Your Ultimate Guide to Preschool Busy Bags (15 Activity Ideas Included!)

By Bethany

By Bethany

I’m a stay-at-home mom with my Master's in Elementary Education. I enjoy homeschooling my three children, ages 8, 3, and 1.
Preschool busy bags have been a lifesaver for me as a homeschooler. What's all the hype about?

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Do you ever feel like you don’t have enough time to incorporate activities for your preschooler into your homeschool day? The answer is preschool busy bags!

Here’s your ultimate guide to preschool busy bags – plus, I’ve included 15 of our favorite busy bag activity ideas!

Preschool Busy Bags
Preschool Busy Bags
Preschool Busy Bags

What is a Preschool Busy Bag?

A preschool busy bag is a bag that contains a simple activity that your preschooler can complete independently. Ideally, you have multiple busy bags your preschooler can choose from during independent work time. 

Image of three busy bags. shapes with clothespins, shape matching, and penguin tracing.
Examples of busy bags

Your busy bags can include all types of activities. I have 8 bags in our preschool basket for my daughter, and I try to always make sure I include these types of activities:

  • Letter Review
  • Math
  • Fine Motor Skills
  • Just for Fun

I also include activities that range in difficulty. I want some activities to be easy and some to be more difficult. My goal is for school to be a fun and positive experience for my little one. Including a variety of activities allows her to experience mastery but also challenges her and pushes her to new heights. 

Why busy bags?

At the beginning of our first year of homeschooling, when Emma was 2, she was fairly content playing in the same room as us while I worked with her older sister, Annalee.

As the year went on, Emma became more interested in her older sister’s schoolwork. When she was three, I turned to busy bags as a way to provide Emma with her own schoolwork while I was working with her older sister. 

I would do a short preschool lesson with my daughter one-on-one (usually a simple worksheet and some songs), and then I’d let her work through her busy bags while I taught her older sister. This approach worked really well for us. Emma got some one-on-one time with me, and she no longer felt left out while I was teaching her sister.

How do I incorporate busy bags into my homeschool routine?

I take a very relaxed approach with busy bags. Emma gets to decide how much she wants to complete each day. Some days she will sit and work on two bags. Other days, she will work through the entire basket. I never force her to sit and work through the bags.

Here’s the key to making busy bags work: only get them out when it’s school time.

Saving these activities for a designated time each day keeps them fresh and exciting for your little one. Treat them as a special treat instead of work that has to be accomplished.

Rotate the activities in your bags once a month/quarter. Take out anything that your child is losing interest in and add in some more challenging activities. This keeps things fresh and exciting.

Don’t panic if your child isn’t using the materials in the bag as you intended. I had an activity that included little characters for tracing letters. Emma lined them all up and had them singing nursery rhymes. I almost lost it, but then I reminded myself that imaginative play is a wonderful skill for preschoolers to work on. It’s okay if your child explores the activities in unconventional ways. My number one goal is fostering independence. All other educational objectives come second. 

Don’t forget to praise your child whenever he or she works through an activity on their own. It’s easy to use busy bags as a way to entertain and distract your little one, but don’t forget to provide positive encouragement as they complete their work, too. 

What supplies do I need to create busy bags?

You can use any type of bag or storage container for your activities, but I have found that pencil binder bags are perfect for storing busy bag activities. They hold up well to lots of use over time, and they are a great size for these hands-on activities. 

I have this 8 pack from Amazon. The clear front on the pouch allows you to easily see which activity is inside. 

I’d also recommend a storage crate or basket to hold your busy bags and then a separate crate or container for your materials that aren’t currently in use. 

I use a basket similar to this one for the busy bags, and then I store extra activities in a milk crate with all of my preschool supplies. 

You might also consider purchasing a laminator and laminating sheets. Laminating any paper components in your busy bag activities will give them longevity and allow them to be used over and over with little wear and tear.

