A guide on everything you wanted to know about using preschool busy boxes!

September is just around the corner and that means most homeschooling families are preparing, planning, and putting finishing touches on their school year plans. Maybe your homeschool family consists of grade school children and you are trying to find a way to keep your preschooler busy when you’re giving direct instruction to the older kids. Or maybe you only have younger children, like me with a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old, and you just want to be prepared for your tot school and home preschool days so that when you get them admitted to one of the top private schools in jacksonville fl or wherever you live, they get habitual to sitting in one place for a longer period of time. These busy boxes would even work for non homeschoolers! Think of those times you’re busy making dinner and need the kids occupied (without using electronics). Busy boxes are a great choice for any of those situations and encourage loose parts play, a concept Gowrie refers to as a way to enhance motor skills, creativity and even sharing with other children! This guide will give you all the information you need to know about creating, using, and rotating busy boxes for your preschooler!

What to include in busy boxes

Busy boxes are usually clear plastic bins like these ones. There are many choices of what to include in your busy boxes (note: these can also be called busy bags or work boxes). To start, you’ll want to make sure that any objects you use in your boxes are relatively novel items for your kids. That does not mean they’ve never used them before, but it does mean that these items are not regularly available to them. This helps to keep the boxes interesting and exciting for the kids! Here’s a quick list to help you brainstorm the contents you may want to include:

** How Wee Learn has a fantastic resource which provides a YEAR’S WORTH of quiet [busy] box ideas! I hope you’ll check it out!

Where to store busy boxes

Busy boxes should be stored in a place that your preschoolers can independently have access to them. Part of the reason I like using them is they promote independent investigations and raise my kids’ self-esteem that they are capable learners.

If you’ve already read my post featuring a tour of our home preschool area, then you know that we are short on space! (If you haven’t read the post, head over now to see how we organize out learning spaces throughout our home.) Here is what our main learning area looks like right now:


When should my kids use busy boxes?

Anytime is a good time for busy boxes! You can choose to designate a special time each day to explore busy boxes, like first thing in the morning when you are preparing breakfast or after lunch during quiet time. You can also choose to just have them available anytime of the day that your kids need something to stay occupied.

How exactly are busy boxes used?

Each box should be put together in a way to promote a specific skill, or to supplement current lessons or interest. When you put together a busy box, have a goal in mind of what you want to accomplish with it. The best busy boxes will be self correcting (think puzzles), open ended (think sensory bins), and engaging. Here are some activities we have blogged about that can easily be turned into busy boxes:

You can also include flashcards and quality, educational toys in your busy boxes! Don’t feel like everything has to be a creative endeavor!

busy boxes

Also, make sure that the boxes are not so heavy/cumbersome that your preschoolers can not easily remove them themself. They should be a way to promote independence and, therefore, easy to access and put away independently when finished. For that, you can use a small cupboard with empty space below. If you don’t have such a space, you can use particle boards, MDF, or timber with the additional requirement of equipment like a table saw, electric drill machine, silicon bronze wood screws, drills, self-centered bits, etc.

How to use busy boxes for preschoolers- everything you need to know!(This is my toddler helping himself to busy box materials!)

How often should I rotate busy boxes?

That will be up to you and your kids! Sometimes my kids go back to the same busy box every day for a week. Sometimes they are done with it after a day. Preschoolers interests can change day by day. One day they love robots, another day they want to know everything there is to know about butterflies! Follow their lead. Rotate as you see new interests develop, after they’ve master the skill you targeted in specific busy boxes, or as your you change preschool themes!

Anything else I need to know?

Set expectations for using the busy boxes. Your kids should know where to find them and where they are to be used (kitchen table? living room floor?). Encourage them to put their own busy box “work” away. While cleaning up an entire living room of toys will be overwhelming for a preschooler, a busy box should be simple enough to put away independently. Lastly, have a couple options of boxes available. Give your kids choices, a good rule of thumb is add one choice for every year old they are (2 for two years old, 3 for three years old, etc.)

Did I miss anything?

I appreciate you reading through the whole article about busy boxes and preschoolers, but I have no doubt you still have a few question. Please leave me a comment/question below so I can make sure to cover it for other inquiring minds!

