Topic | Preschool Busy Bags: how to implement?

This topic contains 9 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  katafus 4 years, 6 months ago.

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  • katafus

    We’re fairly new to homeschooling, with young kids–boys ages 6.5 and almost 3.  Older Brother is doing AO year 1.  I have yet to set up any kind of rigid schedule, but in general, we do about 3 days of “school” each week.  One additional day is spent with our CM co-op, which is like a 4th day of school.  For our 3 days at home, our morning routine works pretty well, from wake-up through morning chores, breakfast & a few independent activities for Older Brother (nature/weather journal & rehearsal of current Bible passage & memory poem).  

    The other routine that works fairly well is for me to do some AO reading with Older Brother before his rest time, after Little Brother is down for his nap.  We do one AO reading and usually one chapter of a free reading book (Little House).

    Here’s the trouble: I’m trying to get us into more of a “school” routine in the mornings.  We’ve started math (RightStart), and I also like to do hymns, Bible, Spanish & one AO reading.  And I still need to add copywork.

    This all sounds great, but the problem is that Little Brother creates MAJOR distractions.  I’m feeling really frazzled and discouraged in my attempts to accomplish Older Brother’s lessons while tending to his busy Little Brother.  Older Brother is feeling greatly frustrated by the constant interruptions from Little Brother, and I can sympathize!  It’s hard to concentrate on what Mom is reading, or on narrating back to her, when your little brother is continually asking questions or trying to engage us in his play.  (And he’s not being bad, just being a normal toddler.)

    Soooo, I’ve been researching toddler/preschool activities and have found lots of wonderful “busy bag” ideas.  I’ve tried a few of them, and they’ve gone over well.  The first time.  The second time we get out an activity, it seems like “old hat” and doesn’t interest Little Brother anymore.

    I guess my questions are:

    –What is a realistic expectation for a 2/3yo during morning school time?  Should I invest time into training him along the lines of “this is school time, you need to stay over here, you need to work on this until you finish, please don’t interrupt while I’m reading” or should I let him run around pell-mell and pepper us with questions?

    –Is 1 to 1.5 hours of school (in the morning) realistic in this case?

    –Any tips for HOW to implement busy bags?  I’ve got lots of activities, but am struggling to determine how to use them.  Do I select the activities each day, or does he pick?  How many activities?  How can I rotate them so that we’re using each activity more than once, but he’s not getting bored with the same activities over and over?  I don’t want to overcomplicate this or create lots of extra work for myself, but I do think he needs to be actively engaged with something he can do fairly independently.  And how do we switch from one activity to the next–do I train him to put away each activity before moving on to the next (some of them have many small parts) or just not worry about it until the end of lessons?  I NEED SOME KIND OF SYSTEM HERE!  Smile  Lately, our morning school sessions seem to end in frustration and negative interaction, for both Older Brother and myself.  

    –Any other general suggestions? 



    Our dc are around the same age!  My boys are 6.5 and 3.5.  I am doing a yr0 with my oldest this year.  I have found that 45 minutes to an hour is about all my ds can handle.  The 45 minutes to an hour is not all in a row.  We also do Rightstart (level A), bible study guide for all ages, delightful handwriting and Outdoor Secrets.  We do lots of outside play (live in AZ for this time of year is wonderful).  Some days we do art, cooking, cleaning their bathrooms (yes, I count that as school), geopuzzles, games, etc.  For read alouds I wait until later in the afternoon or at bedtime.  On art days, I read to them while they are painting, coloring, etc.  My ds is not ready to read so we have not yet added in reading lessons.  

    We are not starting AO yr 1 until later this year so I will not add in History, hymn study and foreign language until then.

    When I set out lessons for the day I put out a little something for my 3.5yo.  Sometimes he plays with it sometimes he does not.   I don’t have busy boxes but I try to mix it up as well.  He also seems to grow bored quickly of the same old thing.  The other thing that helps both my boys is that between each subject I let them go off and play (about 5-10 minutes) and then call my oldest back for another subject.  Many times, my youngest has found something to play with and is not a distraction.  I keep lessons at 15 minutes tops for my ds and some subjects take just a couple of minutes at this age.  

    Blessings as you find what works for your family,





    Sounds a lot like what I am having to deal with. I like your idea of busy bags. I’m looking into putting together a more structured day for my son including some preschool work for him as well. We have not settled on any curriculum yet but I think it would help!

    Hope this isn’t discouraging, but I have the same situation with my 4yo! lol  He is learning to read and at least now is into the routine of knowing that he needs to read to me from a certain book, and at some point do a couple of activity book pages with me. Granted, I have been inconsistent with him, then we moved, then I was inconsistent again. So I’m sure your little guy will get into some good routines long before he’s the age of my little guy. But still! I’m frustrated! lol

    As always, I think consistency and routines are great, and I do try to spend one-on-one time with him FIRST, while the older ones work independently. I also do read alouds over lunch when he is a captive audience (I eat my lunch while I’m making theirs so I am done eating and can read while they are eating). 

    I have been looking into preschool/K activity ideas for hiim… something for him to do independently in short bursts, but would love to hear HOW others do that. And I have that same problem you mentioned where he’s seen it already and it doesn’t capture his attention like I hope.

