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Activity Boxes for a 3-year-old?

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What kind of activities can I put together to keep my 3-year-old occupied during the day? I am looking for things that can also teach her something. I wanted to go to down to Walmart and pick up a few of those clear shoe-box-sized plastic tupperwares and fill them with things that she can do. She is an extremely active, strong-willed child. She already knows most of her shapes, colors, most of her ABCs and can count to ten. Can anybody give me some ideas on what to do with her to continue to encourage her to learn and grow? Thanks!

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I just made 5 sets of busy boxes for my 3 year old. These are mostly things I already had around the house. I just re-packaged them in a way that they are easy to pull out and then put up for the rest of the week to keep it fresh. I did go to some thrift stores to find some more things cheaply.


Here is what is in our boxes and these are BIG boxes 40QT sterilite boxes:

Each box has a coloring book w/ a new box of crayons and several puzzles. Some are typical wooden and some are 2-piece matching puzzles. I also have some creative 3-D-ish type things

In addition:


Monday's box:

Play Doh

Fisher Price Go-Fish game

Fashion Plates and Monster Plates

Mosaic game from Discovery Toys

VTech computer

Silly Faces Colorform book


Tuesday's box:

stringing beads

Clever Castle logic game

AlphaBert (computer)


Rush Hour Safari (she can't solve the puzzles but she is quite occupied by arranging the pieces on the board)


Wednesday's box:

Cranium Hullabaloo

Paint with water book

Pattern Blocks

Oreo Cookie shape match game

Cat in the Hat book w/ magnetic pieces


Thursday's Box:

Quantum leap pad

Lacing Shapes

Look and Find Book

Rush Hour Jr.


Friday's Box:

magnetic "paper" dolls

Wooden pizza w/ velcro toppings

stamps and ink pad


ETA: obviously I'm going more for the "busy" factor than the educational factor :001_smile: I think most of the activities in my boxes (not the toy computers ;)) will foster spatial skills and fine motor skills and just creative fun. I'm cool with that. And just keeping the TV OFF is a good goal of mine. I've got a lot of school work to cover with 5 older children before nap time hits and I have resorted to the TV babysitter in the past...trying to avoid that. If you don't already have these things it would be too expensive to go out and purchase. I did find several things at thrift stores and yard sales though for cheap cheap!!

Edited by silliness7
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We couldn't have a sand or water table in our house when the kids were younger, but I put some macaroni in a shallow tote with some measuring cups, a funnel, etc. That was a favorite around our house.


It was easy enough for kids to clean up and was cheap enough to replenish. ;) The dogs would grab most of the pieces that fell onto the floor!

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For my three year old I set up little baskets that are locked in a cabinet during non-school times. When I want a few minutes of peace, I just open the doors and she can pick. Some I've used so far:


1. Paint color strips and scissors to cut apart on the lines. Also bits and pieces of paper and foam.

2. Large plastic buttons in different colors and shapes with -a piece of paper with some traced to match up, -different color plastic bowls to sort them into, -pipe cleaners to thread them on.

3. different color pompoms and small bowls or cups to sort them into.

4. wood tangrams puzzles (Melissa & Doug)

5. Stickers and paper (rotate between foam and paper stickers)

6. simple wood puzzles

7. wipe off books on numbers and letters - dd loves these.

8. Dabber paints and worksheets from makinglearningfun.com (I use the ones called Magnet pages but don't give dd magnets at this point - she colors them using the dabber paints - relatively mess free).

9. Round stickers (multi-colored reinforcements) and dabber pages.

10. Playdoh, but I'd rather not.

11. Magic pen books (one pen makes many colors)

12. Paint with water books using a stamp moistener or sponge

13. wooden dowels and large wood beads to thread on them.


I did multi-colored pony beads once but put them back away when ds (!!!) put one up his nose.


We do have a rice bin that I put out on a table for both kids (ds would never work while it was out). It's not nearly as bad or as hard to clean up as I thought it would be.

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I just checked out a new Montessori book out of the library and they had some cool ideas in it.


Sorting objects - Mix buttons together and have them separate them into little bowls by size, color, or material.


Matching paint swatches - Easy: 6 swatches, 2 each of yellow, red, blue. Match them up and learn names. Medium: 11 pairs of primary and secondary colors and tones. Hard: 7 different shades of 9 different colors. Sort in order from lightest to darkest shade. Variations: Find something in the room that matches a swatch. Show him a swatch from the Hard set and have him find a lighter or darker swatch.


Sounds - get glass jars and paint 6 one color, and 6 another color. Fill pairs of the jars - one of each color - with something that makes an interesting sound; rice, sand, beans, bells....and then they shake them, and have to match the jars by sound.


Texture matching - take little blocks of wood and glue fabric, velcro, seeds, sand, etc to the surface. Make 2 of each, and then blindfold them and they have to find the pairs by feeling.


Fabric matching - same idea as above, but use different kinds of fabric in a bag. They have to reach in and feel for the 2 matching pieces of fabric. Silk, wool, tweed, cotton, etc.


Sandpaper tablets - same thing - wood blocks and glue 2 sets of different grades of sandpaper on them, and they have to feel to match up the grades.


Mystery bag - fill a bag with small objects that she would know. She reaches inside and feels an object and has to guess what it is.


Perfume bottles - fill small jars that are painted or opaque with scents. Use a cotton ball and dip in vanilla, peppermint, perfume, lemon juice, etc...or spices like cinnamon, cloves, orange rinds...fill 2 jars with the same scent, and they have to smell to find the matching jars.

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I have a ton of these sterilite boxes. I love this size b/c I can fit so many things, and they stack nicely.


We have (or have had):


Pegs - the Lauri Peg toys


Lauri Puzzles & other puzzles as the original cardboard boxes wear out


Geoboards & rubberbands


pattern blocks/tangrams and patterns to cover


Cuisenaire Rods, dice, rulers




Balance & counters (bears, marbles, buttons, etc...)


Lentils & measuring cups/spoons


Lacing activities (big buttons & shoe laces & that plastic canvas stuff)


Crayons & paper (so simple, yet such a fave ;))


Safety scissors, hole puncher, glue, paper, stickers, (and various items I pick up off of the ground...sequence, buttons, string, bits of paper...)



Also, anything your 3yo enjoys naturally is 10x more fun when it comes out of that box...so clean out the toybox and see what you can find.

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We couldn't have a sand or water table in our house when the kids were younger, but I put some macaroni in a shallow tote with some measuring cups, a funnel, etc. That was a favorite around our house.


It was easy enough for kids to clean up and was cheap enough to replenish. ;) The dogs would grab most of the pieces that fell onto the floor!



I am doing a mac box!

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