How to EASILY Make Over 60 Busy Bag Activities for $12

Busy Bags for Toddlers and Preschoolers are Simple AND Fun!


What can we do with $12 in items from a dollar store?

Lots! 😉 But, we’ll focus on busy bags for toddlers and preschoolers today*. 🙂 

What are “busy bags?” They’re portable activities that keep little ones “busy” or occupied. This makes busy bags great Big Brother or Big Sister gifts, great for sticking in a bag before going to appointments or out to eat, traveling, and more. The activities in the busy bags shared here promote creative thinking, problem solving, independence, creative thinking, and more. They allow toddlers and preschoolers to practice hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, the alphabet, numbers and counting, shapes, colors, sorting, finding similarities and differences, and more! Plus, they’ll only take about a half hour to set up (snag the free download to make this easier!). 🙂

Busy Bags and Quiet Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers don't have to be complicated to make or involve a lot of "stuff." Check out these 60 different activities using the same basic materials in different ways. Great for traveling, plane trips with toddlers, road trip activities, and more! Busy bags for toddlers, busy bags for preschoolers, busy bags for 2 year olds

First, what do you need to make these busy bags?

Shopping list:

  • Craft sticks (colored if possible, but plain AND colored would be helpful too)
  • Pom poms
  • Disposable Straws (colored if possible)
  • Foam sheets
  • Paper clips (colored)
  • Index cards (3×5 and 5×8 ) or heavy paper/cardstock
    • Depending on how old your child is and how many “sets” of activities you want to make, you might need two packages.
  • Tiny cups (shot glasses or plastic bathroom cups)
  • Chenille stems
  • Velcro dots or small pieces of velcro
  • Dry erase marker (only if doing the tracing activity; black is usually the least likely to stain and the easiest to wipe off)
  • Play dough if including it


To make the Busy Bags, you’ll also need:

  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Permanent markers (thin ones to write on craft sticks!)
  • Markers (permanent will work)
  • Page protectors or dry erase pouch (if doing the tracing activity)
  • String, yarn, or dental floss for threading and lacing activities (tape the end of the yarn or ribbon so that it doesn’t ravel)
  • Resealable sandwich sized bags or other container to hold each activity
  • Small amount of rice if making I Spy bottle
  • Empty plastic bottle (sandwich bag could work too!)
  • Hair gel if making squishy writing tablet


Nice to have:

  • Clothes pins, tweezers or chopsticks
  • Labels (put activity ideas on the outside of the bag)
  • Duct tape (reinforce the bags; hole punch one corner and put them on a ring or carabiner)
  • Large gallon sized resealable bag to hold all the smaller bags of activities (if not using duct tape and a ring/carabiner)

[divider height=”30″ style=”default” line=”default” themecolor=”1″]
What are we going to do with this seemingly random assortment of items?

Craft stick busy bags

  1. Puzzles
  2. Pairing/matching
  3. Linking

Office supply busy bag

  1. Office in a bag (use what you have at home)

Pom pom busy bags

  1. Counting
  2. Line them up
  3. “Tracing”
  4. Patterns
  5. Sorting
  6. Tossing
  7. Transferring with tweezers, clothespins or chopsticks
  8. Play tic tac toe
  9. Races
  10. Push through a hole in a lid/container
  11. See how many it takes to fill in the space of ____
  12. “Measure” the distance from __ to ___

Straw busy bags

  1. Beads!
  2. Sort
  3. Thread
  4. Line them up and
  5. Make shapes or letters

Foam sheets busy bags

  1. Make houses, monsters, patterns, etc. from smaller shapes/pieces
  2. “Write” with the shapes/pieces
  3. Threading/lacing cards

Paper clip busy bags

  1. Sort by color.
  2. Thread on chenille stems or string.
  3. Link them together (make chains or necklaces).
  4. Use the number cards from above and put 1 paper clip on the number 1, 2 on the two…
  5. Line the paper clips up along the letters, numbers, and shapes from above.
  6. Use them to “measure.”
  7. Fill in empty space and count how many paper clips it takes (use shapes from the index cards, or whatever you have).
  8. Line them up.
  9. Make patterns or designs.


Tracing busy bags

  1. Use laminated paper or paper in a dry erase folder or page protector so that it lasts longer.
  2. Trace using a black dry erase marker (colored markers tend to stain).
  3. Trace using smaller items from other bags (straws, pom poms, paper clips).
  4. “Write” the letters using playdough.

Play dough busy bags

  1. Just play with it.
  2. “Write” with it.
  3. Stick stuff in it.

I Spy bottle

Reusable squishy drawing/writing pad busy bag


FREE items that are fun busy bags (and “oh well!” if they fall under your airline seat!):

  1. Bottle caps
  2. Squeeze pouch (apple sauce pouches) lids/caps

[divider height=”30″ style=”default” line=”default” themecolor=”1″]

 Busy bags for toddlers are easy to make and don't require a lot of time to set up! Check out the FREE printable to make this task even easier!