Laminated Activities

My sister and I created an entire list of laminating ideas for babies through prekindergarten. You can check out our list here: 17 Fun Activities to Laminate for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers – Two Mama Bears.

Here are some of my favorite laminated activities specifically for preschool busy bags.

Shape Matching

Learning shapes is a classic preschool math standard. Make it fun with this reusable matching activity! Grab your free printable here: Free Matching Shapes Worksheet for Preschoolers – Two Mama Bears

Preschool busy bag shapes

Alphabet Matching

These alphabet matching cards are perfect for busy bags. Your child will review upper and lower case letters as they match the lower case letter to the upper case letter. 

We have an alphabetical version or a Montessori letter order version. Choose whichever best fits your curriculum. 

Include one card at a time or throw a few cards into the bag at once for extra letter practice. 

Counting Sprinkles

Here’s one more laminated matching activity perfect for your busy bags! In this hands-on math activity, your child counts the sprinkles on each cupcake and matches them to the cupcake with the coordinated numeral. 

There are two versions available, counting to 6 and counting to 12. The counting to 6 half-sheet version fits perfectly into busy bags!

Sequencing Puzzles

Sequencing puzzles are great for reinforcing number order. I love these free puzzles from Planes and Balloons because she made 3 variations: 

  • Count to 2
  • Count to 5
  • Count to 10

Choose which puzzle is just right for your little one, print, and laminate!

Photo Credit: Planes and Balloons

Puzzles

Speaking of puzzles, I am a huge fan of including puzzles in preschool. Choose whichever type of puzzle is best for your child. For a busy bag, you want a puzzle that is slightly challenging but achievable on its own. 

We started with 2 piece puzzles in our bags when Emma had just turned 3. I found these at Target, but you can also print and laminate 2 piece puzzles.

We then upgraded to these 9 piece puzzles from Amazon. They are great because they have a backing on them which keeps the pieces contained. It took a bit of force to get the pieces in the first couple of times we used the puzzles. After that, they started going together much more easily, and she could complete these on her own. 

Emma’s now able to complete 24 and 48 piece puzzles independently. Keep increasing the difficulty as your child is ready.

Dry Erase Copywork

I highly recommend introducing prewriting activities before you have your child write numbers or letters. Start with straight lines going in different directions, curved lines, and zig-zags. Once your child has mastered writing these types of lines, he or she will then be ready to begin writing their numbers and letters.

Penguin Tracing

Modern Preschool has these awesome pre-writing cards that you can print and laminate for busy bags. I started out only including the first 4 with the easiest patterns and then I slowly added in the more complicated lines. Get your free printable here: Penguin Pre-Writing Tracing Cards (modernpreschool.com)

Note: Both Bekah and I have noticed that wet-erase markers seem to work better on lamination than dry erase markers. 

Dry Erase Books

We love our Wipe-Clean Beginning Pen Control book from Usborne. We did one page out of the book each day, and Emma really looked forward to filling in each scene! 

There are some great options on Amazon too. I’ve heard great reviews for this pre-writing dry erase book and I love the Scholastic alphabet wipe-clean books

Letter Flash Cards

I bought some dry-erase letter flashcards around 5 years ago from Target in the dollar section. I’ve noticed that Usborne has some super cute flashcards that are similar. I love that they include lower case letters. 

Include Manipulatives

I often hear the word manipulatives thrown around in the education world. It’s just a fancy way of saying hands-on or tactile. When we include manipulatives, we’re including items that the child can manipulate

When I’m choosing activities for my busy bags, I try and include a variety of subjects and a variety of manipulatives. I don’t want every single bag to contain laminated matching activities or every bag to have popsicle sticks. Mix it up to keep things interesting and engaging!

Here are some ideas for your busy bags that include all different types of manipulatives, from pom poms to clothespins!

Pom Pom Patterns

Pattern cards are a great math activity to include in busy bags. I made some that coordinate with Dollar Tree pom poms. 

