One day I remember visiting the on-campus homeschool coordinator's house (can't remember why exactly). When I walked in another mom was leaving and we spoke for just a moment. She found out I was going to be homeschooling and asked, "How are you going to do that with him?" pointing to then 11-month old Jathan. Actually I hadn't totally thought about that but I smacked a smile on my face and told her we were just going to do the best we could! And that's just what we've done all this time. I do my best and let God do the rest. I figure that way most of the burden is on Him and He's way better qualified than I am for boss status.
It has been pretty fun figuring out what to do with Jathan, however, since creativity comes naturally to me. This year I decided to put some of the my ideas and ideas I'd found online into a busy box for Jathan and Ryland. Here are some of the things in our busy box in case you're looking for educational ways to entertain your toddler or preschooler.
I found these mini-loaf pans at the SWAP shop and brought them home to use in a sorting game but Ryland found them first and played with them by himself for at least 30 minutes. He stacked them and unstacked them then put things in them and took things out of them. It just goes to show that kids will play with the darndest things!
I came across this next idea after following many, many great links through one mom blog to another. It's a "clank can" made with an old Carnation Instant Breakfast can and some can lids. My can opener cuts them off with a smooth edge so they are safe to play with. I cut a slit in the lid and after printing the templates and preparing them on the can lids Ryland or Jathan can drop them into the can which makes a lovely clanking sound--music to a kid's ears. They can play with it alone or as you read the story and drop the animals in in their correct sequence. Ryland loved this one. Click here to see the website I found it on which has printable templates for this can and others.
Along those same lines, I'd previously made a piggy bank out of an old butter bowl and some baby food jar lids. Originally the butter bowl had a piggy bank print out on it and the lids had numbers on them but after a lot of play from Ryland and Jathan both, the piggy and numbers got ripped off. They're totally unnecessary, however, and Ryland still really enjoys playing with this.
Another idea I found online uses any sort of empty container with a lid that you can punch holes in and some pipe cleaners. Bend the pipe cleaners in two and wrap them around each other to make them sturdier then your child can push them through the holes. I applied colored-coded hole reinforcements around the holes so that this can also be a color matching game.
The next activity was so appealing that I just about couldn't keep Jathan and Ryland off of me while I made it. Apparently pom poms are fun! Simply take an empty contain and punch holes in it just big enough that the pom poms will need to be pushed through!
And the activity that I originally had in mind for the mini-loaf pans? It was a sorting activity. I cut out a set of squares and a set of circles and laminated them for durability. I got Ryland started by putting a circle in one tin and a square in the other. He caught right on!
For a clothespin drop game just save a Pringles can and buy some super cheap clothespins at Walmart in you don't have extra laying around. It sounds super simple but I promise they liked it!
Although most of the items in our busy box are upcycled and homemade I did find this Mr. Potatohead toy at Walmart on sale and threw him in there, too. Every kid loves Mr. Potatohead, right?
To make a button snake, take a length of ribbon, a button, and several squares of felt. Cut a slit large enough to accommodate your button into the center of each felt square. Sew one square on the end of the ribbon and the button on the other end. Kids can use this to practice their buttoning skills and as they get older they can make patterns with the felt if you use different colors.
The next activity is for when the kids need to get up and move a little. It's called rollacise which I'm not totally impressed with but, hey. All you have to do is print the template out by clicking here and apply foam shapes to a wooden block (we used a spare building block). We played this today and Jathan really liked it. It gets them active, talking about animals, and counting all at the same time!
For color matching practice, cut a circle out of cardboard divide it into eight "pie pieces" and color each slice a different color. Then label 8 clothespins with the colors and let your child work their fine motor skills by attaching the clothespins in the appropriate space.
Another great way to work on colors is to get some (free!) paint chips at the store and cut them apart. You can play matching games with the shades or flip them over and play a memory game. You can line them up using your color circle above. There are lots of possibilities!
Yet another color activity calls for an empty egg carton and some colored corks or blocks. I got ours on the $1 aisle at Target.
Paint the bottoms or glue different colors of construction paper to the insides of the egg cups. Let your child match the colors!
You can use the same concept to apply to numbers except write numbers on the bottoms of the egg cups and drop in the appropriate number of beans (or other small counters).
For number play, save your lids! I used apple juice lids to make a caterpillar head with a little face and a random number on the top. Then you can use smaller lids (we used Sprite lids) to make the caterpillar body with a number of lids corresponding to the number on the first lid.
Speaking of lids we save pretty much all of our lids which I just throw into a ziploc bag and let them sort from time to time as an early math activity. They can sort from smallest to largest or make groups of each color, whatever!
I also always try to keep a TON of books on hand and fun educational toys or interesting objects.
My aunt gave Jathan this particular toy for Christmas and he totally loves it (and, okay, I do, too!). It's way fun so I highly recommend it.
And of course you've gotta have playdough on hand! We bought the little gift pack ones and put them in a storage box along with some of the playdough toys we've collected. Playdough always has a lot of fun toys to cut, stamp, and squish your dough with.
Jathan is working on learning money right now so I was happy to find these large paper coins and some plastic ones. He lays out the large coins and puts the small matches on top.
And finally we made an I Spy bottle because Jathan completely adores the I Spy books. It's made almost entirely from junk you have laying around! Clean out your junk drawer...
Put a few of the interesting items in an empty bottle (one with a wide mouth works best)...
Then add some cheap white rice (about 3/4 of the bottle full) and shake it up.
Then the kids can roll the bottle around and search for all the cool things inside.
So there are some of my ideas to keep little ones busy for not a lot of money!