Now, HOW do we set these busy bag activities up?

Watch the video here!



  • Craft Stick Puzzle Busy Bag:

      1. Put 2-3 craft sticks together (use masking tape if needed).
      2. Draw shapes (faces, flowers, etc) across all the craft sticks.
      3. Take apart and give to your little one to put back together.
      4. Tip: If you put more than one puzzle in a bag, switch colors OR put different colored dots on the back so that you can easily sort them.


  • Craft Stick Building Busy Bag:

      1. Put velcro dots OR magnets on the ends of the craft sticks.
      2. This is especially fun with colored craft sticks, as you can make patterns with them, form different shapes or letters, and even experiment with 3D building.


  • Craft Stick Pairing Busy Bag:

      1. Alphabet: write uppercase letters at the top of each craft stick. Use another set of craft sticks to write lowercase letters. Have your child pair upper and lower case letters.
      2. Tip: write the alphabet out on an index card so that your child can refer to this as needed.
      3. The same pairing/matching can also be done with shapes (either the same size or one smaller/larger than the other but still the same shape), numbers (write the number on one popsicle stick and the corresponding number of dots on the other pair), or anything else small that you can write and match.


  • Office in a Bag Busy Bag:

      1. Put sticky notes, paper clips, pens, pencils, page tabs, etc. in a bag. Use whatever you have and whatever is appropriate for your child and let them have fun with the supplies.


  • Pom Pom Patterns Busy Bag:

      1. Put various colors of pom poms in a bag.
      2. Using the same colored markers, draw circles on an index card to make patterns.
      3. If your child is new to patterns, it would help to leave space for the pom poms to be placed on top of the circles you draw.
        1. Larger pieces of cardstock cut into strips might work better for this if you have it.
        2. You could also use the circle dots to make your patterns.
      4. If you have a small pair of tweezers, stick them in the bag so that your child can practice using them to place the pom poms.


  • Pom Pom Line up Busy Bag:

      1. On large index cards (5×8), write your child’s name (or the alphabet if it’s something you’ve been practicing).
      2. Put one letter per card and write it nice and large.
      3. Then, have your child line the pom poms up on the letter, covering the letter.
      4. You could do a shapes set (have your child put the pom poms along the sides of the shape OR fill the shape with as many pom poms as possible) and a number set too.


  • Pom Pom Toss Busy Bag:

      1. Take small cups (bathroom sized disposable ones or a similar size) and let your little one toss the pom poms in the cups.
      2. Sorting by color or size are other ideas.
      3. You could also count how many fit in each cup.


  • Straw Beads Busy Bag:

      1. Cut them up in different lengths so that your child can sort by size.
      2. Activity ideas
        1. thread them on chenille stems.
        2. Make patterns with them.
        3. Line the up on the alphabet/shape/number cards from the “Pom Pom Line up” activity.
        4. Use tweezers to pick them up and place them in small cups.
        5. Count them.
        6. Sort them by color.
        7. Form shapes with them using chenille stems or string.


  • Shape Sorting & Building Busy Bag:

      1. Cut different sized shapes out of foam (felt and cardstock work too), such as circles, rectangles, squares, and triangles.
      2. Put them in a sandwich bag with instructions for your child to sort them by shape, color or size. Then, create! Build vehicles, robots, houses, make patterns, etc. Teach me Mommy has a great robot tutorial and Little Family Fun has one for dinosaurs. 
      3. You can also punch holes in the shapes (same as above or a separate set) and use them as beads (felt works great for this!).
        1. Grab straws to thread them on or use the chenille stems.
        2. Swirly straws make for fun threading of felt (or foam) beads!


  • Tracing Busy Bag:

      1. Draw various lines on a piece of paper (squiggly, zig zag, etc).
      2. Put this paper in a page protector with a black dry erase marker and small rag/cloth so that your little one can practice tracing.
      3. You could also do the alphabet. shapes, numbers, etc.


  • Tiny Cups Busy Bag:

      1. Put tiny cups (plastic bathroom cups or shot glasses) in a bag along with some index cards.
      2. Let your little one build! Towers, houses, etc.
      3. You can also write capital letters on one set of cups and lower case on another. Have your child match them (but you can still use these for building).
      4. Numbers (the number on one cup and a corresponding number of dots, stars, etc. on another is another variation).
      5. This would also be a good chance to pair up shapes too!
      6. If you find different colored cups, work on patterns or talk about building each layer of the tower a different color.


  • Chenille Stems Busy Bag:

    1. Line them up on the letters or shapes from the Pom Pom Line up.
    2. Cut the chenille stems into smaller pieces and sort by size and color (like the Straw Beads).
    3. These could also be threaded through a small box with holes in it.
    4. Cut them up into small 1 inch pieces, put them in an empty plastic water bottle. Give your child a magnet and let them see how many pieces they can grab with the magnet and if they can move the pieces around.
    5. Thread through whiffle balls.



