This Educational Play Idea For Little Ones Is Easy, Inexpensive, and Fun

Being a parent means you know things don’t always go as planned.  Perhaps you have a little one who is sick and needs your attention while you’re trying to get other work done.  Or they may just be having a hard day, and you can’t seem to find anything that will keep them occupied.

We’ve all had challenging days with our toddlers and preschoolers.  They may not yet have the attention span necessary to sit and color, look at a book, or play quietly – especially on those “off” days where nothing seems to please them.

But there is a secret weapon you can add to your parenting arsenal – one which appeals to almost every child – and which should give you at least a few minutes of breathing room to focus on other things.

If you have a child under the age of five, busy boxes and bins can be an exciting and special activity for your little one to do on their own.  The possibilities are literally endless, and they’re not just for homeschool families.  Any parent can easily put together a few of these boxes to keep on hand which can be brought out at special times, like when they’re sick in bed or on a rainy day.

These boxes can be assembled with very little money.  In fact, you may have a lot of odds and ends around the house that would be perfect for them.  Dollar stores are also a great resource for creating busy boxes and bins, and while you’re there, you can also purchase the necessary plastic bins with lids in varying sizes and colors.

Not only do busy boxes and bins give moms a few much-needed moments to focus on another child — whether you are homeschooling or just need to work on other tasks — they also encourage solitary play, which is necessary for early childhood development.

Cornell University Health and Wellness reported on the importance of solitary play:

Children need more quiet time or down time than they are currently getting. Be aware, the benefits of solitary play described here also refer to activities beyond “screen time,” meaning time not spent in front of a computer, video game, or television.

Play is the work of childhood and playing alone offers children the chance to be their own boss in a stress-free environment. Children also develop qualities and skills they will need in real-life social encounters.

Solitary play promotes a sense of initiative. You can offer children blocks, clay, dolls, animal figures, or other toys, but it is up to the children to decide what to do.

Playing alone helps develop creativity and imagination. In the monarchy of solitary play, children set the scene, people it with characters, and direct the action as it springs to mind.

Children build self-esteem knowing they can entertain themselves.  Through their characters and the unfolding action, children can get to know themselves better.

As children express their ideas and work through problems in their play scenarios, they also work towards solutions in their own lives.

Play develops the powers of concentration, persistence, and completion. Being in charge of the action means thinking it through and following through.

Many kids are often put in front of the television or tablet when mom or dad need to get something done, but the drawbacks to this are extensively reported.  Busy boxes and bins are not like playing with everyday toys – the fact that there is a little themed world within the box for your child to discover is like giving them a gift to unwrap.  When these boxes are brought out as a special treat, they really can be magical for a young child.

There are so many ideas for these busy boxes for little ones that you are only limited by your imagination.  And because they are fairly small and compact, they don’t take up much space.  You can even create busy boxes for toddlers and preschoolers that may correspond to what their older siblings may be studying.

Some great ideas for fun busy boxes include:

  • Oatmeal or cornmeal box – These bins are great fun for little ones, and unlike a sand table, oatmeal and cornmeal are edible should they decide to (inevitably) stick some in their mouths.  Little ones can fill and pour with small cups and scoop with spoons.  Pre-K children can learn the basics of measurement with some measuring cups and spoons, and you can even hide small toys in the bin so little ones can go on an “archaeological dig.”  The only drawback to these boxes is that they can be a bit messy, so they are best used outside on a nice day or in an easy-to-sweep area of the house.

  • Measuring box – You can fill this one with varying lengths of string, wooden dowels, a ruler or measuring tape, and small notebook.  The smallest children can “measure” items like pencils, crayons, or floor tiles with the string and make comparisons between items of similar sizes.  They can make drawings of items that are alike and different in size or trace small items in their book.

  • Sensory or texture box – This is a great busy box to provide a tactile experience for hands-on kids.  This can be filled with spiky, squishy, soft and hard items.  You can fill a deflated balloon with flour or sand for a DIY sensory ball, or purchase bendy or stretchy dollar store toys for this box.  It can also be filled with items from around the house like small pieces of soft fabric or sandpaper to experience different textures.

  • Fine motor skills box – This box can be like a game to preschoolers.  It can be filled with different sized pom-poms or wooden beads and small tools like clothespins, spoons, or little tongs.  The goal is to pick up a pom-pom or bead with the tool and put it into a small cup.  You can also place small plastic cups of varying colors in the box, and your child can match the pom-pom or bead color to the cup.  This one is great for fine motor skills and concentration!

A wonderful variation on these boxes is to keep a few empty bins on hand and give your preschooler an assignment – you can tell them to go around the house (or in the room with you for a toddler) and fill the box with items of varying themes.  You can have them hunt for small items of a certain color, items that are soft, things that are round, and so on.  They will be excited for this little scavenger hunt, and proud to show you what they found on their own!

Solitary play with busy boxes can help to develop many important early learning skills for your little one and also give busy parents – especially those who homeschool – some time to focus on a task without them pulling on your coattails.  (Just be sure that if your child’s busy box contains small items, that they are adequately supervised or that the boxes are age-appropriate for the smallest children.)

Whether you are homeschooling older kids with a young child in the house, or are just looking to give your little one something to do that’s both quiet and educational, these busy boxes are the answer!

Being both parent and teacher can be challenging, and we’re here to help.  Mommy Underground previously reported on tips for homeschooling multiple ages.

Have you ever made interactive busy boxes for your little ones?  What are some of your child’s favorites?  Leave us your ideas in the comments.


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