The Ultimate “Busy Bag”

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When we moved to Ireland a few weeks ago I had a lot of concerns. Would I get homesick before we even left? Would we like our new home across the sea? Would I remember to pack all of the essentials? But the most important question of all: How would we survive a 10-hour flight with two boys under the age of 3?

Grandma to the rescue! My mother-in-law is incredibly gifted with all things crafty. She can take felt and a sewing machine and fabricate incredible creations (whereas I would take the aforementioned objects and make something worthy for display at a Kindergarten art show). She took her crafting skills to a whole new level when she created this: The Ultimate Busy Bag.

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Inside is a treasure trove of games and activities that could satisfy children not only for a 10-hour plane ride, but for weeks–nay, months–on end.

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She created the bag itself from fabric scraps and her own design. Many of the games were also her own creation, but she did get several ideas off Pinterest and Etsy. The bag is *literally* bursting at the seams with great ideas, so I thought I would share some of them with you here. If you wanted to recreate just one or two of these ideas instead of the whole bag (because, really, I don’t know anybody else who could make all of this in one sitting!) each would make a great small project in itself. These are great ideas to have tucked away for a rainy day (or even a long summer day when the refrain “I’m bored…” starts echoing through your home). I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

1. Felt pieces and finger puppets.
One of the sides of the busy bag is made out of felt. There are several felt pieces that can be arranged on the “felt board” for imaginary play or story telling. Most of the pieces were cut out of colored felt and then decorated (my mother-in-law’s 6-year old neighbor helped with many of these pieces).

There are sea creatures and an underwater scene:

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Fluffy clouds and an airplane (each of the windows and “decals” can be re-positioned on the plane):
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A house and garden (even our dog, Bota, makes her appearance here!):

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Noah and his ark full of animals (each animal is a finger puppet that can be used separately from the felt board for songs, stories, or pretend play):

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And, of course, the rain and the rainbow for Noah:

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Jesus and his disciples can even sail across the Sea of Galilee in their trusty boat:

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2. Dry erase markers and letter practice.

IMG_2923There is a folder filled with sheets of handwriting practice, each page inside its own plastic sheet protector. Each dry erase marker has a color-coordinated pom-pom hot-glued to the cap that can be used as an on-the-spot eraser. David uses the colorful dry erase markers to trace the letters and color the pictures in his handwriting book–when he’s done, he just flips over the marker and uses the pom-pom eraser to clear the page. It is easy to find handwriting worksheets online (just do a Google search for “handwriting practice” or “handwriting printable” and look under images). You could also insert pages from coloring books, outlines of common objects, or blank pages for your child to draw on with the dry erase markers.

3. The Mitten book and finger puppets

This is one of the boys’ favorite activities in the busy bag. My MIL found this activity on Etsy, and I think it’s absolutely brilliant. The activity consists of the picture book The Mitten by Jan Brett and a large knit mitten full of finger puppet versions of the animals in the story.

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If you haven’t read this story, you should. Jan Brett is one of my favorite children’s authors, and this one is a classic. In the story (a Ukrainian folktale) a little boy loses his white mitten in the snow. Woodland animals find the mitten and, one by one, they burrow inside the lost mitten to keep warm. As I read the book, David helps to put each animal into the mitten as they appear in the story. It’s a great age-appropriate interactive reading activity–and he just can’t get enough of it. If you don’t have your own mitten and animal finger puppets, you can print off your own mitten craft from the author’s website and make your own!

4. Felt Numbers and Letters

There are two sets each of felt letters and numbers for David to play with and manipulate. The possibilities here are endless! We’ve been using the letters to play “find the sound” (I’ll say a sound and he has to find the letter that makes that sound) and “letter match” (we’ll find a letter in a book or on an object in the room and he has to find the same letter from his pile of felt letters).

I used the numbers to show David representations (using balls, of course, because he will learn ANYTHING 10 times faster if it can be somehow related to balls):

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And we even practiced putting the numbers in order from 0-10 (OK, I did this, but he helped me count the numbers after I got them all set up):

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5. Art and Craft Supplies

IMG_2948There are several art and craft supplies that David can use for his own creative works: markers, scissors, a sketch pad, colorful pipe cleaners, stickers. We’ve been practicing how to use markers on paper ONLY and that we only use scissors when there is a grown-up there to help us. He’s actually been doing really well with all of his “big kid” supplies–especially the fact that he can now color a picture and then cut it into a million pieces. Toddler confetti!

We also like using the pipe cleaners to make “bowls full of worms”. The boys thread the pipe cleaners through the holes in the pipe cleaners (I put them in for baby Jacob) and then pull them out. It’s good fine motor practice..and also just a lot of fun!

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6. Some Personal Touches

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There are several smaller items that are personalized to David and Jacob. There is a little American flag so they can remember where they came from (represent!) and a little bendy bear that their dad used to play with when he was little. There is also a really cute set of “ABC Bible Verses” where each letter of the alphabet has a corresponding Bible verse (print your own here). We may have to use these for some memorizaton practice soon!

Thank you for the special gift, Grammy! We will treasure it forever!

