value of money.
Money practice is a valuable skill and one of our favorite busy bag ideas. Use the free printables at the link to create clothespin and wooden stick practice models (US money). You can also just throw an assortment of play money and coins into the bag along with a series of cards showing different amounts, challenging kids to make up the correct amount shown in a variety of ways.
Learn more: View From a Step Stool
26. Make a match to learn Spanish words.
The earlier kids learn a second language, the easier it is! These free printable memory match cards introduce young learners to basic words in English and Spanish.
Learn more: Mom.com
27. Challenge their math skills with LEGO bricks.
Oh, there are so many LEGO busy bag ideas! These free cards use bricks to practice basic arithmetic and also provide some challenges to build too. (LEGOs are fantastic for teaching math—get more ideas here.)
Learn more: Little Bins for Little Hands
28. Construct complex shapes with pattern blocks.
We love this busy bag idea for older elementary kids learning advanced shapes. Pair the printable cards with pattern blocks to help them develop early geometry skills.
Learn more: Susan Jones Teaching
29. Play a word game with letter chips.
Make a set of letter chips by adding letters to plastic counters. Then visit the link below for a free printable word game that can be played alone or with friends.
Learn more: My Baba
30. Fill the time with tic-tac-toe.
This one is an old classic and one more use for those wooden craft sticks! Sure, they could play tic-tac-toe on paper, but this gives them a little more practice with fine motor skills and also works for those who aren’t writing quite yet.
Learn more: Teach Me Mommy
We’d love to hear your busy bag ideas! Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Looking for more early education ideas? Try these budget-friendly games for preschoolers.