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toddler “busy bag” swap!

August 26, 2011

**UPDATE: Check out Toddler “Busy Bag” Swap, Take Two! for 20 more new activities!

This post could also be properly entitled: My Winter Survival Kit!

This past week, I hosted a Toddler “Busy Bag” Swap in my home for a group of my friends after deciding that I needed a little help keeping my toddler busy when we are snowed-in this winter (not to mention for the times when I will be busy caring for his new little brother!).

I assigned each woman a different toddler activity to replicate 20 times (storing each activity in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag).  We all met over dessert and then swapped our activities with one another.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching each mom carry a huge bag filled with 20 different activities to their car!  I plan to keep Sam’s “Busy Bag” stashed away until the wintertime and then slowly introduce one activity at a time.

Each activity needed to meet the following criteria:

  • Self-contained.  This way, you can just grab a bag and GO! (without having to add a number of supplies to the bag in order to make it useful.)
  • Transportable.  Yes, they will definitely be used at home, but I want to be able to grab a few bags to take to a restaurant, a waiting room, plane trips, car rides, etc.
  • Convenient.  None of the bags will have supplies that require major set-up or clean-up: (no paint, watercolors, liquids, sand, dirt, etc.)
  • Inexpensive. I didn’t want anyone spending too much money on this project!
  • Easy to Make: I didn’t want anyone spending hours and hours and hours making their activity.
  • Re-usable. I want these activities to last a while so that our other children can use them in the future.  Therefore, I avoided activities where you would have to buy new supplies to re-stock the bag.  This is why lamination is important for some of the activities.

I’ve posted pictures of the activities we swapped along with the corresponding links to give you a more detailed explanation of each activity.  I am sharing this here in case you are interested in coordinating a swap for you and your friends.  I already know of another group at our church planning a swap very soon, so hopefully these links could be of some help!

Mini Reversible Felt Board

“I Spy” Fish

Pasta Sorting and Stringing

Pony Beads and Pipe Cleaners

Matching Color Shades

Foam Shape Puzzles

Build-Your-Own Felt Pizza

Button Snake

Matching/Memory Game

Homemade Organic Playdough

Button Matching Game

Color Matching Wheel

Lacing Cards

Popsicle Stick Puzzles

Homemade Number Boards

Animal Counting Cards

Number Wheel

Pushing Puff Balls

Shades of Color

Magnetic Pompoms


Special thanks to all of the women who participated: Catherine, Melissa, Megan, Emily, Debby, Crystal, Kristin, Mandy, Jenna, Rachel K., Rachel M., Stephanie, Julie, Sarah, Molly, Karla, and Chelsi!

You all did an incredible job!

113 Comments leave one →
  1. Robin permalink
    August 26, 2011 8:38 am

    Preschool teachers would love to copy all this creativity!

  2. August 26, 2011 9:26 am

    Holy. Cow.

    Girl, I just found your blog and this post is GOLD. I will be replicating! What an amazing idea.

    • Julia permalink
      May 22, 2012 4:43 pm

      Copying as well!! Thank you for your extremely smart ideas!! 🙂

  3. Meg Asby permalink
    August 26, 2011 10:18 am

    Jenny! This is why yours is the only blog I check regularly. Reading this makes me want to brave those winters so I can live near you!! I’ll have to settle for totally copying this idea.

  4. Mari permalink
    August 26, 2011 12:18 pm

    So. Very. Excited.
    You are amazing.
    If someone asked me this week how I was able to homeschool my oldest three I would answer- toddler activity bags!! I love how colorful each activity is. I love the popsicle stick puzzle. I love everything with paint chips. And magnetic pompoms?? On a map?!? That combines two of my favorite things! Oh my.

  5. Jenn A permalink
    August 26, 2011 2:11 pm

    Jenny, this is so great! I wish I had been able to participate!

    • therigneys permalink*
      August 28, 2011 4:28 pm

      I wish you could have too, Jenn!

  6. August 29, 2011 9:51 am

    Wow! Love all of the ide ideas. Thanks for sharing! Found this on Pinterest.

  7. August 31, 2011 8:45 am

    Wow! What a fun idea. I am so glad you were able to use some ideas from my blog. Thanks for the links. I really love that button snake idea too. I hadn’t seen something like that before.

  8. brittny permalink
    August 31, 2011 11:24 am

    Love these! Thank you for giving me so many ideas!

  9. Tracy permalink
    September 1, 2011 9:12 pm

    Do you happen to know where I could get a template for the rainbow and seven continent map? A friend of mine is hosting a similar event (fabulous idea by the way) and I’d love to replicate the magnetic pom pom one. Thank you!!

