When my oldest was a baby, it was fairly easy to fly with him. I’d put him in our baby carrier and rock him to sleep. As he became a toddler, I just packed lots and lots of snacks to keep him occupied. Now my oldest is 3-years-old and he requires a bit more consideration when flying. That’s where busy bag activities come in. For our recent flight to Europe, I prepared Montessori-style busy bags to entertain him on the flight and in our hotels.

I had a lot of fun making them. We already had some of the materials, but I did make some runs to Target, Dollar Tree and Michael’s to pick up the rest of the supplies. Shopping for these items was as much fun for me as making them. I felt so accomplished!

I packed 3 busy bags for the flight to Europe. It was an evening flight and my son slept for most of the trip. We did break out the busy bags on the last leg of the flight. While we were in our first hotel, we just let him play with the same 3 busy bags. As our trip wrapped up and we packed for the flights home, we swapped out the old busy bags for several new ones. We got a lot of use out of them! (Contains affiliate links.)

Popsicle sticks with Velcro dots busy bag
I found these colored Popsicle sticks in my son’s art kit and bought the Velcro dots on Amazon.

Popsicle Sticks with Velcro

The colored popsicle sticks with Velcro dots on them were the biggest hit. My son used them to build “rainbows” while we were on the airplane. He also used them to make roads for his cars while we were in the hotel. My friends made similar ones using the tongue depressor size that their kids enjoyed. I think I will make a busy bag set using the Jumbo Colored Wood Craft Sticks for future trips.

Chopstick busy bag
The trainer chopsticks are from Uwajimaya, the ice cube tray is from IKEA and the beads are from Michael’s.

Chopsticks with Beads and Ice Cube Tray

I like to call this activity “feeding the fishies” and my son was thrilled to use his chopsticks. He’s currently obsessed with them and uses them at every opportunity. I thought the beads would be a good idea, but these ones were a bit small. I am going to get larger beads for next time. I’m also going to get those colorful pom-poms as they will be lightweight and easier to pick up using chopsticks. This busy bag activity is currently being used in our living room. My husband put the beads on a cookie sheet and my son has been using a baby spoon to scoop up the beads and put them in the ice cube tray. They sell the training chopsticks and ice cube tray on Amazon.

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Dr. Seuss stickers and book
I found these Dr. Seuss stickers and little book in Target’s dollar section.

Dr. Seuss Stickers and Book

My son really enjoys Dr. Seuss books right now. We read them a lot before bedtime. I knew he’d be a fan of these stickers because he recognizes many of the characters from the books. This busy bag activity consisted on having him put the stickers on the blank pages of the little book. It was a hit! He filled a bunch of the pages with stickers and it occupied a bit of time on the airplane. When he was done doing this activity, he put it all back in the bag to work on it later.

Sponges and Straws busy bag
I bought the sponges at Dollar Tree and we already had the straws from IKEA.

Sponges and Straws

Right before we left for our trip, I saw and idea on Facebook from my friend who suggested a busy bag activity using cut up sponges. I figured I’d have my son thread the sponges on straws because it would be lightweight. The problem was that straws are flimsy and they kept bending when he tried to put the sponges on them. Next time, I’m going to put a chopstick in there or use a dull wooden kabob skewer. He ended up pretending the sponges were cars. He also used them as blocks.

Pipe cleaner busy bag
I got these sparkly pipe cleaners at Dollar Tree and the beads were from Michael’s.

Beads and Pipe Cleaners

This seems so simple, but it entertained my son for hours! I found some pipe cleaners at Dollar tree that had semi-stiff bristles. This was perfect because it kept the pony beads from sliding off. I originally thought I’d need to twist a bead on the end to keep them from falling off. My son made me several bracelets. I think next time, I will add in the Montessori element of sorting the beads by color and then he can put them on the pipe cleaner.

Busy Bag idea
I found these mini clothespins at Target last year and they are meant for hanging Christmas cards.

Hanging Clothes on Clothespins

When I went through a tub of random craft stuff, I ran across these mini clothespins on a long piece of twine. Target sold them around Christmas and marketed as a way to display holiday cards. I realized that they were a nice size for a busy bag. I already had printed felt from a felt Christmas tree activity I did last year, so I just cut little clothes out of it. This activity is super light and doesn’t take up much space. We didn’t end up bringing it out this flight and I’m actually glad because I’m saving it for our next flight! I found this clothes pins on twine on Amazon.

Target and TJ Maxx items
TJ Maxx and Target are great places to find ready-made busy bag items.