  • Paper Clips Busy Bag:

      1. Get colored or patterned ones.
      2. Stick them in a bag. Prep work = Done!
      3. Activities:
        1. Sort by color.
        2. Link them together.
        3. Use the number cards from above and put 1 paper clip on the number 1, 2 on the two…
        4. Line the paper clips up along the letters, numbers, and shapes from above.
        5. Use them to “measure.”
        6. Fill in empty space and count how many paper clips it takes (use shapes from the index cards, or whatever you have).
        7. Line them up.
        8. Make patterns or designs.
  • Play Dough Busy Bag:

      1. Line up on the alphabet cards (works best if you laminate them first or put in a page protector). Instead of tracing the lines, line them up with play dough.
      2. Form shapes with craft sticks and fill in with play dough.
      3. Stick the “beads” in the play dough and make designs.


  • I Spy Bottle:

      1. Put small items (themed or not. I use random small stuff the kids get in party goodie bags and similar stuff) in a wide mouthed water bottle.
      2. Add rice to the jar (small lentils might also work).
      3. Put the cap back on and glue if desired.
      4. Your child can rotate the bottle and discover the items.


      1. Put hair gel in a sandwich bag. Hands on as We Grow has a great tutorial for this.
      2. Squeeze out all the air.
      3. Seal.
      4. Add packaging tape to make sure the bag doesn’t open.
      5. Write or draw pictures using your figure or a Q-tip. 
      6. You can also put small items (that aren’t sharp) in the bag for little ones to squish around.
      7. Note: might not be the best idea for airport security. 

FREE Printable with directions for how to make over 60 activities using $12 of items from a dollar store. Busy bags for toddlers. Road trip and airplane activities for 1-4 year olds. Toddler activities for the plane. Traveling with toddlers and traveling with preschoolers

Other Easy Busy Bag Activity Ideas

    1. Window clings
    2. Stickers (reusable are great!)
    3. Balloons (especially for playing games when you reach your destination)
    4. Bubbles (especially for play breaks or when you reach your destination)
    5. Books
    6. Coloring book
    7. Flash cards (see ideas)
    8. Bring a toy plane so that you can talk about the parts of it during your flight
    9. Toy vehicles are fun for driving around and racing once you reach your destination.
    10. Balls are a versatile toy for playing with once you reach your destination.


[divider height=”30″ style=”default” line=”default” themecolor=”1″]

Activities for Flash Cards

1. Use them like you would books. Talk about what’s on each card, what’s happening, what colors you see, etc.

2. Play a matching or memory game.

3. Cut them in half/into two pieces and make “puzzles.”

4. Play “I spy” or “I’m thinking of”

5. Sort them.

6. Line them up by whatever feature you’d like to.

7. Count them.

8. Practice holding them and “playing cards.” (great skill for little hands!)

9. Use them to tell a story (the wilder and crazier, the better!)

10. Play a guessing game with them.

11. Use them to “measure” something or the distance between two items.

12. “Hide” them and guess the hiding place.

13. Play “war” or any other game that you can make up based on the content of your flashcards.


Please do NOT use them as the standard “hold the card up and ‘what does this mean?’ or ‘what’s the answer to…?'” type activity that we’re used to from our school days. BORING and not effective for our kids.

[divider height=”30″ style=”default” line=”default” themecolor=”1″]


So, there you have it!

Over 60 Busy Bag Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers to keep them occupied on planes, in the car, at restaurants, or anywhere else. Don’t forget that you can combine the activities for more fun! Why not let your little one work with the pom poms, craft sticks, and foam shapes? See what your toddler or preschooler can do and what he/she comes up with. Their work may surprise you! 🙂


These also make great gifts! Busy moms LOVE stuff that’s easy. Why not give a pregnant mama a set of these to do with her toddler or little one in those last days of pregnancy OR for those first few weeks of having more than one little one at home? These activities are quiet and have a low “mess” factor, making them perfect Big Brother or Big Sister gifts and activities to sit nearby and do while Mom is occupied with Baby.


*These activities contain small parts. Please exercise caution when using with small children and closely supervise little ones.


Busy bags are easy activities for toddlers and they're fun activities for preschool too. Busy bags can be simple and easy to set up, if you have the right materials. They're great for fine motor skills practice for 2 and 3 year olds and incorporate lots of creative play and STEM for toddlers and preschool STEM, plus alphabet activities for toddlers and preschoolers. Learn how to make over 60 activities from $12 worth of stuff from a dollar store. Easy DIY activities and easy set up. Great for road trips, airplane rides, and anywhere else you need to occupy your 1 year old or your 2-3 year old.

If this was helpful to you, please share it with others!

[wpdevart_like_box profile_id=”1868471540055818″ connections=”show” width=”300″ height=”550″ header=”small” cover_photo=”show” locale=”en_US”]

Don’t forget to head on over to my Resources page and snag your FREE Printable Guide today!

Busy bags for toddlers are easier and cheaper to make than you might think! Find out how to use a few key items in a different ways for the ultimate "on the go" toddler activity bags that actually help 2-3 year olds learn through play. Inludes FREE printable!