  10. Emily Wright permalink
    September 3, 2011 2:37 pm

    Such an awesome idea! I love them all and may make some for my baby neph!

  11. September 3, 2011 3:05 pm

    What a great idea! I love it!

  12. Joy permalink
    September 3, 2011 9:37 pm

    Wow! I just stumbled accross your ideas on pinterest. What a life saver! I have been pullling my hair out trying to survive a brutal first trimester in the Arizona heat while keeping a busy 22 month old entertained. Thank you so much for sharing these ideas….running to the store for supplies NOW!

  13. Meg Asby permalink
    September 5, 2011 11:39 am

    We have a busy bag swap set up for October now! Thanks for the fun, fun, fun idea.

  14. September 6, 2011 8:19 pm

    Oh my goodness, Jenny! We just finished our busy bag swap and I wish we would have seen some of these fun activities on your blog!! (If it had only been a month or so earlier!) WE enjoyed Minneapolis while we were there last month! Thanks for the tips!!

  15. September 8, 2011 9:29 am

    This is such a great post!! I’m posting a link to my blog so I don’t lose it!! Our surprise blessing is only 11 months, but I know we’ll need these ideas soon enough…. I’ll assign my crafty 10 year old these busy bags this winter!! Thanks for sharing!

  16. September 11, 2011 9:16 pm

    Great ideas – thanks for the inspiration!

  17. September 12, 2011 8:31 am

    I’m so excited to have all these ideas in one place – what richness – Thank You! But was wondering if you could explain the I Spy fish a little bit? The link doesn’t seem to tell the fish specifically.

    • Kessie permalink
      September 9, 2013 2:42 pm

      I am wondering about the I Spy fish as well……..Can you say more about it?

  18. September 16, 2011 1:50 am

    These are all so fanastic!! I can’t wait to make them for my 3 yr old!!

  19. September 19, 2011 1:32 pm

    Great ideas!

  20. Emily DuBose permalink
    September 20, 2011 10:14 pm

    did they make the template for the rainbow and the continents? i am attempting to do this craft and need some guidance 🙂

  21. September 21, 2011 8:16 pm

    love these ideas!

  22. September 22, 2011 7:25 am

    Fantastic ideas!! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to make a few of these for my g-daughter.

  23. Erin permalink
    September 22, 2011 11:23 am

    Awesome, awesome, AWESOME! I can’t wait to do this! I’m actually a little excited for winter now 🙂

    THANK YOU!!!

  24. Heidi permalink
    September 25, 2011 8:43 am

    This is so great! I am totally going to host a swap now! Thanks for all the links and pics…that will make it sooo much easier!! Thanks!!

  25. October 2, 2011 6:28 am

    Excellent activities and love the swap idea!

  26. October 2, 2011 1:13 pm

    I love this idea! Thank you for sharing!

  27. October 5, 2011 1:40 pm

    Great ideas!!! I made my own color matching w/clothespins and linked it back to your blog. =)

  28. October 5, 2011 1:50 pm

    I’m actually planning a swap like this with some of my friends. What great ideas for activities!

  29. October 6, 2011 3:16 pm

    Found this post through Pinterest, and LOVE it! We just did a night similar to this after seeing your ideas, and we each went home with 13 different busy bags!! Thanks!! 🙂

  30. October 7, 2011 8:01 pm

    Thanks for sharing ur fun project they are so fun & perfect for the those cold days outside…

  31. Jenna permalink
    October 7, 2011 9:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing! A group of 10 friends just came over tonight and we had a swap bag party from your ideas! So much fun!

  32. Paula permalink
    October 10, 2011 5:46 pm

    Thanks so much for this idea!!! My daughter is developmentally delayed and these activities are PERFECT for her!!:)

  33. October 20, 2011 7:58 pm

    love it

  34. October 20, 2011 9:26 pm

    These are great ideas!! I’ve been needing some busy (but quiet) activities for church, especially now that I have a 4-year old on one side, a 2-year old on the other, and a baby in my lap! (and my husband in the pulpit!). Thanks for sharing.

  35. Sandy Meadows permalink
    October 23, 2011 6:24 am

    this is an amazing blog! thank you so much for sharing your creative ideas……so appreciated!

  36. Debra permalink
    October 24, 2011 7:43 am

    I really like your projects. Thanks for sharing them!

  37. Vanessa Kynes permalink
    October 28, 2011 2:19 am

    Hey Jenny,

    Just to let you know, I am organising a busy bag swap at my home church in Virginia, so don’t be surprised if you get some random visits to your blog from there. I just needed a good post that showed the idea of busy bags! We also might do some of your activities too.


