Busy Bag Yes, Busy Bag No

So. First kid: busy body. Walked early, ran early, climbed on furniture and jumped off early. I’m reading a book called Raising Your Spirited Child in an attempt to get things under control.

If a friend of mine was going through this, I would be all, “Look on Pinterest! Everything’s on there!”

Well. You can probably write the end of this story. I did find a bunch of cool stuff on Pinterest and none of it is working.

Have you ever searched for “busy bags?” Am I the only clueless person who had no idea what these were before Pinterest came along? You cram a bunch of themed junk into a bag and then when you need to wait for the dentist or make dinner or are stuck in traffic, you pull one out and voila, your child is happily occupied for ten or fifteen minutes. There are sticker busy bags and hospital busy bags and cooking busy bags.

sticker busy bag

Here is what my child does with a busy bag: he dumps it all out, sifts through it with his fingers one time, probably looking for a snack, and then throws everything in different directions or (best case scenario) leaves it all in a pile and returns to crying, whining, hitting his brother, asking for food, asking to watch TV or whatever he was doing that I was trying to interrupt.

bean sorting

Me being stupid, I originally thought, “Oh, he doesn’t like this one about sorting beans, I’ll just make him something else.”


There’s an assumption written into the very idea of a busy bag. Your child will like playing with stickers, will put them on things until they are all gone or until the oil change is finished or whatever. My kid is not exactly into “process.”

Why would you put stickers on something? Why would you pour these beans from one jar to another if you can’t eat them? When I’m finished with this busy work, what will I have to show for it? (Acceptable answers are along the lines of “you can eat it” not “it’s art.”) One time I set him up with baking soda and colored vinegar, so he could use an eyedropper and make pretty little fizzy spots, and you know what he did, right? He immediately took all the baking soda he could scoop up and stuffed it into the cups of vinegar. Then he looked up and was all, “Done! I did it!” Yep, that was supposed to be some sensory magic time, but you figured out the real point was to fizz everything as quickly as possible. Everything’s all fizzed, what’s next? Seven seconds of fun with that, I think? He really did enjoy it, but I now have a policy: if it takes longer to set up than it does to play with it, we’re not doing it anymore.

vinegar and baking soda

Welcome to Wit’s End, where I live. What do I do with you, Spirited Child? (I’m not reading that book fast enough to find out, as you can see.)

He likes to know the end result of any activity and if it is something he wants or is interested to see (i.e. snacks), then he will go through the process of how to get there. But, just doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff is not his thing. And that seems like the kind of personality quirk that comes pre-written onto a soul; it’s not something I’m gonna change.

Enter Donovan the Baby. Who, in this regard, is very different.

I happened upon Donovan playing by himself a week or so ago. He had a small cardboard tube in one hand and a little car in the other. I watched him put the car through the tube about a dozen times in a row. Then the tube rolled away from him, so he crawled after it and then put his car through it again. I also watched him a few days later as he filled an empty beer coozie with some blocks, then dumped it out, then filled it up again. He was obviously learning something from this activity, maybe object permanence, maybe cause and effect. And I wasn’t about to interrupt such a nice, quiet moment.

Suddenly, the whole point of a busy bag bloomed in my mind. Donovan would be ok putting bandaids on stuffed animals and stirring an imaginary pot of beans and tracing his name on a bag of paint. He would do stuff just to see what the experience was like, what it sounded like or felt like.

So, now what do I search for on Pinterest to find stuff for the anti-busy-bag kid?

1 Comment

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One response to “Busy Bag Yes, Busy Bag No

  1. christafrench

    You’re doing better than I ever did. When Weston was little, all those Pinterest be-prepared projects looked to me like Stuff I Will Never Have Time To Do. I 100% stand by your rule that “if it takes longer to set it up than to play with it, then we’re not doing it anymore.”

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