Busy Bag Swap: The Playdate that Keeps on Giving

playing with a busy bag

Even a little 18-month-old can be occupied for a long time with a busy bag. My daughter LOVEd the slide, scoop and sort busy bag she’s shown playing with here.

You know those unexpected moments when you need something fast to keep your child occupied?

fishing busy bag

The fishing busy bag – using magnets attached to the fish and fishing pole — is one of my little guy’s favorites.

When my boss has called my cell phone with a question on a tight deadline, or I need to occupy my little one long enough to fit in a quick shower for myself, that’s when I appreciate most having a wonderful arsenal of busy bags.

I had never heard of a busy bag when local mom Jessica Meskimen invited me to a busy bag swap a few weeks ago. Each parent who attends the swap makes a set of bags containing simple activities for kids. Everyone swaps bags and leaves with a whole collection of little projects for their children. There were 20 moms in our swap, so each of us signed up to make a set of 20 bags of one activity — and then at the swap each mom received one of each person’s bags, heading home with 20 different activities for their kids to enjoy.

Many of the mamas invited to Jessica’s party had no idea what she was talking about, but she quickly brought us up to speed. Here’s what she wrote on a Facebook Event page leading up to our swap:

A good busy bag:
1. Contains everything needed to do the activity in a one gallon Ziploc.
2. Can be used by a little one with little or no adult help/guidance after an initial explanation.
3. May need to be refilled occasionally, but can be used over and over again.
4. Is packed in a gallon Ziploc bag WITH A SLIDER so the little one can open it and close on their own.

stringing pool noodles busy bag

Stringing numbered pool noodles is a test of dexterity for little ones, a way to work on counting and patterns, and just plain fun!

Once we understood the concept, we all loved the idea. Thankfully, there are tons of samples and templates online, so we all quickly signed up for various projects. Most of them used low-cost household items in some kind of fun, educational task.

Felt shapes are used to build snowflakes, top left. Continuing clockwise, paint swatches and clothespins are used for a color matching game, felt “clothes” and a clothesline for a “laundry” exercise; a puzzle made with popsicle sticks.

I began to feel the heat when the final day before the swap arrived, and my bags were still under construction. Then I checked the Facebook event page and discovered lots of the moms were exclaiming how hard it is to create a little project when you have little ones running around your house at all hours. In the end, my son came down with strep throat, so I wasn’t even able to attend the swap — but I dropped off my busy bags beforehand and returned later to get a collection of 20 different bags.

Those little projects have come in handy over and over again. What a cool concept, and a great excuse to get together with some of your favorite “play date” friends.

If you’d like to organize your own busy bag playdate, you can get all kinds of great ideas online. Here are a few great links that Jessica recommended to get all of her friends started for our recent swap:




You can also browse through tons of great pictures to get ideas at http://pinterest.com/search/boards/?q=busy+bags.

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