September is just around the corner and that means most homeschooling families are preparing, planning, and putting finishing touches on their school year plans. Maybe your homeschool family consists of grade school children and you are trying to find a way to keep your preschooler busy when you’re giving direct instruction to the older kids. Or maybe you have only younger kiddos, like me with a 2 and 3 year old, and you just want to be prepared for your tot school and home preschool day. These busy boxes would even work for non homeschoolers! Think of those times you’re busy making dinner and need the kids occupied (without using electronics). Busy boxes are a great choice for any of those situations! This guide will give you all the information you need to know about creating, using, and rotating busy boxes for your preschooler!
What to include in busy boxes
Busy boxes are usually clear plastic bins like these ones. There are many choices of what to include in your busy boxes (note: these can also be called busy bags or work boxes). To start, you’ll want to make sure that any objects you use in your boxes are relatively novel items for your kids. That does not mean they’ve never used them before, but it does mean that these items are not regularly available to them. This helps to keep the boxes interesting and exciting for the kids! Here’s a quick list to help you brainstorm the contents you may want to include:
- Dyed pasta
- Play dough (see our recipe here) and play dough mats
- Pattern blocks
- Lacing cards
- Special flashcards or beautiful picures
- Magnifying glass with appropriate materials to investigate
- Unit blocks
- Whiteboard and dry erase crayons or markers
- Scissors with various materials to cut (check our guide to preschool scissors here)
** How Wee Learn has a fantastic resource which provides a YEAR’S WORTH of quiet [busy] box ideas! I hope you’ll check it out!
Where to store busy boxes
Busy boxes should be stored in a place that your preschoolers can independently have access to them. Part of the reason I like using them is they promote independent investigations and raise my kids’ self-esteem that they are capable learners.
If you’ve already read my post featuring a tour of our home preschool area, then you know that we are short on space! (If you haven’t read the post, head over now to see how we organize out learning spaces throughout our home.) Here is what our main learning area looks like right now:
When should my kids use busy boxes?
Anytime is a good time for busy boxes! You can choose to designate a special time each day to explore busy boxes, like first thing in the morning when you are preparing breakfast or after lunch during quiet time. You can also choose to just have them available anytime of the day that your kids need something to stay occupied.
How exactly are busy boxes used?
Each box should be put together in a way to promote a specific skill, or to supplement current lessons or interest. When you put together a busy box, have a goal in mind of what you want to accomplish with it. The best busy boxes will be self correcting (think puzzles), open ended (think sensory bins), and engaging. Here are some activities we have blogged about that can easily be turned into busy boxes:
- Sticker activities
- Name recognition paint sticks
- Go, Dog, Go storytelling basket
- Alphabet sensory bin
- Very Busy Spider cutting tray
You can also include flashcards and quality, educational toys in your busy boxes! Don’t feel like everything has to be a creative endeavor!
Also make sure that the boxes are not so heavy/cumbersome that your preschoolers can not easily remove them him/herself. They should be a way to promote independence and therefore easy to access and put away independently when finished.
How often should I rotate busy boxes?
That will be up to you and your kids! Sometimes my kids go back to the same busy box every day for a week. Sometimes they are done with it after a day. Preschoolers interests can change day by day. One day they love robots, another day they want to know everything there is to know about butterflies! Follow their lead. Rotate as you see new interests develop, after they’ve master the skill you targeted in specific busy boxes, or as your you change preschool themes!
Anything else I need to know?
Set expectations for using the busy boxes. Your kids should know where to find them and where they are to be used (kitchen table? living room floor?). Encourage them to put their own busy box “work” away. While cleaning up an entire living room of toys will be overwhelming for a preschooler, a busy box should be simple enough to put away independently. Lastly, have a couple options of boxes available. Give your kids choices, a good rule of thumb is add one choice for every year old they are (2 for two years old, 3 for three years old, etc.)
Did I miss anything?
I appreciate you reading through the whole article about busy boxes and preschoolers, but I have no doubt you still have a few question. Please leave me a comment/question below so I can make sure to cover it for other inquiring minds!
More Preparing For School Tips from the Early Childhood Education Team:
Back to School Tips for Parents PLUS Visual Morning Chart! by The Preschool Toolbox Blog
Starting Kindergarten-Books and Activities by Capri + 3
Back to School: Starting Routines by Tiny Tots Adventures
Make Back to School Books to Ease the Transition by Fun-A-Day
4 Back to School Tips: Preparing for School by Learning 2 Walk
Preparing for Preschool: Creative Center in a Box by Powerful Mothering
How to Plan for Preschool at Home by Mom Inspired Life
Supporting preschool learning at home by Rainy Day Mum
Setting Literacy Goals by Growing Book by Book
Traditional Preschool or Homeschool Preschool or Both? by Still Playing School
Teaching Preschool at Home by Raising Lifelong Learners
Preparing for School Brings Mixed Emotions for both Parents and Children by The Educators’ Spin On It
Prepare a Hands-On Preschool at Home by Life Over C’s