  38. Kristy Nelson permalink
    October 28, 2011 9:01 am

    How do I get involved?

  39. October 28, 2011 11:26 am

    brilliant. one of my friends found this and we are going to do one too. such a genius idea and just in time to appease MY toddler after his new sibling arrives

  40. October 28, 2011 11:47 pm

    Hi! Thanks for sharing these activities! I used some of them in a busy bag exchange I recently hosted with some friends. I shared your activities and our swap on my blog.

  41. Aaron permalink
    November 5, 2011 9:22 am

    I could kiss you right now! I am 37 weeks pregnant, and have a 2 year old that will be spending LOTS of time indoors once the snow hits and you have just saved my life AND sanity!

    These are SO simple and easy to make, and I have a lot of what’s already needed in my craft room!

  42. Jacqueline permalink
    November 10, 2011 11:04 am

    Is ther any way I could get the pattern for the “i spy” goldfish? I am dying to make this for my son and niece for christmas.

  43. November 14, 2011 10:52 pm

    Seriously great post. I will be linking here for sure! So many good ideas. Thank you!

  44. Beth Lee permalink
    November 15, 2011 12:37 pm

    This is wonderful!! I wish I’d known about busy bags when my boys ( now 9 1/2 and 5) were younger! I’m collecting patterns and supplies now though, so that they can make some for their two year old sister for Christmas! I have a question…in the mini felt board (great idea!) is there something between the layers of felt? Thin cardboard or batting? It kind of looks like that from the picture. Thanks so much!!

  45. Amy permalink
    November 15, 2011 4:52 pm

    This is fabulous! I have some fun toddler activity ideas too, but most of these were new for me. Thank you!

  46. Becca permalink
    November 18, 2011 1:00 pm

    My friends and I are totally copying this after the holidays are over. 🙂 Thanks for sharing such wonderful ideas!!

  47. Beth permalink
    November 20, 2011 6:28 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration. Here’s my swap!

  48. Keonli permalink
    November 21, 2011 8:31 am

    Such wonderful ideas! I’m going to use ALL of these for my preschooler.

  49. November 30, 2011 7:51 pm

    We are having our swap this weekend, thanks so much for the inspiration. I’ve written about our family’s contribution here:

  50. Linda Johnson permalink
    December 13, 2011 6:39 pm

    These are fabulous, fun and educational ideas! I am a home-based educator for parents with special needs infants and toddlers. I will be sharing these ideas with all my parents! I will also be making them for my own grandchildren! Thanks for sharing your creative ideas with everyone!

  51. Joanie permalink
    December 16, 2011 8:26 pm

    The link for the I Spy Fish goes to an I Spy board instead of a bag filled with fun stuff. Do you happen to know where I could find the info on the cute fish bag?? Thanks!

  52. Jenni permalink
    December 30, 2011 11:12 am

    I wish I had that many friends (or even half that many!) and a large enough house to hold them! I am so jealous! How do you do it?

  53. Rachel permalink
    December 31, 2011 9:13 am

    Oh my. These are FANTASTIC ideas! SO simple. I’m a homeschooling mom and these are just the thing I need to keep my preschooler occupied while I teach the older ones. THANK YOU!!!

  54. Michelle Lubbers permalink
    January 8, 2012 9:52 am

    I came across this via Pinterest…on “Through the Eyes of the Mrs.” facebook page today. I LOVE the variety of activities you have here. I have a 3 1/2 yr old and these are going to be perfect for him! We are going to have so much fun with these, he loves to play “school”.

    Thank you for sharing! I can’t wait to spend some time looking around =).

  55. molly permalink
    January 8, 2012 10:30 pm

    I LOVE these ideas. I really would like to know about the I Spy fish, but the link goes to Chasing Cheerios and making an I Spy page…not a fish. Do you have a link to the fish project?

  56. lindsay permalink
    January 19, 2012 9:59 pm

    We just had a swap in our mom’s group using your idea. It turned out amazing! Thank you!

  57. reformed4christ permalink
    January 21, 2012 12:22 am

    LOVE all of these awesome ideas! I am totally copying this for my son! Thanks for sharing this information!

  58. January 22, 2012 4:06 pm

    Really great suggestions! Thanks for posting!!

  59. January 25, 2012 8:24 am

    This is such a cool and helpful idea.

  60. RaRamer permalink
    January 28, 2012 8:32 pm

    Found this through Pinterest. Just wanted to comment about the “I spy” fish. My children and I did something similar 2 days ago. We used an empty ketchup bottle (because it was plastic) and filled it with rice and “littles”. I’m taking it a step further and making some portable ones in empty spice containers (my sis-in-law’s idea). We just name something and shake it for the next person to find. The kids loved it!

