Independent Play: Busy Boxes for Babies & Toddlers

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Busy boxes more than live up to their name. With a little prep work, you can captivate babies and toddlers and keep them playing independently while you relax, make dinner, do laundry or straighten up the living room. Here are 10 ideas for sensory boxes to keep your baby busy. From easy to crafty, there’s something for everyone.

Busy Toddler

Build Your Box

Back away from Pinterest. Busy boxes don’t have to be fancy or follow a theme. Just plop some interesting and baby-safe items in a box, and let baby explore, like with this random collection of goodies from Busy Toddler

The Imagination Tree

Choose an Interesting Assortment

Anna from The Imagination Tree recommends finding items with different textures, materials, shapes and sounds to keep baby absorbed as long as possible, while promoting independent play.

photo: courtesy of The Imagination Tree

The Stay-at-Home-Mom Survival Guide

Cloth Napkin Sensory Bin

Even the littlest babes can enjoy busy boxes. This one from The Stay-at-Home-Mom Survival Guide uses cloth napkins, but you can substitute burp cloths. Babies can pull, touch, gnaw on and see all the different colors of fabric.

Hands on As We Grow

Fabric Fun for Older Babies

Add a new challenge to your bits of fabric by tying on small rattles or toys for baby to discover. Jamie from Hands on as We Grow recommends this as well as placing the fabric inside an old wipes box (recycling win!). Hiding the fabric pieces in the box adds an element of surprise and makes for fascinating pull-it-out and stuff-it-in play.

Jarful of Plenty

Group Objects by Theme

Rebecca from Jarful of Plenty likes to use themes like wooden toys, kitchen or musical instruments. Rotate your boxes or toy bins regularly to give your baby new stimulation.

Lemon Lime Adventures

Incorporate Beads

Dayna from Lemon Lime Adventures has a bunch of busy-box ideas on her site, like this one with beads. (Watch your little one carefully with this activity, especially if they’re the type to put everything around their necks or in their mouths.) Babies can pull, feel and experience these long chains of beads. Teething necklaces work great for this activity. If you use costume jewelry, make sure the thread is secure so beads don’t separate and cause a choking hazard.

The OT Toolbox

Sort by Color

Even before toddlers know their colors, they can start recognizing, sorting or just enjoying playing with colored objects. The OT Toolbox shows you how to make these color-sorting busy bags. They’re fun for babies and will grow with your child as he/she gains more dexterity.

Leisarà via Unsplash

Their Very Own Handbag

Most little kids love to dig into Mommy’s purse. To avoid having your keys and credit cards go missing, give your child their very own purse (one of your old ones or a thrift-store find works fine). Fill it with baby-safe treasures like expired credit cards, a small mirror, anything you don’t mind your child playing with that isn’t a choking hazard.

Sisters, What

Try Magnets with Older Babies

Here’s another activity requiring more adult supervision.  Place a few magnets in an inexpensive metal pan or use a metal box like a lunch box (the lunch box makes it easy to bring this with you places). Magnets can be dangerous if ingested, so don’t leave baby alone with anything containing magnets. You’ll want to stick around anyway to watch your little one learn about how magnets work. This clever idea comes courtesy of Sisters, What! 

Teach Me Mommy

Felt Ice Cream Sundaes!

We can’t get over the cuteness of these felt busy boxes from Nadia at Teach Me Mommy. Kids can create an ice cream sundae using simple felt pieces that anyone can craft with confidence. Head to Teach Me Mommy. for the instructions.


—Kelley Gardinerinves & Eva Ingvarson Cerise



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