You print out the pattern cards, laminate them, and then put them in your busy bag with the coordinating pom pom colors. Your child matches the pom poms to the colored circles on the card and then has to figure out which color goes in the last empty circle. 

Check out the free printable here: Pom Pom Pattern Activity for Preschoolers – Two Mama Bears

When I first introduced this activity, Emma was a young three-year-old, and she needed a lot of guidance and help to figure out which pom pom finished the pattern. We worked on these cards again today (around 6 months later), and she was able to complete them by herself! 

I want to encourage you to include activities that are a little challenging for your little one. Eventually, they will get it! 

Felt Pizza

This activity has been a hit with my preschooler! I bought some cheap felt sheets from Hobby Lobby and cut out a circle for pizza dough and wavy circles for the cheese and sauce. Then I cut out different toppings for the pizza. 

You could stop here and just let your child play with the pizza, but you can take it a step further if you want. 

I added some princess number flashcards to this bag to create a counting activity. Emma chooses a flashcard and then creates a pizza with that number of toppings on it for the princess. She really enjoys making special pizzas for each princess!

Alphabet Roadtrip

Playdough to Plato created these super fun letters in a road font. I just printed and cut them out and then put them in an old 4×6 photo album. I threw this in a busy bag with a small car for Emma to drive down the road letters. The car was a little too big to get into the curves of all the letters, so I added some small character erasers I had, and these really brought this activity to life. 

Emma loves taking her little characters on walks down each letter. She lines up all of her buddies and takes them through the book one page at a time. If I’m sitting near her, we’ll review letter names, but I even love this for an independent activity for reviewing letter shapes. 

Straw Beads on Pipe Cleaners

I adore activities that help build fine motor skills. Cut colored plastic straws into long beads and have your child string them onto pipe cleaners. You can turn this into a sorting activity by having them match the colored straws to different colored pipe cleaners. 

Want to stay away from plastic? No problem! Swap out the straws for noodles instead! 

I love using the pipe cleaners because the straw beads don’t fall off very easily the way beads on a string do. This is a great introduction to beading!

Clothespin Shapes

I absolutely adore this free printable from Powerful Mothering! This one incorporates the pincer grasp with numbers, shapes, and colors! 

This activity is a hit with my daughter! We name the shapes together as she works through the activity, and we count the clothespins after she matches them on each shape.

You can laminate this and then cut out each shape, but the corners will start splitting apart after a few months of use. To avoid this, cut out the shapes, laminate, and then cut them out again to create a laminated seal around all edges. 

If you’re like me and take the shortcut of laminating and then cutting them out, you can reinforce the edges with clear tape. It worked like a charm for me on the edges of the star!

Here’s my frayed edge on the star. I added some clear tape, and it’s good as new!

You also need clothespins for this activity. I bought some clothespins from Dollar Tree and painted them to match the numbered dots on the shapes. I wrote on the coordinating numbers with a sharpie, and we were set! 

Just for Fun

It’s great to include some activities that are just for fun. Every activity in your busy bags doesn’t have to have an educational objective. Offering opportunities for imaginative play is an important part of preschool, too. 

My daughter loves Elsa and Minnie Mouse, so one of our busy bags is these two magnetic dress-up dolls that I found in the Target dollar spot. 

I’ve also rotated these small alphabet blocks in our busy bags. Although they have the letters on them, I don’t quiz Emma on the letters when we play with them. I just let her have fun building different types of towers and walls. 

Putting these toys and activities in our busy bags and only getting them out during school time keeps them feeling fresh and special. 

Conclusion

Preschool busy bags are a great way to easily keep your preschooler busy with fun and educational activities.

Incorporating preschool busy bags into our at-home preschool routine has been a lifesaver as a new homeschooler. My 3-year-old LOVES when it’s school time and I grab the busy bag basket.

What are your favorite preschool busy bag activities? Let us know in the comments below!

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