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School Skills For Babies and Toddlers, Part 3: Math

Now that we’ve got reading and writing under control, we’ll tackle math. I have found that most adults seem dislike math or think it’s too hard, but children LOVE it! Math is fun, and somehow as we grow older it becomes “work” and we forget how much fun it really is. Plus, math skills are so important, both in and out of school, as children and as adults. Since math skills build upon each other, it’s really important for kids to have a firm grasp on the basics before they can move on. Setting a firm foundation in math skills is one way you can ensure success, and not frustration, when your child gets to school. Learning should be fun for kids and part of your daily life–no flash cards or lectures necessary! You can start doing any of these things with your baby or toddler to help prepare them for their math days ahead.

Number Concepts:

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  • Count- Count everything-the numbers on a mailbox, how many apple slices your child is eating for lunch, how many buttons are on his shirt, how many stairs you walk up to the nursery. If you’re feeling fancy, count by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s as well. Don’t forget to include zero sometimes, and count backward as well!
  • Ordinals- Talk about ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) as you see them in your world (“The tree is the first plant by our fence, the rose bush is second, and the shrub is third.”).
  • Represent numbers- Show your child with concrete examples of what each number represents. For instance, get a group of five objects and count them together: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. You can then show them the number 5 and say “This is a five. When we see the number five, we can think of five ____.”
  • More or less- As you’re playing with blocks or Legos, make groups of objects that are obviously more or less (and towers that are shorter or taller). Talk about which group  has more and which one has less, or point out which tower is taller and which one is shorter. You can even throw in the words “most” and “tallest” for some added challenge.
  • Sing number songs and say number rhymes like “One, Two Buckle My Shoe” and “The Ants Go Marching”

Colors

  • Point out colors- Find colors all around you, and talk about them. Talk about the colors on your child’s clothes, the colors of his favorite toys, and the colors on his dinner plate. It’s also helpful to point out color variances (a light blue ball versus a dark blue train).
  • Sing about colors- We like to sing about the colors we see. As I’m getting David dressed in the morning we’ll sing a song to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush”: “David is wearing his yellow shirt, yellow shirt, yellow shirt. David is wearing his yellow shirt, all day long.” and we’ll repeat the song with as many different articles of clothing as we can.
  • Do a color sort- Find an object that is a single color and have your child find other objects in the room that are the same color. Repeat with another object of another color. Start a collection of “green things” or “blue things” that you can add to throughout the day.

Shapes

  • Look for shapes in your world- Find circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and rhombuses (the official name for diamonds) all around you. Point them out on road signs, in the grocery store, in books and when you’re playing in the park
  • Name 3-D shapes- As you’re pointing out shapes to your little one, don’t forget to show them 3-D shapes like spheres (balls), cones (ice cream cones), cubes (square boxes), and cylinders (an empty oatmeal container or soup can).

Time

  • Talk about what you’re doing first, what you’ll do next, and what you’ll do last (“First we’ll take off your dirty diaper, then we’ll wipe your bottom, and last we’ll put on a clean, dry diaper”).
  • Point out things that you did yesterday (or this morning), and give your child a preview about what will happen tomorrow (or what will happen after lunch, after his nap, etc).
  • Show how things change over time- show your toddler a picture of him as a baby, point out his empty plate after dinner (where once there was food, now it’s gone!), let your baby watch–from a safe distance–as you boil water for tea (see how hot and bubbly the water got!).

Patterns

  • Find patterns around you- The stripes on his shirt, the lines going down the middle of the road, the spots on a leopard at the zoo.
  • Create patterns together- Pick out two colors of blocks, and lay them out in an alternating “AB” pattern (red, blue, red, blue…). Have your child help you continue your pattern.
  • Find patterns in books- Many stories have language patterns that are pretty easy to pick out. Find these patterns and talk about them. Also, many books that your child may be familiar with have patterns (For instance, many books have a pattern of 3’s: 3 pigs, 3 bears, 3 wishes).

Sorting and Matching
You can really sort anything. Just choose a property(size, shape, color, feel), and start sorting! You’ll have to do the sorting for the tiny ones, but your toddler can help out or even start doing it on his own.

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  • Have your toddler help you sort socks when you’re folding the laundry. Two birds, one stone.
  • Sort objects by type: crayons in one pile, balls in another pile
  • Sort objects by size: big sticks in one pile, small sticks in another pile
  • Sort objects by color: purple toys here, green toys there, and yellow toys over there
  • Sort objects by use: toys in one pile, clothes in another pile
  • Sort objects by feel: rough materials here, smooth ones there
  • Do puzzles
  • Match two halves: Cut a picture in half. Match the two ends together to complete the picture.
  • Have your toddler help you sort the silverware as you’re putting away the dishes.

Measurement

  • Talk about long, longer, longest; tall, taller, and tallest; small, smaller and smallest; big, bigger and biggest; and short, shorter, shortest. Find examples around your house.
  • Measure an object (or your child!) with “non-standard units”. How many Legos tall is the chair? How many toothpicks long is Mommy’s shoe?
  • Weigh produce at the grocery store. Which is heavier: the watermelon or the onion?
  • Record your child’s height on a growth chart and watch how he grows over time.
  • Pour the same amount of liquid into different sizes of containers to see how the surface area changes
  • Have your toddler help you measure ingredients while you’re cooking together
  • Hold different-sized objects to feel which is heavier and lighter

Math is all around us, and your baby or toddler will love learning with you!