Oh, how I wish I'd known about these when my oldest boys were little! These bags are a great way to keep little ones busy, but still learning.
To make activity bags I print, cut out, laminate, sort, etc and place everything into a gallon-size zipper plastic bag. Please use your best judgment with a child – my son does not place things in his mouth (never did) but if your child does, don’t include activities with small items. Also, gallon size baggies can fit over a child’s head so please teach them to keep it off their noggins.
I’ve found it helpful for many of these to have a small tray or cookie sheet available so that when something gets “dumped” it’s contained in a specific area instead of all over the table or floor.
How we use them: Last year we’d just grab out a handful of activity bags and use them while I read out loud to the older boys or at the school table upstairs. This year he’s using his own workboxes. He wants to do 12 a day – we’ll see how that goes. Every night he helps me choose 2 or 3 things he wants to include (one in each drawer – I choose the other activities). The next day he pulls out one activity from one drawer, plays with it/completes the worksheet, then returns the activity to the bag and to the drawer. I store most of them in a hanging file folder box, each activity in a separate, labeled folder. The bigger, bulkier items are in a dish pan in the school closet.
Here is a list of activities we’ve created with his reactions to them:
Paperclip color matching game – loves it
Color and shape matching wheels – loves it as do all our little visitors
Color matching with objects – loves it
I used foam sheets (you could use cardstock or felt) and collected a ton of small objects in various colors (between 5 to 10 per color). To play he lays out the color sheets and dumps the bag of objects on the floor. He then places each object on the corresponding color sheet. For example, the green frog would go on the green foam. The pink pig would go on the pink foam.
Clothespin Counting game – loves it
Hide and Seek – chooses this one a lot
Take pasta, dry beans or rice and put in a tupperware like container. Hide some small toys and have them search for it.
Mix and Match – uses it but gets frustrated sometimes
Have a bag full of different items, 2 of each. Have them find the matches. You can time it if you want - how many can you get in 1 minute? Or just let them make the matches. It can be whatever - milk jug caps, coins, small toys, stickers on small pieces of paper, paperclips, etc.
Alphabet train – doesn’t use this one very often
Print and color (there's a color version but would probably use a lot of ink) or print on colored paper.
Shades of color – he hated this and told me to get rid of it
Get some paint chip "ladders" (strips that are the different shades of same color). Make a master list with the color at the top and squares to put the other colors. Have them sort into the grid. Can use velcro, magnets or just have them lay it on the paper. If you use magnets they can be put on a cookie sheet or magnet board. I picked up some cards at Walmart but their selection was pretty stinky. I think Lowe's would have a much better, and larger, selection.
Measure it – only used a few times and said it was “boring”
Print this onto cardstock or laminate. Cut pieces from ribbon, yarn, pipe cleaners, etc. Have the child measure each thing to determine where it goes.
Spooning beads – does this one over and over again
Get 2 small bowls, and a spoon (check $ store). Put all beads in one bowl and have them spoon to the other bowl.
Counting frogs – loves it
Make a mat for each number, like 1, 2, 3, etc. Have them put right number of frogs on each mat. Or flowers or whatever small item you can find several of.
Patterning pom-poms – will do it if I set it out, but won’t choose it on his own
Make some pattern strips for using the colors of a bag of pom-poms. Cut some strips of paper about 8 1/2" by 3 or 4 inches and color circles to match the pom-poms. The child should place the pom-pom either on top of the matching color or underneath it. You can have a set pattern like ABAB, or ABCABC or just a random mixture of colors.
Double Trouble Shapes – new to try this year
Make some grids and laminate. Across the top row of each make some shape combinations (a circle on top of a heart, etc). Glue all together. Child needs to find both shapes needed to complete a square. Separate each grid's shapes in different bags.
Mini clothes line – thinks it’s hilarious
Cut small pieces of clothes from felt or other fabrics. String twine between 2 sticks and use mini clothes pins to secure them. For the base you could drill holes into a wooden plaque or glue it to the inside edges of a small box. We use this tied between two chairs. We have an alphabet set too – each clothespin has an upper or lowercase letter written on it and he pins the corresponding letter (written on paper) to the line. It could just be an index card with the letter on it or you could cut out “clothes” shapes. You can mix and match this as well – uppercase pins to lowercase, upper to upper, etc.
Stickers and paper – I have to regulate this and only do it once in a while because he goes through stickers so quickly. Include a variety of stickers and some paper (or cardstock) and let them go to town.
Pringles Can color sorting – loves it
I covered the can so he wouldn’t get all excited that he was getting a snack. I also used a few more colors than pictured, and made two with different colors on each one. All the kids that come to visit have loved this as well.
Pumpkin transfer – loves it
I picked up two small plastic pumpkins on clearance and filled one with small foam thingies (airplanes, frogs, bugs, shapes, etc). He loves to transfer it from one pumpkin to the other – he uses his fingers, kid-sized chopsticks or tweezers.
Cutting – loves it
In a bag include child safety scissors and cardstock, which is easier for them to cut. You can also include some patterns for them to cut if you want to teach more control.
Gluing – loves it
Include items for them to glue to cardstock/construction paper. Die cut pieces, shapes, letters, whatever. I patrol the craft stores for clearance items (think collage) and use what I can find.
Marble counting – loves it, but loses his marbles
We used foam sheets but you could also use plastic lids. Punch a hole in the foam sheet and write the corresponding number on it. For example, punch one hole and write “One 1”, punch two holes and write “Two 2”. The child then places the marble into each hole. I matched up a hole punch with the marbles at the store before buying to make sure the marble wouldn’t fall through the hole. I also made sure to get a hole punch with a longer reach so it could go in an inch or so from the edge.
Black Scratch paper – loves it
I only buy this when I see it on clearance. It’s one of his favorites but he’ll go through a whole package in one sitting so I only give in two sheets at a time.
Parmesan cheese can – loves it
When you empty a plastic Parmesan cheese container, clean it out and pull off the label. Fill it about ¾ full with small pom-poms, bells, coffee stir straws, anything that will fit through the hole. To play, unscrew the lid and dump it all out. Put the lid back on and open the side with the small holes. Have the child place each item in the hole….it takes a long time but they usually stick with it. 45 minutes of blessed silence.
Pipe cleaner beading – loves it
String beads onto pipe cleaners. As they get more agile you can use shoe laces or strings created especially for beading.
Maze book – loves it
I ripped a maze book apart and put each page in a protective sleeve. He uses a dry erase marker and then wipes it clean at the end.
Chalkboard – loves it
You can use a sponge to “draw” or include a small bag of chalk and a damp sponge for an eraser
Places to look for more ideas