Better Ways to Keep Preschoolers Busy - 4 Easy Busy Boxes for Active, Independent Play
17 September 2019
At a recent parent workshop, a mother asked me for suggestions on what to do with her preschooler when she’s busy getting dinner ready. Her question is one that I know many parents share. Sometimes, you just need to concentrate and get things done. You need to clean the house, prepare a meal, or simple take a few minutes for yourself. And after a long, busy day, it can be hard to think of things that could keep your child engaged long enough for you to actually accomplish anything.
It’s during times like these that parents plop their littles one in front of the most convenient screen to keep them busy. But, take heart! Making a “busy box” is easy, and it’s more engaging, creative and enriching for your child. Sure, it will take a few minutes to prepare in advance. But once you’re done, it will keep on giving in the long run. It will give your little one something constructive and independent to do. And this kind of active learning encourages your preschooler’s mental and physical growth in many more, healthy ways than passively watching a screen can.
So let’s dive into 4 simple ways you can create your own, easy busy box. Just remember your busy boxes are only for “special times,” when you need to get things done and your preschooler to play independently. This way the busy box will be something special for your preschooler to look forward to, not something to play with all the time. So, keep it handy, but out of reach!
- Pretend Box. Preschoolers love to play pretend and dress-up. And dress-up is an easy way to encourage your child’s brain development with imagination and pretending. Fill a box or a large bag full of things your preschooler can put on without your help. Go through your closets and drawers for things you no longer wear or need. Look for things like scarves, hats, shoes, old costume jewelry, ties, shirts, and blouses. You can also go to a second-hand or dollar store for child-safe jewelry that’s easy to put on but too large to swallow. For 2’s and up, you can add a doll for more make-believe possibilities. Include a brush or easy-to-use hair clips to dress up “baby.” Over time, with 3’s and 4’s, you can vary the items so your little ones can expand their pretend play. For example, add “play store” items like empty, small food boxes, an inexpensive calculator, or a pad and pencils. You can even include play money to keep your child’s interest. When you need your little one to be occupied, bring out your Pretend Box! Your child will pick out items one by one, or have even more fun and dump it all out at once. Preschoolers love searching and sorting through things, so be prepared for this too.
- Surprise Box -Think of this box as a box full of your little one’s favorite things, the things you know your little one loves to play with. For example, if your 3-year old is crazy about stickers, include a new pack and a paper pad to stick them in. If your 4-year-old is really into cutting with scissors, try a new pair, maybe one that has a scalloped cut like these child-safe ones on Amazon. A new surprise could be a small magnifying glass plus interesting rocks or other natural things to examine. Since preschoolers love to try grown-up tools, you can include things like a hole punch and paper for 3’s and 4’s. And if your 4-year-old loves to play with tape, marbles or toy cars, include those too! The idea here is that your Surprise Box builds on what you know your preschooler enjoys in both creative and affordable ways!
- Messy Box - If you have an area where your preschooler can be messy, like your kitchen floor, this is the box for you. Grab your containers of play dough and slime (and check out our Super Simple Play Dough and Silly Slime recipes for how to mix up your very own DIY supply). Include a plastic tablecloth like this one that can be spread out on the floor or a table. 3’s and 4’s can spread this out for themselves. Most 2’s will simply squeeze and manipulate their play dough or slime. But 3’s and 4’s will enjoy rolling and cutting out the dough. Add small, unbreakable bowls or cups for pouring slime. Add a small rolling pin or even small can of soup to roll out the dough. Or, add cookie cutters or large, round bottle caps for more easy, fun ways to cut out shapes too.
- Creativity Box - Think of this box as full of creative thinking and creative doing! Include a random selection of creative materials that are great (and safe) for all preschool ages: paper cups, styrofoam pieces, colorful pipe cleaners, tissue paper scraps, aluminum foil pieces, crayons, markers, construction paper and glue sticks. Just spread out the creative materials and suggest something for your preschooler to make. For example, you can ask your little one to decorate a paper cup or piece-of-paper-placemat for everyone’s dinner. Or, just leave it up to them! Even your 2’s will be inspired and work independently. Most 3’s and 4’s generally will not need suggestions and will go ahead and start exploring the materials on their own. Perfect, right?
So try a busy box! I feel confident that you’ll be able to turn your child’s keeping busy time into learning time, too. And remember, make it a big deal that it this box is a special box-- made especially to help mom or dad have time to concentrate and get things done. For more ideas that keep your preschooler actively learning in everyday situations, check out our article, The Promise of Your Child’s Early Development - Make the Most of It and Children Learn By Doing - 4 Ways to Boost Early Education with Active Learning. And don’t forget, we're always happy to get your feedback. Let us know what you think right here!