Coloring Activities

My friends and I are big fans of Melissa & Doug coloring products. They make Water Wow coloring books that just need a little bit of water. These are great for airplane rides and take zero artistic skill from your child. Now that my son is older, he’s interested in markers. I found some Melissa & Doug Magicolor Coloring Books. The pens only color on the paper and they snap back into the plastic case on the coloring book. Unfortunately, my son had an aisle seat and the markers kept sliding down the aisle, so they didn’t last long on the plane. They would be fabulous for in the airport and definitely in a hotel room. Target’s dollar section always has Play Packs featuring an array of animated characters. Dollar Tree usually has something similar, too. They consist of some crayons, stickers and coloring sheets. I like that they are fully contained and my son thinks of them like a surprise bag.

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Busy Bag idea
I found this Art Felt-Folio in Target’s dollar section.

Art Felt-Folio

I had high hopes for this busy bag item. However it was a bit bulky for my carry on back pack. It’s basically just crayons and paper inside a felt fire truck. I think this would work out better for road trips. But I love that you can easily add stickers, markers, cards, etc to the felt-folio to change it up. I’m hanging onto this to try when my son is a bit older and more into coloring. I found a similar Art Felt-Folio on Amazon.

Busy bag items
I found these foam crowns and sparkle stickers at Dollar Tree.

Foam Crowns and Stickers

My son loves putting stickers on things so I thought this might be a fun busy bag activity. He likes to make presents for people. It lasted about 2 minutes. This activity bored him and he asked me for another project to do. Thankfully, this bag was super light and cost less than $2.

Busy Bags for Airplane Rides
I found this in Target’s dollar section.

Felt Play Book

Target’s dollar section is a dangerous place for me. I always find items I “need” for kids. But, when looking for busy bag items, it’s the perfect spot! This felt play book opens up to make a large felt mat and it comes with felt items like a submarine, airplane, and rocket ship. It was a bit cumbersome to use on the airplane. This is a great item for hotel rooms where kids can lay on the floor to use it.

IKEA finger puppets busy bag
I found these Animal Finger Puppet Set at IKEA.

Finger Puppets

We didn’t even get to this busy bag activity. I kept them in a sandwich baggie. I love how lightweight the puppets are. I’m probably going to stash these in my diaper bag to use at restaurants. Fortunately, they fit my fingers so I can even use them to entertain my baby.

DIY Busy Bag Tips

The first thing I suggest is to walk around your house and take inventory of what you have. We already had chopsticks, which sparked the idea for our “feed the fishies” game. I also raided my son’s art kit to see what items I could use, like the colored Popsicle sticks. Target’s dollar section is a great place to get ready-to-go items because they usually have coloring activities and craft kits. Dollar Tree is a really fun place to find inexpensive craft items and stickers.

Busy Bag Ideas for Preschoolers

Author

Marcie writes the family travel blog Marcie in Mommyland. When she's not traveling the world, she's home in Seattle with her husband and two little boys.

15 Comments

  1. I love the straws and sponges idea! This would have really come in handy last time I flew with the kids. ❤️

  2. My children are 17, 13 and 11, so no need for busy bags for me anymore; but I’m always grateful for mom’s like you who take the time to make these for her kids! ?

    • marciecheung Reply

      At that age, I’m guessing a good set of headphones and an electronic device is all they’d need!

    • marciecheung Reply

      I’m sure you could create different busy bags. I had a friend in high school whose Mom made her a bag full of stuff for our plane ride to Europe!

  3. Loved these busy bag ideas! These will be perfect for any long period in get car as well ? I am definitely putting some of the popsicle sticks with Velcro together….mine would love that just about any time as well as the sponge/straw activity!

  4. I need to start making these for my kids. They’re such great ideas. My daughter is very antsy and these can make traveling so much easier!

  5. What great ideas to keep a child busy! I love those felt books that you found and the Velcro on the sticks is a genius idea!

    • marciecheung Reply

      I now always check that dollar section of Target because they often have great deals on items that travel well. And sometimes they are only available that day, so I snatch them up!

    • marciecheung Reply

      The Velcro popsicle sticks have been a lifesaver!

  6. These are excellent busy activities. I know what you mean about the different types of 3 year olds. I am on my 5th and she is the toughest one yet to keep occupied. You’d think I’d have it down by now but I totally don’t. These will definitely help on our upcoming trip to Hawaii 😉

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yep! I have friends with kids the same ages as mine and what works for mine doesn’t always work for their kiddos. But, snacks seem to be a universal winner 🙂

  7. Great ideas, mama! I find a lot of road trip type activities in Target’s Dollar Spot as well. Along with plenty of other things I don’t need, yet somehow have to have..

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