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Busy Bags and Travel Kits

Busy bags are a lifesaver on long trips or for frequent travelers. Our family travels a lot, and busy bags are one thing I have found to be extremely helpful in keeping an active toddler entertained on the way.

If you’ve never heard of busy bags before, the basic concept is that you take a small bag and fill it with a singular activity that is engaging enough to capture the child’s imagination and keep them occupied for a decent length of time.

I like to use small ziplock bags, since they are the perfect travel size, they’re completely transparent (making it easy to find which busy bag you’re looking for), and the ziplock feature makes for quick clean-up and no-mess storage.

When traveling, I typically make up several different busy bags and keep these individual bags in a larger carry case. My favorite type of “carry case” for all these busy bags is a simple cosmetic bag that has transparent, “see-through” pockets. A hanging toiletries bag works great, since you can hang them on the back of car or airplane seat for easy access.

What to Put in the Busy Bags

Busy bags can be filled with random items, or categories of items, or groups of items that are used together. They can be geared towards helping your child develop fine motor skills, they can be educational, or they can just be for shear fun and entertainment.

The best part about assembling busy bags is that the possibilities are endless!

Plus, if you’re functioning on a tight budget, you can just use a little creativity and these busy bags won’t have to cost you a cent!

When I first started using busy bags I did a lot of brainstorming on Pinterest looking for ideas and inspiration. You can find a lot of great busy bag ideas on that site!

Once I got more familiar with making busy bags, I just started creating my own based upon what kinds of things my children were most interested in at the time, or what types of skills they needed to develop.

The following is a listing of the busy bags I compiled that were a big hit with my kids . . .

* Nature Busy Bag

My kids love the outdoors and everything related to being outside. So for this busy bag I just collected a bunch of rocks, sticks, acorns, pinecones, or various nuts. I scrubbed off the dirt and soaked them in bleach water to sterilize them. Then I put a little dab of paint on each one (nail polish works too!) Just so that I would know exactly which rocks and sticks are her “play ones” (aka. Sterile), and also so other adults would realize that I actually did intend for the rocks and sticks to be play things.

Also, in keeping with the theme of nature items, I added some fake leaves and flowers. The real ones wouldn’t keep, so I used vinyl ones instead. So when the kids were confined to a seat and unable to go outside, they had a little of the outside brought to them!

* Pipe Cleaner Spice Bottle

For being such a simple item, this turned out to be a HUGE hit with the kids. I learned early on that this had to be an activity they didn’t use around other people’s kids, since it tended to draw too much attention and even started a couple fights from other kids wanting to take it away and play with it themselves. Needless to say, young kids love this toy, and it’s so easy to put together!

All you need is an empty spice container that has holes in the cap that are big enough to slide Q-tips through. Then you cut pipe cleaners (or fuzzy sticks) to the right length to fit easily inside the spice container. I give my kids a selection of both pipe cleaners and Q-tips for a little variety. They can spend the longest time stuffing the pipe cleaners and Q-tips through the holes, and it’s great for helping to develop young motor skills!

* Mini Sticker Books

When my daughter was pretty little she was content with just a sheet of stickers and a little pad of paper to stick them on. I’d sometimes throw in a couple crayons as well and she was thrilled!

When she got a bit older and was learning her colors, I did a more advanced version of the sticker book, by creating a color sorting sticker book from paint cards . . .

* Paint Card Sticker Matching

You can pick up sample paint cards from any hardware store, and the best part is they’re completely free! I took a hole punch and punched out a couple holes in each card and used metal rings to fasten them together.

Then I went around collecting stickers that were primarily made up of single colors. The idea behind this activity is that my daughter can take a sticker and work at matching her colors by sticking the stickers on the correct pages of the book.

* Non-Toy Busy Bag

Most of the “toys” our Baby-Girl likes to play with are not actually toys, so I am making a “non-toy” busy bag for her.

* Textures

For really young kids one of the most intriguing discoveries they are making is the discovery of different textures. So, I did a little “scavenger hunt” through my house and collected whatever little odds and ends I could find that contained different textures, and I made a texture themed busy bag.

For items that could be “choking hazards” I fastened them securely to strips of cardboard, so the child could touch and handle the textures without the risk of swallowing small objects.

Some of these textures included: a piece of felt, a strip of cardboard, the plastic ring from a milk jug, various textured buttons, shoe lace, ribbon, and valcro.

* “Randomness”

Just a mixture of odds and ends to let Baby-Girl decide on her own what to do with them. Including things like paper clips, string, curtain rings, clothes pin, magnets, etc.  

* Playdough

May be a little too messy for some forms of travel, but playdough can sure keep kids entertained!

Need playdough toys? Try kitchen measuring spoons (tablespoon & teaspoon sizes), plastic cookie cutters, toy people or animals, plastic Easter eggs, popsicle sticks, paper clips, and just little random objects from around the house.

* Collage Kit

This is a super easy busy bag to put together but engaging for kids. You just cut out pictures from old magazines and stick them in a small envelope (to keep them from getting all wrinkled in the bag). Add a glue stick and a few sheets of paper or cardboard and you’re good to go. The kids will enjoy gluing the different pictures onto the sheets of paper. It’s amazing, but something so simple can be a great hit with the kids!

* Toddler Wallet

You can purchase really cute children’s wallets or “upcycle” your old wallets to be a play toy for your kids. Or there’s a printable wallet with play money at the kids activity blog.

Fill the pockets of the wallet with old gift cards, sticker sheets, and family pictures.

There are also lots of printables you can get online that are geared towards pretend play, such as printable fun play money, realistic money, and printable cards (credit cards, library card, driver’s license, etc).