More Preparing For School Tips from the Early Childhood Education Team:

Back to School Tips for Parents PLUS Visual Morning Chart! by The Preschool Toolbox Blog

Starting Kindergarten-Books and Activities by Capri + 3

Back to School: Starting Routines by Tiny Tots Adventures

Make Back to School Books to Ease the Transition by Fun-A-Day

4 Back to School Tips: Preparing for School by Learning 2 Walk

Preparing for Preschool: Creative Center in a Box by Powerful Mothering

How to Plan for Preschool at Home by Mom Inspired Life

Supporting preschool learning at home by Rainy Day Mum

Setting Literacy Goals by Growing Book by Book

Traditional Preschool or Homeschool Preschool or Both? by Still Playing School
Teaching Preschool at Home by Raising Lifelong Learners

Preparing for School Brings Mixed Emotions for both Parents and Children by The Educators’ Spin On It

Prepare a Hands-On Preschool at Home by Life Over C’s

29 thoughts on “How to use Preschool Busy Boxes”

  1. Love this! We do something very similar with trays which works out well for my daughter’s abilities. It’s great that they can easily access things and learn with them.

    1. Trays are a great idea! I love that they keep everything visible for the kids to make easy choices 🙂

  2. I love the busy boxes! I am hoping to make some for my toddler so she can stay occupied while I teach my preschooler, but I think I will make some for him too. Your learning space is great as well! I am planning on buying that same Trofast system from IKEA this weekend!

    1. Thank you, Danielle! I LOVE Ikea! I slightly regret getting white containers- I wish the space had a little more color to it. But otherwise, I love the Trofast system! I’m sure you will too 🙂

  3. I love this idea and tried to implement it – but we don’t have any space so I ended up with busy folders/zip lock wallets with 3 out at once that the kids could take out and then rotated them regular – it looks like we have even less space than you as our workroom is also my office, our craft room and our dinning room plus the only entrance to the garden!

    1. I understand the challenge of small space! This corner was made by moving my dining table (this is in our dining area) in front of our slider for the backyard. Busy Bags are a great way to save on space, too though!

  4. Busy boxes are now on my list for my son and I will be making them as soon as I can get those clear containers you listed. Thanks for this idea as I am sure it will save some of my sanity when I am cooking dinner.

  5. We love work boxes. I use them during the week to support our learning. I think they are a life saver when it comes time to cooking, preoccupied one of the other girls. I dint have access to clear bins when I first thought to do them so we used shoe boxes and let them decorate them how they see fit.

    I think your space is very nice and inviting.I like how you have the bins pull out to take up less top space. Ours sit on top of their work table and I think it would be nice to have them under and able to pull out. Thanks for a look inside.

  6. Beautiful learning space! Thanks for sharing some busy box ideas. We have some set up around my preschool classroom that are perfect during “quiet choice” time after lunch!

    1. I love that you can use busy boxes in the homeschool and classroom! They are a great after lunch cool down activity 🙂

  7. Great ideas and set-up advice for busy boxes to encourage exploration and play in home preschool! Love that you rotate to keep kids engaged and gaining skills as they gain confidence and master skills!

  8. I hate to tell you this but I live in a 1 bedroom apt and run a tiny daycare from it. My daycare is the front room & I can fit about 5 people max. 🙂 id love to see a list of your toddler aged busy boxes (I am using bags) & I am planning on putting my 4 year old girl on them. She has been picking fights, hitting etc and Ive decided she needs to be on task in the afternoon. So any suggestions you might have as a EXPERT mom would be appreciated! Thanks! Love your set up!

    1. Hi Tina! I would start by going through some of your daughter’s toys and setting some aside to only be used in your busy bags. I really think it is key that the materials are fresh for her (I’ve seen it work for my own kids!) Plastic animals, dried pasta (or mini erasers from the dollar store) and ice cube trays for counting practice, specific tasks using stickers are always good too! Scissor activities are also a good choice. While I don’t have a post (yet) with all my ideas in one place, this blog has some useful ideas http://littlebinsforlittlehands.com/25-low-prep-busy-boxes-or-busy-bags-activities/ Also, I admire you for opening your home to care for others! You sound like you are doing a wonderful job by looking for ways to keep the kids entertained and engaged! Bravo 🙂

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