    Sorry, not very encouraging… but I look forward to more replies! 😉


    My youngest is 6 so I’m sort of past the age you’re dealing with….but we went through the same thing with him and his older brother (now 9).  I made up a bunch of activity bags and kept them in hanging file folders in a large plastic file box.  Every day I would pull out 3 to 6 different activities and he’d work through them.  (I usually spent some time on Saturday or Sunday teaching him how to do the activity so when we pulled them out he’d know what to do, without having to interrupt and ask.)  Sometimes I’d need more, sometimes he’d focus on one or two and stay with them for a while.  Each day was something different, unless he specifically asked for one.  I also had some larger activities like pattern blocks, frogs on a log, buckets of beans with toys hidden in them, etc and those were stored on a shelf either in the living room or in the school room.  He could only play with them during school hours and we rotated them.  Most days he’d stay busy for the entire time I needed him to.

    I did an internet search and found a ton of great ideas and made up a bunch to get started then added new activities every few weeks.  At the height of littledom, I had maybe 25 to 30 activities in the file folder box, and 10 or 20 ‘big’ activities (this can even include toys he regularly plays with like cars or dinosaurs.)  I love the materials from Confessions of a Homeschooler and Homeschool Creations.  They have lots of worksheets/activity sheets which helped him feel like he was doing ‘school’ but it’s gentle and fun, not overly academic.  As he got older he moved more to these types of worksheets although he still used activity bags.  In fact, he still has 10 or so that he regularly uses even now. 

    I always involved him in read-alouds and read picture books to him throughout the day.  He did his activities in the same room as me, on the floor or at the table or on my lap.  Some days we did school in the hall while he played in the bathtub…I’d sit right inside the door and the brothers all sat in the hall doing their work.  Sometimes we’d rush to get stuff done during naps.  The 9-yr-old spent almost all of the school time on my lap when he was little, getting his back scratched.  

    Often it’s a lesson in patience and sacrifice…for the older child.  And other days it’s the younger one who needs to learn the lessons of waiting and meeting the needs of the elder.  How you react to interruptions and schedules gone awry teaches your children how they should respond.

    It’s a grand adventure! 



    Thanks!  It’s so helpful to hear how it’s worked for other families.  I like the hanging file folder idea, and it’s helpful to know that you picked out 3-6 activities each day.  These are the practical logistics I’m trying to work out!  

    And I agree it’s a good opportunity to teach Older Brother some patience and sacrifice.  We just had a talk yesterday about “patience & understanding.”  I need to focus on that more with him (and myself–b/c talks like those are not so effective when I myself lack patience & understanding with him!) 

    And by the way, I clicked on your picture, which took me to your blog, which I realized I’ve visited recently in my quest for busy bag activities.  It was helpful!  We’ve been using some of your ideas, and they’ve gone over well.

     So thanks for that, too!



    Thanks, Kathleen.  Here is my Pinterest board with a few ideas.  And this board has a few more.  I also have a Word document with some ideas – if you’d like I can send it to you.  


    I haven’t done busy bags, but when ds was 2, he was in the pack and play for 30 min each day with some toys and Cherrios.  Yes, there was the initial period of protest, but I didn’t care all that much.  He got over it and got used to it.  I needed that time with dd to work on her math and reading skills.  Now that ds is 3 1/2 he has the choice of sitting at the table or on the couch with us and listening in, or playing quietly with his own toys.  He does pretty well most days.  We have another coming in June though so I am sure that will throw a monkey wrench into everything!


    So what if the child has no interest in the busy bags?  Do you force them into it?  For example, I made lots of busy stuff from Confessions of a Homeschooler for my 6, 5, 2yo and they didn’t care for it.  They don’t really care for fine motor stuff…none of them!  So I’ve been wondering…do I “force” them to do block patterns, lacing, etc.  I know that some have “artsy” kids and other’s have “book” kids so I didn’t want to push them into activities they disliked.  Then that leaves me with a whole lot of nothing as for busy activities goes.  

    crazy4boys, can you send to me the word document you mention above?  

    I know 2 is young for busy stuff and I don’t know what to expect from her.  We are still in a very light mode of school and I’m trying to use this time for training.  I’d have her buckled in her seat and she would just throw everything she didn’t want.  Then she would just whine.  How long does it usually take for them to learn to sit and play quietly?  


    It’s been about a week since my original post, and I thought I’d give an update.

    1.  It’s a process.  Some days go well; others not so well.

    2.  Slowly, both boys are learning what’s expected.  Little Brother’s doing a bit better working independently and Older Brother is learning (I think) to be more patient with the interruptions.

    3.  It seemed to help my 6yo when I explained the concept of “pausing.”  When Little Brother interrupts, we “pause” and then return right where we left off.  I try to give him a little prep talk each day about how we’re a family, there will be interruptions, we need to be patient and understanding, and it’s OK–we can just pause.  

    4.  I’m also trying to prep Little Brother every day, by reminding him the correct way to interrupt and encouraging him to work independently and not interrupt while I’m reading or Older Brother is narrating.

    5.  I think it’s going better.  (I think!)  Smile

    6.  I did spend some time gathering ideas for Busy Boxes/Activities, and then spent some time picking up necessary items and then assembling the boxes.  I tried to pick only the activities I was pretty sure he’d like, as well as ones that used items we had or I could find easily/inexpensively.  (I reasoned that I’d spent time and money selecting books and math curriculum, etc for Older Brother and this was the equivalent for Little Brother.)

    7.  A few activities have flopped, but others have really engaged him.  As we continue to try new activities, I’ll try to post updates here.  I also have a blog ( where I plan to do some write-ups of the ones he’s really enjoyed.

    Currently, these have gone over very well:

    Playdoh activities from prekinders–

    Pattern Block Mats–


    Thanks for all the tips and encouragement, and to those who are in the trenches with me, I encourage you to hang in there!  Smile


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