I first heard of “toddler busy bags” on Pinterest. I was intrigued. A busy bag is a bag full of toys to help keep your toddler entertained while out and about. As I was going down the black hole that is Pinterest, however, I had just about decided against these things. Most of the ideas I saw involved a lot of work on my part – making a “fishing pond” out of magnets, hot glue, and storing it in an Altoids tin. Who has time for this? I’m just not crafty, and I was pretty much against anything that involved a ton of work, money, hot glue, or pipe cleaners. But I still liked the idea of having something with me so that we weren’t turning to electronics to entertain her while we are out.
As it turns out, my toddler is quite low maintenance in terms of what will keep her busy. So here is what I’m going to just call a “Sanity Bag.” Meltdown approaching? Bring out the sanity bag! It’s a miracle bag, as it turns out.
So, the first thing I did when I decided my child needed a “busy bag” was to hit up Target’s dollar aisle. They are not paying me to say this. It’s just true.
Here’s what I put inside our sanity bag.
These do not have to be fancy, but I’ve found that my daughter is especially fond of the little notebooks that have Anna and Elsa on them or Paw Patrol. They’re literally $1 and my sanity is priceless, so I’m indulging this.
Crayons or Markers
You know what I love? Going out to eat and getting the free crayon’s with my kid’s meal. Into the sanity bag in their nice little box. I also like the notepads that come with the invisible ink marker (pictured below) – it’s no mess and she gets excited that she’s coloring with markers, so I consider that a win for everybody.
ALL THE STICKERS
Princess stickers, paw patrol, scratch and sniff stickers, puffy stickers … it really doesn’t matter. Putting stickers in her notepad is for some reason a super calming activity.
I found these 24 piece puzzles in a small tin at the Target dollar aisle. My husband had already bought a large pack of these at Costco so we have puzzles to spare; but if you’re looking, I’d suggest hitting Target.
Right now, the puzzle enjoyment mostly consists of me putting the puzzle together while she explains the picture to me, but she gets excited about it, so I’m okay with that.
The smaller the better for this one, because you are carrying this around. I LOVE the board books that come with the Chick-Fil-A kids meals. They’re tiny, easily readable, and we can carry around several.
The Secret Weapon
Finally, when everything in our sanity bag has failed, I bring out the secret weapon. Play-doh. My sister-in-law is a mom of three and gave me this tip. I thought she was crazy when she pulled a few things of Play-doh out of her purse, but then the table that was possibly the latest zoo exhibit became a table full of quiet and happy kids. So I’m pro-Play-doh. I do NOT keep this in the bag where my child can see it; I keep this tucked away out of sight in my purse (for emergencies only!). We will build a blue or orange snowman together, and I’ve just bought us another 10 minutes of entertainment.
I realize that all of these things are pretty low-key, but it has been helpful for us multiple times while out and about. I do not let her play with any of the toys that are in these bags when we are at home so that they don’t lose their novelty, which I think has helped.
It would honestly be easier for us to probably just give in and let her watch videos on our phones. It, too, would prevent or stop a meltdown, but that’s not something I’m okay with all the time. Do we sometimes turn to videos? Absolutely we have. But I’ve found that having a plan in place helps to prevent that from happening, and for me, this is the easiest way to go.