  61. Roxanne permalink
    February 3, 2012 3:10 pm

    I just love this page. I am making a quiet book for my grandson for his 3rd birthday, but love some of the ideas here so will also make him a “busy bag”. I would also like to thank the contributors to this project. You are quite creative.

  62. Sam permalink
    February 6, 2012 10:07 pm

    I’m thankful for mothers, like yourself, who are so generous with their fantastic ideas and who share their experiences!

  63. KCMN permalink
    February 20, 2012 7:53 pm

    So many amazing ideas! Thanks all!

  64. February 21, 2012 4:34 pm

    Just went to a party this morning based on your post, it was sooooo fun!! Posted about it on my blog and linked to you page a few times!! Thanks for the great idea!!

  65. March 1, 2012 1:12 pm
    Here is the link to the map for the pom poms, HTH!

  66. Aurélie permalink
    March 4, 2012 2:32 pm

    Please forgive my bad english : I’m teacher in France (in somewhat is your “pre-school”) and I like a lot of your idea for my little students. Thank you.

  67. March 7, 2012 1:38 pm

    LOVE the number pinwheel, counting idea!

  68. March 9, 2012 3:49 pm

    I love all of these ideas! Thank you for sharing! Found you on Pinterest.

  69. March 9, 2012 8:40 pm

    Love the sorting and lacing pasta!

  70. March 12, 2012 7:26 pm

    These are all great ideas–thanks for sharing them! I shared a link to this page on my blog today.

  71. March 18, 2012 11:33 am

    I remember having interactive felt board stories told in Sunday school and am looking for these activities for my grandchildren, 3 1/2, 2 1/2 and 9 mos. thank you, Melinda

  72. Christina permalink
    March 26, 2012 1:50 pm

    I love this!!!!!! I have a childcare in my home with lost of little onces and these are great ideas. I have seen some but it is nice to see other versions of them. Awesome job and what a wonderful way to share ideas with other parents. Now I have to get to work and make some of them myself. THANK YOU. :0)

  73. Christina permalink
    March 26, 2012 1:53 pm

    Oops!. I don’t have lost children or onces. Just lots of little ones. Thank you again. :0)

  74. April 4, 2012 4:12 pm

    Hi Jen,
    I just attended a busy bag swap that was modeled after yours and was putting a blog post together about them. First of all, let me just say the way you photographed the busy bags makes them seem so much more appealing than a lot of other sites I’ve seen. Second of all, I was wondering if I could get your permission to use your bullet listing of criteria in my blog post. I will of course provide proper attribution within the post, it’s just that you said it better than I could : )
    Thank you for the inspiration!

  75. Reneé permalink
    April 11, 2012 8:41 pm

    These all look great! I love that the don’t take much to make.

  76. Kimberley permalink
    May 10, 2012 2:43 pm

    I found this site because a friend put together a group for Toddler Busy Bags and is using your blog as examples of what can be done. My question to you though is … did you make the fabric/cloth Alphabet in your photo across the top? If so, please email me ( what you used for the ‘thickness’ in between. Thanks.

  77. May 20, 2012 7:21 pm

    I love every single one of these ideas. As a home daycare provider and mother of an almost 3 year old I am so grateful for this list.

  78. shapeofagirl permalink
    May 30, 2012 10:03 am

    Reblogged this on In the shape of a girl. and commented:
    THIS IS AMAZING, by the way. The cure for a rainy day! I can’t wait to get started.

  79. May 31, 2012 9:44 am

    This is AWESOME! I will have an 18 month old this coming winter and these are some really great ideas to get together over the summer! Thank you!

  80. Jeanine permalink
    June 13, 2012 7:37 pm

    I’m an OT and I love your ideas. Thanks to all you wonderfully creative ladies!!

  81. MANDEEP permalink
    July 9, 2012 2:00 pm

    All your activities are amazing and fabulous…….THANKS FOR ALL YOUR EFFORTS

  82. Michelle permalink
    July 15, 2012 2:37 am

    I love this! I will be making many of these for my grandson to keep him calm in church. He will only get to play with these items during church in his busy bag, so maybe they will be special. Thanks for sharing. I will be following your blog now. 🙂

  83. Rebecca permalink
    July 19, 2012 2:51 pm

    Where did you find the string for your lacing cards? I just looked all over Micheal’s and couldn’t find any. 😦

  84. July 31, 2012 11:51 am

    I am also looking for the string/shoelace for the lacing cards

  85. August 3, 2012 9:24 pm

    Just spent a day with my 2 yr. old grandson. I am so ready to make more of these. I’ve already done the matching paint samples with clothspins. SO cute. I’m getting ready for a long car trip with this little one & 4 adults. What a help this will be. I was sleepy but not anymore!

