Montessori in a bag

Jasmine: Before I left for London, a top item on my pack list was to assemble busy bags for the 13 hour plane ride. I have issues with the term “busy” as I think children need to be meaningfully engaged rather than just occupied with “busy work”, but I found these busy bags useful for developing concentration and honing fine motor skills, whether on a plane ride or living out of a suitcase! I got carried away and made 21 busy bags, arranged according to the five areas of Montessori work: practical life, sensorial, math, language, cultural.

My criteria for the busy bags:

-minimal loose parts, so it’s easier to keep track 

-loose parts must be cheap or I already own them, so I will not feel too much heartache if things get lost

-portable and light (we used mainly Daiso ziplocks the size of a medicine/ tablet strip, with a white portion for you to write on)

-will get through airport security e.g no scissors or large amounts of water

I’m pleased to say I spent a total of $2 on that silly fry toy and assembled everything else with existing materials. Most of these are geared towards the 2-3.5yo age range as that’s how old my kids are, but many of the practical life/ slotting activities could be done from 10months up.

Practical Life

1. Slotting chenille wires into a pepper container with holes. Doable from 10 months up.

2. Slotting tikam-tikam (a local children’s toy) into a baby snack cup. This is endlessly fun and although it might be more suited to an older baby, my 2yo could work on color sorting while my 3.5yo could classify the animals according to Land, Air and Water. 

3. Stringing cut-up straws on twine. I chose just two colors so it could be used for early patterning work too e.g green-blue-green-blue.

4. A Daiso find, slotting fries into a packet,and pulling them out one by one. If you pull the one attached by a string to the packet, the fries will explode.

5. Transferring pompoms to ice cube tray using a wooden peg. Also good for one to one correspondence.

6. Pegging tiny felt clothes on twine. For the full scale version of this activity, click here.

7. Buttoning practice by stringing felt squares on a ribbon

8. Tonging sushi erasers

9. Tonging plastic beads (higher difficulty than previous as tongs and beads are smaller). Also can be used for patterning and eventually I may want to iron their completed creations.


10. Sequencing paint swatches from light to dark

11. Pairing cards (from our fave local ice-cream shop), and I extended the activity by pairing cards to ice-cream spoons of the same color.

12. Seeing far and close, with binoculars and magnifying glass respectively. A way to heighten interaction with their surroundings.


13. Putting the corresponding number of dot stickers on ice cream sticks numbered 1 through 10.

14. Rubric cube. Where possible I try to have two of the same item in situations where both kids want the same bag. Of course, I don’t expect them to solve the puzzle! 


15. Writing bag: stamp markers, leftover post-it flags and notebook.

16. Translation dice with common pleasantries in English and Mandarin. I simply painted cubes from a gaudy cube puzzle I didn’t want but you can get plain pine cubes at Daiso too. I also painted two extra cubes and left them blank, for us to add on if we visit European countries and pick up more pleasantries.

17. Water Wow pad. A gift from a friend, Dylan loved writing with the water pen and there is virtually no mess or spillage. 

I just wish that only the numbers and objects could be painted because it got so fun that Dylan was more interested in painting the entire page rather than writing numbers. I’m not in a hurry for him to be numerate or literate but if that was the point of the book, it should have built in a control of error 😂

When the water pen touches the pad, different colors are revealed! He kept returning to this, carefully laying out his book to dry near the window so that he could write on it again.

18. Wikki stix. A bendable yarn that is great for shaping letters or making your own sculptures. We ordered these in a pack of 50 off amazon and used them as party favours. The kids’ older cousins made bangles and mini-glasses for Emmy with them!


19. Origami book with vehicle pressouts. To show the similarity between vehicles everywhere.

20. DIY weather chart made with Daiso felt. Because the online ones cost $12 and this cost $2?? Would like to add a symbol for snow now that we are in London!

21. More Reggio than Montessori, really, an end of summer-themed provocation in a bag to cue the children into seasonal change- which is something we don’t experience in Singapore! With a paper umbrella, seashell, feathers, butterfly sequins and playdough.

Here’s a shot of them working on their busy bags on the plane. I thought they would cycle through several busy bags very quickly and tire of them, but to my surprise, they chose three or four and kept returning to work on them.

We are settling into our new place and the busy bags are still coming in handy! The children pick bags, lay out mats (actually placemats left behind by previous tenant) and work on them. When they are done, they pack their materials into the Ziplock bag and return the bag before choosing another bag.

Emmy seems to have found a favourite spot by the fake fireplace to string her necklace.

And a word from the husband..

Andrew: These busy bags were a lifesaver during the flight and gave me time to focus on rewatching “Descendants of the Sun” (a wildly popular Korean Drama). LOL! They have been very useful during this moving in period as well since there are moments where either one of us really needs to focus on unpacking and the kids need something to focus their attention other than the luggage bags which they enjoy climbing in and out of!

Check out more busy bags in action at our Facebook page!


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