Make it: Create a busy bag for junior

Need your tot to keep quiet for long periods? These DIY busy bags might just come in handy!

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Ever wish you didn’t have to resort to the trusty iPad to keep your young ’un occupied while you were waiting at the doctor’s clinic, or when you need him to sit still at a wedding?

That’s exactly how stay-at-home mum Joey Ng felt when she needed her son, Qi Rui, 3, to be patient. “Whenever we eat out or need to wait for a meet-and-greet session or live show to start, I would take out my phone to look at social media sites and Qi Rui would want to join in,” says the former primary school Chinese teacher.

As Joey, prefers her son to go screen-free as much as possible, she started putting together “busy bags” for him. These packets contain simple but engaging activities for your little one, so as to keep them busy when you need some quiet time. While these are great for independent play, you can also do the activities together with your child.

These are useful when you want to keep your elder child occupied while you tend to the younger one, or when you have free time while you’re out. “We also use it to practise fine motor skills or counting,” adds Joey, who is married to Soon Yinjie, cofounder of Tinkertanker, a tech and education firm that helps the IDA introduce programming to preschoolers. She packs two or three activities in a bag ― each is able to engage her son for 10 to 30 minutes.

Joey, who blogs at Play Le Xue, shares several busy bag ideas!

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These are make-it-yourself magnetic letters (you can use magnetic dry erase sheets like these), with dotted lines for your tot to trace his or her name. “I like to use a tin box, so the surface serves as a backdrop for various magnetic play activities,” says Joey. Throw in a whiteboard pen with a duster at the tip, so your little one can do the activity again and again.

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He will place letters made of felt onto a soft cork board (stick this inside the tin box) in this activity. To help junior recognise letters, punch holes into the letters ― he will then push matching coloured pins into the felt letter’s holes. Removing the pins will also help him strengthen his fingers.

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Or let your tyke thread coloured laces through the felt letter holes ― this will hone his fine motor skills.

More busy bag ideas…up ahead!

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Number pegs are used in this magnetic counting activity for additional fine motor skills practice. Or use these magnets on their own to create different pictures (the printable was sourced online) on the metal tin box.

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In this activity, first stick magnetic tape on recycled bottle caps, then flip these over on the metal tin. Next, to develop junior’s fine motor skills, let him use tweezers to transfer pompoms onto each cap. Different pompoms can be used to help him identify different colours, sizes and textures.

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Use a magnetic sheet cut into squares and triangles to create this simple magnetic tangram (geometric puzzle). Get a template from websites like this for your tot to follow.

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This bilingual activity teaches your child to recognise colours and words. Joey uses laminated memo pads to match English and Chinese words, and coloured magnets to show how colours are blended.

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First stick magnetic strips on ice-cream sticks. Then, get him to place the correct number of paper clips on the corresponding ice-cream stick, so that he’ll learn to count as well as recognise numbers.

Top tricks on making your busy bags…up ahead!

Joey’s tips for creating busy bags:

* Your child may not always be interested in the activities you’ve put together. So, let him pick two activities, and you can pick one more (with his approval, of course!) Giving young children a part to play in the decision-making process helps.

* Junior may not want to do the activity in the way that you’d intended. “I will go along with whatever he suggests, as long as it is not harmful or destructive,” Joey notes.

* Nurture your child’s creativity by using recycled materials or loose parts (bottle caps, ice-cream sticks and round magnets) for lots of open-ended play options.

* Place individual activities into zip lock bags, so that you can just grab a pack and go whenever you head out!

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