There are plenty of scenarios when you need to keep your kids quiet but their hands busy so they don’t fight, complain or fall asleep in the car right before you get home. Keeping a quiet bag stocked and ready for car rides, waiting rooms and church time is a major parental sanity saver.
But here’s the rub: It needs to be filled with books, toys and games that will catch and keep their attention. If there are too many toys, they’ll likely dump the whole thing out and claim to be bored five minutes later. Too few toys and they won’t stay still for long. We recommended putting in one or two books and two or three activities or games. Read on for 15 suggestions for your quiet bag:
1. Crayola Color Wonder coloring pads and markers
This mess-free coloring option is great for younger kids who haven’t quite mastered staying in the lines … or even staying on the paper. The ink from these markers only appears on special Color Wonder paper, which makes parents happy (no mess!) and kids happy (magic ink!) too.
2. Activity books
Kids that can read usually enjoy activity books that are a mix of coloring, trivia and quizzes. Pick these up for cheap at the dollar store. Pack extra crayons or makers that never leave the bag.
3. Magnetic doodle pads
Travel-size magnetic drawing pads are a great way to keep little hands entertained. Make sure your child is strong enough to pull back the slide to erase the picture, or he or she is likely to get frustrated quickly.
4. Sticker books
Kids as young as age 2 and up to age 8 or so enjoy playing with stickers. Themed sticker books, giant sticker pads, reusable puffy sticker sets and the like can be found on the cheap at T.J. Maxx and Costco.
5. Origami paper and books
Older kids with a five-minute-or-longer attention span may enjoy origami. Start with a beginner book like this one, and pick up paper at a craft store such as Michaels or Jo-Ann. Sit down and show them how to follow the wordless instructions before turning them loose with book and a stack of paper.
6. One-person brain games
There are plenty of one-person games suitable for people ages 6 to 99. These require a lot of focus, so they aren’t great for multi-tasking (read: probably not best for church) but are perfect for waiting at a doctor’s office or in the backseat of a car. Square by Square and IQ Link are entertaining for kids and adults. These make great stocking stuffers.
7. Seek and find books
Simple look and find books, like “Where’s Waldo” or any of the “1001 Things to Spot” books from Usborne Books, teach number recognition, color identification and attention to detail. For an extra challenge, try spot the difference books. Tip: Lift-the-flap books are usually a hit with the age 3 and under crowd.
8. Lacing cards
Lace and trace cards are great for keeping busy little bodies on church pews still. Younger kids may not execute the design perfectly, but they’ll still have fun wrapping the laces around the picture. As a bonus, kids will hone their fine motor skills. Trying lacing beads once your kids have mastered cards.
9. Rubber puzzles
These lightweight puzzles are more portable than wooden puzzles and less noisy, too. Simple one-shape puzzles are great for toddlers that occasionally want to eat their toys, while multi-piece puzzles are best for kids ages 3 and up.
10. Shape and color sorter
The biggest challenge with this toy is simply keeping all of the pieces together. Toddlers especially will love rearranging the colored pegs and sorting the objects by shape and color.
11. Giant beads
Beads can be a pain if they get dropped and roll away, but larger ones are easier to keep a handle on and a fun toy for older boys and girls. B. Toys (sold at Target, Barnes and Noble and Amazon) makes cute giant beads that click together and plenty of other brands make smaller beads that can be strung together. For portability, put a handful of beads in a small plastic bag.
12. Magnetic tins
Self-contained magnetic tins are easy to toss into a bag for on-the-go entertainment. These open to reveal a full-color magnetic surface and color magnets to arrange inside. There are Curious George tins, Noah’s Ark tins, Silly Faces tins and more.
These magnetic tiles aren’t cheap but they are really fun and hardly take up any space. Kids of every age (including teens and adults) will have fun rearranging these.
14. Mr. Potato Head
There’s a reason this iconic toy has been on store shelves for so long. It’s cheap to buy and entertaining to arrange the different face parts on this giant spud. All the pieces store inside the body, so it’s easy to keep track of the feet, ears, nose and more.
15. Fidget toys
Squishy balls, tangle toys, pull and geo-twisters are toys designed for what your kids want to do: fidget. If you want to vet those like these in person, seek them out at museum gift shops or educational supply stores.