How to Make Quiet Time Activity Bins

home, parenting, ruin it yourself

As a mother of two small, fun-loving little girls (Rembot’s 2, Baby Shark celebrates her first birthday next week), I am sometimes overwhelmed.  Maybe you can relate.

I am forever striving to be a better parent, wife, homemaker (this sentence is quickly turning into one sloppy Hallmark card cliche), organizer, blahblahblah.

This job is, by far, the hardest job I’ve ever had – even harder than when I was 17 being a dental assistant for my family dentist and getting my fingers chomped on by a bratty little seven year old and OH my word I’m going to stab you in the forehead with the drool-sucky thing.

Anyway.  I am always on the hunt for implements that will streamline my day or teach my girls something new or keep the house clean or shave a little refined sugar out of our diets.  It’s crazy.  There’s so many facets to think about, and so many ways to fall short.  (Rembot’s been chanting “chicken nuggets!” whenever we pass a Wendy’s – I need to work on meal planning a little bit better.  <—Lookit.  An honest confession.)

I believe that during our hectic day of play and errand running and the three of us (the girls and I) being on top of each other, we could all use a little break from one another.  Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been surfing the internet for ideas on how to get the girls to play independently.  I found blog posts (here, here, and here), talked to friends (shout out to Allison!), brainstormed, and came up with a new addition to our day.  The basic idea is to give your child a small box of toys, and he or she is to quietly play by himself (or herself) for a set period of time.

I gathered together small toys/activities that I think the girls would like.  I’ve been deliberate about making sure they are not toys they play with on a regular basis.  I did this SO cheaply, and if you’d like to replicate it, I really encourage you to not invest a bunch of money right away.  I had a merchandise credit of $4.89 to AC Moore (some of you may remember that AC Moore is on my Sworn Enemies List).  I rummaged through their dollar bin section and walked out with 1) 12 pack of Crayola colored pencils, 2) Disney princess notepad, 3) sticky notes, and 4) a metal tin to open and close.  After the merchandise credit, I paid a quarter.  Not bad.  And take that, AC Moore!

The main stumbling block in putting these bins together is my girls’ ages.  Most of these activity bins/bags, etc I’m finding online are really geared towards preschoolers and up.  I’ve had to really get creative, but I think with a little trial and error, this could actually be life-changing for me.  *****o/***** <–That’s me throwing confetti in the air.

I was going to go the stackable Rubbermaid route – but instead I found really cute vintagey metal lunchboxes.  They’re usually around $15, but I hit a clearance sale, with 50% off clearance, and then 25% off the top of that.  I bought these puppies for $1.50 each.  :O  I know!!!

Aren’t they so cute?  The colors match the girls’ room, too.  I’m going to line them up on a shelf.  :)

I made Rembot’s quiet time bins first.  I had a lot of fun doing this, and tried to put myself in her shoes.  As a kid, I would have loved a little metal lunch box filled to the brim with tiny little things.  I made sure to put items that Rembot doesn’t generally play with – I want these bins to be “special.”  Here’s what I’ve hoarded.  (And PS., watching Hoarders makes me want to scrub my entire body with a wire brush and Lysol.)

In the bins…

I think little ordinary items look so inviting inside the lunch box.  :)

A list of some of Rembot’s items: board books, clothespins clipped onto a piece of cardboard, sparkly poms, notepads, pretty cards with envelopes, stickers, colored pencils, pens, toothbrush holders, small jars, two-piece puzzles, miniature figurine sets – this is Fisher Price Hideaway Hollow, small Disney princess dolls, index cards.  I rotate the boxes daily to keep things fa-reshhhh.

For Baby Shark, I didn’t make several bins.  Honestly, I have a hard time finding toys that she really gets into.  She really likes “nontoys” or “untoys” as I’ve seen it dubbed on the interwebs, so I just keep a large basket of toys I think she may like, plus a few kitchen items – a wooden spoon, a metal whisk, an empty 2-liter bottle, and measuring spoons.

Shout out to my laundry basket and the little pile of socks on the floor.

