10 Busy Box Ideas for Independent and Creative Play

Sometimes as parents we just need a few moments to ourselves. Maybe it’s to complete a task for work, do a chore around the house, or make a phone call. Sure, it would be easy to use a screen to babysit while we do our adulting. However, studies have shown the negative and harmful effects of too much screen time on our children. Why not try something with positive benefits? That’s where these busy box ideas come in!

Also, be sure to check out our favorite things to do with toddlers in Orlando.

Busy Boxes for Toddlers and Other Children

Busy boxes, also called quiet bins, are useful for building and exercising necessary skills. They help children self-regulate and learn to entertain themselves. Kids can use their creativity and imagination with open-ended play.

The keys to having successful busy boxes are:

  • Use them sparingly or have enough to rotate through.
  • These boxes shouldn’t be available at all times or they lose their luster and purpose.
  • Be specific and precise on the time these gems are allowed. For example, when my second child was born, I had a small box of toys my oldest could play with while I nursed. He knew when it was time to feed his sister, he got to bust out the “special” toys.
  • Make sure the theme is something that interests your child. If your child is a tractor lover, gather small tractors to put in the box with a little bit of dirt or sand to move around. Have a jewelry lover? Get a kit like this that can be reused and repurposed over and over. Bonus, it’s already in a box!
  • Plastic bins with tightly secured lids are a must. I personally use medium boxes that come with lids. They are small enough to be stored neatly stacked in a closet or on a shelf but large enough to contain several items.

Read through the list of ten ideas below to get your household started with busy boxes.

10 Busy Box Ideas

1. Food Box

Little humans enjoy playing with their food. Even now, my oldest who is upper elementary age will occasionally break out into play during meal time.

A food themed busy box is a recipe of fun for future foodies. I always used dried beans in various sizes with measuring cups, scoops, whisks and small play pots for my children to sift through. You could also use uncooked pasta for a less messy option.  

Busy Box Ideas for Toddlers young toddler with uncooked pasta walnuts and bowls - stock photo
Busy Box Ideas for Toddlers with uncooked pasta and bowls

2. Playdough Box

My youngest is a playdough enthusiast! She loves it so much that she can play with it every day for lengthy amounts of time and never get tired of it. This is a bin you probably have most of the items for already on hand.

Toss a couple of containers of playdough with a few utensils into a box and voila, you’re done! To make this bin even more enticing, grab a new themed playdough kit. There are so many that come with playdough and tools for an instant busy box.

3. Color Sorting Box

Whether you have a little artist or a toddler learning their colors, a color sorting bin is just the trick. Gather some paint samples (or paint chips as I call them) from a home store like Lowe’s or Home Depot. Add in plastic eggs, crafting pom poms, and a pair of tongs.

Children can match and sort colors by using the tongs to pick up pom poms and place inside the plastic egg halves or directly onto a paint swatch.

Sensory box with rainbow rice inside. Montessori material baby
Sensory box with rainbow rice inside Getty images

This is a fun option during seasons of Easter Egg Hunts, or any time of year.

4. Cars Box

Start your engines and prepare to race! Gather Matchbox-type cars with items to make roads and ramps for a thrilling car bin. Roads can be drawn on papers, built with blocks or even magnetic tiles.

Ramps for racing can be created with the busy box lid or paper towel tubes cut in half. Be sure to add in any other small items your child could imagine using for a road or ramp.

Young boy playing with wooden train at home
Wooden train toy image by Maria Sbytova

5. Art Box

An art busy box is another easy idea that can be thrown together in a flash with things from around the house. Include small notepads, scrapbooking paper, or loose-leaf paper with stickers or stencils.

Put in colorful gel pens, crayons, or colored pencils. Activity books are always a good idea too. If you don’t have much lying around, a great budget friendly option is to shop for drawing supplies at a discount store.

By the way, if your little one loves art and creativity, consider seeking out some of the many free classes for kids in Orlando.

6. Puzzle Box

My middle child adores puzzles. Every Wednesday at our public library is puzzle day and my daughter has a great time piecing the different choices together when we visit. Puzzles require problem solving and concentration.

Puzzles can also help your child increase their concentration span. Find age-appropriate puzzles that provide a little bit of a challenge but are not so difficult your child gives up or constantly comes to you for assistance.

Something I recently stumbled upon are magnetic jigsaw puzzles. Not only are these gems perfect for a busy box, they also make excellent travel companions for your little traveler.  

If you enjoy family getaways, you don’t have to go far to have a great trip thanks to the many Orlando hotels with water parks.

7. Fine Motor Skills Box

Skills are perfected through practice. Fine motor skills are no different. Building a busy box with those “forbidden” items is a clever, albeit tricky, way to hone those necessary skills.

If your child is old enough, include a hand-held hole punch with paper or cardstock to create unique designs. Once the design is complete, your young one can lace pipe cleaners or yarn through their creation.

Scissors are another item to add in. Obviously, you’ll want to make sure your sidekick has been trained on how to use these tools correctly and safely.

8. Math Box

Do you have a grade-schooler needing some extra practice with math facts? I have one child who could use multiplication strengthening and another needing their subtraction sharpened.

A fun busy box that only appears occasionally may do the trick. Practicing through games and manipulatives make the task seem less arduous.

Include a dry erase board with markers to sneak in some writing practice while completing math exercises. This box can easily be tailored to fit any age with any math skill level.

9. Reading Box

If you have a bookworm or desire to raise a bookworm, make all types of books available. Grab one of those handy bins to fill with books of all sorts.

I have found interactive books keep interest longer unless you have a book lover already. If your child is a pre-reader, interactive books are one way to create a lifelong reader in the future.

Toddler girl reading a book - from collab media
Toddler girl reading a book from Collab Media

Pop up books, lift-a-flap books, books that make sounds, even books that come with play things are a few examples of interactive books. We have a book that comes with a windup ladybug that races around the garden on the track of each page. Because it’s a book we bring out once in a while, my kids stay engaged long enough for me to get a few things done.

10. Sensory Box

Our sensory bin had water beads with ocean animals hidden throughout. Two of my children had a blast thrusting their hands into the beads to find the creatures while my third child preferred to use scoopers so she didn’t have to touch those wet beads. Be forewarned, water beads can be messy! Your sensory bin could also include squishy toys, light up toys, rubber spikes, putty or slime.

Practically anything can be turned into a busy box! Old coffee cans for a music box, cotton balls or swabs with chalk for chalk dust rubbings, or nature objects collected on a nature walk are all inexpensive ways to get your child exploring, connecting with, and thinking about the world around them.

author avatar
Erica Thomas