  86. Angie permalink
    August 10, 2012 11:22 pm

    What a fantastic idea!! Love these and how fun to do it with a group of friends!! Would love to set one up with my friends!

  87. August 20, 2012 2:22 pm

    Oh my goodness! YOU are AMAZING!!! Thankyou Thankyou Thankyou for sharing these amazing ideas! That would be hard for me to do. Share something like that for others to copy but honestly? I’ve been looking for ways to help my little boy grow and you seriously inspire me! THANKYOU!

  88. Abby permalink
    August 29, 2012 10:28 am

    Could you tell me where you printed your matching/memory game pictures from? The link doens’t provide the printable that you posted in your picture and I love it! Thank you for putting this together – great ideas that I am using already. Winter here we come!

  89. Jes permalink
    October 5, 2012 8:14 pm

    Thank you!!! Thank you so much for sharing your ideas!! I really appreciate that there are so many creative women out there (and REALLY appreciate that you are willing to share your ideas and talents with the rest of us moms trying to figure things out!)

  90. October 14, 2012 5:12 am

    I was excited to uncover this great site. I want to to thank you for ones time due to this fantastic read!! I definitely savored every part of it and i also have you book marked to look at new stuff in your website.

  91. October 19, 2012 11:21 am

    In your Mini Reversible Felt Board, did you use something between the felt to make it more sturdy?

  92. October 22, 2012 10:31 am

    These are AMAZING craft ideas, low cost, upcycling/recycling/reusing! It is a gold mine. Thank you everyone – I see handcrafted Kwanzaa present ideas for every little one on my list…even some of the big ones!

  93. Sara permalink
    October 24, 2012 9:14 pm

    Could you let me know where you printed your matching/memory game pictures from? The link doens’t provide the printable that you posted in your picture and I really love it!

  94. Lana le Roux permalink
    October 29, 2012 2:49 pm

    Love it all!!!

  95. carolcovin permalink
    November 20, 2012 8:06 pm

    So many cute ideas. Love the popsicle stick puzzles. Really love that you made it a joint activity to share with friends and now everyone is prepared for long winter days.

  96. December 19, 2012 6:02 am

    I just couldn’t leave your site prior to suggesting that I really enjoyed the usual information a person provide on your visitors? Is going to be again often in order to inspect new posts

  97. January 11, 2013 4:44 pm

    “toddler busy bag swap! the rigneys” ended up being a very good read and thus I actually was indeed extremely satisfied to discover the blog.

  98. Ana Ruth permalink
    April 6, 2013 10:32 am

    Hi My suggesting I really enjojed your own activity. Thanks, Ruth

  99. May 20, 2013 9:56 pm

    I love this page. Very inspirational and I will be stealing many ideas. Just one thing! The matching button shapes puzzle. You matched the circle with the flower and the flower with the circle. Palms are itching as my OCD kicks in LOL
    Great ideas!!

  100. sezzamaz permalink
    June 30, 2013 4:16 am

    this is awesome! I’ve never heard of such a thing! I can’t wait to try out these & have a swap too!!

  101. Brynn permalink
    August 1, 2013 7:24 am

    Jenny! I was looking for busy bag ideas because I’m homeschooling Silas this year and am looking for ideas for to keep Charles (18 months) busy. I just saw this on pinterest and had no idea it was your blog! What a great idea to have a busy bag party! Hope y’all are doing well…


  102. October 2, 2013 9:01 am

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  103. April 6, 2014 11:51 pm

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  104. yesenia permalink
    April 8, 2014 1:18 am

    These are great. I love them and so do my sons. Awesome ideas, u guys are so creative. Thank u for keeping my little ones busy. Wish I knew ppl who would do a swap, so I can attend.

  105. Rachel permalink
    July 11, 2014 1:18 pm

    I know this is an old post, but I just have to comment that these are wonderful ideas! We are planning a cross country road trip in a few week with our two year old, and I will definitely be making some of these for him. Thank you for sharing!

  106. August 14, 2014 12:28 am

    Hey! This is kind of off topic but I need some advice from an established blog.
    Is it tough to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal buut I can figure things out pretty quick.
    I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m not sure
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  107. April 2, 2016 2:06 am

    Thank you for another informative web site. Where else could I get that type of information written in such a perfect way? I’ve a project that I’m just now working on, and I have been on the look out for such info.

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