Managing transitions with busy bags

busy bag ideas

There are lots of times during the day when children need to be calm and wait while an adult is busy such as when you are packing bags to go out or preparing hot food (children can help with everything else) or taking a child to the toilet or saying goodbye to one child while the others wait for their parents to arrive or when some children are ready to leave the table but others are still eating.

Managing these times can be difficult, especially if the children are prone to getting a bit giddy. The first thing to do is look at your current transition times and minimise them where possible. Young children find it difficult to wait and will often ‘act up’ when an adult’s attention is elsewhere so work with parents to make sure your routines support children to know what is happening now and what will happen next. A visual timetable designed by and featuring the children often helps.

For unavoidable transition times, we have lots of little busy bags ready for when children need to sit and be calm. We use the busy bags with the children first so they know how to play the games – we don’t just present them and expect the children to know what to do.

Here are some ideas for the busy bags we have put together for the children recently…

  • Threading – we provide beads and pipe cleaners or beads and lengths of cut straws with short pieces of shoelace knotted at one end and the children push the beads onto them to make necklaces or bracelets. We teach them how to make repeating patterns using different coloured beads to challenge their learning further.

Risk assessment – make sure the older children understand that they have to keep the small parts in a bowl on the table to keep the little ones safe and pick up any beads immediately. If you have a lot of smaller children this activity might not be for you.

  • Sticker stories – we provide stickers linked to children’s current interests and a little home-made booklet (A4 paper cut and folded). The children put a sticker at the top of each page and write or draw their story. To further develop their language and listening skills, we ask the children to show their sticker stories to their friends at snack or lunchtime or during group times. Sometimes, the children don’t want to write a story and would rather decorate a page with stickers – that’s fine too!
  • Lego counting – we have made some Lego counting and colour matching lines on thin card and put them in a bag with the right amount of Lego pieces for the little ones – and more pieces for older children to challenge them. We have shown the children how to play the game, matching the Lego to the pictures. You can do this activity with shapes as well…
  • Fuzzy felt pictures are popular with all our pre-school children. We buy fuzzy felt that follows their interests and make up little stories with the animals and people etc. Our stories provide the children with scenarios they can use during free play times.
  • Playdough and play mats – we laminate play mats that encourage children to do something thoughtful with the playdough – play mats that teach children make shapes, letters, animals or numbers. To further extend learning – when supervised – we provide beads, leaves, twigs, fir cones and other decorations.
  • Our children all love mark making and we always have pencils and crayons available for the children to access. At transition times we often get out something different for them to use – chalk and chalkboards, markers and paper, whiteboards and pens etc. We give them little jobs to do with the mark making so they can show their friends what they have made later.
  • We have been saving different coloured bottle tops for quite a long time – I have been known to choose a drink simply because the bottle top is silver or gold! Bottle tops in different colours are great for sorting, counting, matching; number, shape and colour recognition and much more. We have played the games with the children so they know what to do… then we put them in a box with some activity ideas ready for those moments when they need to sit and concentrate for a few minutes.
  • We have books out on show and some books that are tucked away for transition times. We often put out a small basket of books children have not read for a while to hold their interest and encourage interaction – lift the flaps and interactive stories are popular.
  • Jigsaws – provide picture cards, scissors, glue and paper and the children can cut their own jigsaw before sticking it on paper. Pictures on craft sticks also work well.

One of the most difficult transition times for a childminder working on their own is the end of the day when children are leaving and everyone is tired. The boundaries often become blurred about who is in charge and children’s behaviour can change dramatically. As a rule, after tea, we put the television on – when a parent knocks their children are taken to the door and we retain control of the transition. We put their shoes and coats on and hand them over to parents ready to go home – smile, wave, say goodbye and see you next time. We have already shared information about their child’s day with parents in their daily diary and we are happy to talk to parents at agreed times in the evening if they have any concerns.

There are lots of busy bag links on my Pinterest page.

A childminder colleague makes busy bags – you can see them on her Facebook page.

Photo taken from blog.


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