The results have been wonderful!!  Every day Rembot asks for “quiet time.”  She sits in her room and I hand her a lunch box.  I set the chicken timer (see picture above) and let her know that quiet time is over when the chicken timer rings.  I put Baby Shark in her playpen in the living room with a few of her “quiet time” toys.

And just like that, I have thirty minutes – to fold and put away laundry, clean the kitchen, pay bills, pass out on the couch.  We all benefit from it – the girls get to quietly play and rest a  little, and I suddenly have a little pocket of time that I didn’t have before.

To be honest, Rembot has adapted to it a lot easier than Baby Shark.  She’ll play in her room for thirty to forty minutes, and Baby Shark will start protesting at about twenty minutes.  I’ll switch out her toys, but if she seems disinterested, I’ll take her out of her playpen and let Rembot continue until the timer rings.  After the timer rings, she puts everything back in the lunch box.

A few tips from a rookie:
– Be aware of choking hazards.  I have a couple small figurine sets, but Rembot never puts toys in her mouth.  I am completely comfortable letting her play with them, even if she is a couple of months under the 3+ age suggestion.
– Think small.  200 stickers is overwhelming.   A few special stickers, sparkly poms, and a couple of clothespins are magical.
– Everyday objects hold a lot of potential.  A mini makeup bag, an empty dental floss case, a ball of yarn…
– If your little one protests, start out slowly.  Five minutes one day, seven minutes the next, etc.
– Be happy.  :D  If Rembot wants to end early, I cheerfully explain that it’s still quiet time until the chicken timer rings.

Do you implement any system like this in your house?  I’d love suggestions for what to add to the bins.  I’ve got a few lunchboxes to fill.  Leave a comment and school me!  :)

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  • Reply Jill January 27, 2011 at 12:41 am

    What a great idea! There is no such thing as “quiet time” in our house. I could definitely see my 4 year old getting into it though! You’re such a smartie. :)

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:08 am

      Thanks, Jill, but I totally got the idea from the great blogs I listed above. Let me know if your 4 year old likes it! :) :) :)

  • Reply Mindy B. January 27, 2011 at 12:52 am

    So cute! And you got a rockin’ good deal!

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:08 am

      Thank you! I loooove good deals!

  • Reply Kelly January 27, 2011 at 1:23 am

    what a fabulous idea! i may have to try that over here with my three year old – we both have major cabin fever.

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:11 am

      Let me know how it works for you! :D

  • Reply Catherine January 27, 2011 at 1:28 am

    I so want those little boxes. I haven’t done this for ages so a good reminder! I could use some quiet time while homeschooling a 5 yr old… Seeing this post made me think you might be interested in this Australian girl’s website (http://www.kidscraftweekly.com/newsletters.html). If you look back over the early newsletters she has great simple crafts that are wonderful for even the littlest kids.

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:38 am

      Thanks for the link – that is a fantastic resource!

  • Reply Becky January 27, 2011 at 2:26 am

    I love it- I have three littles of my own and two that I care for 9 hours of the day. I am going to have to try this like tomorrow!!!
    I do rotate the toys. We have a small house and do not have the room for everything to be out, so each week I rotate the bins, little people, dress up, kitchen, barbie… that way they feel like they are getting something new all of the time. I love your writing so cute and funny.

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:39 am

      Five kids? Wow! I’m impressed.

      I need to do a better job of rotating. Like you, we have a small house. No playroom, so I try to limit what’s in their room. They have two small baskets of toys and one basket of books in the living room.

  • Reply kimberly January 27, 2011 at 6:29 am

    as a mama of 3 boys, 10, 5 and 3- I can honestly say I am LOVING this idea. proof that we can all learn from each other, I have never thought of this idea but I can see why it would work. I think I am going to try it- though I think I will ‘shop’ the house for toys to put in the special boxes- with 10 years of accumulating boy toys, we have more than the boys can play with, and it is amazing to me how something becomes new again when I simply re-organize

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:41 am

      Kimberly, let me know how it works out for you! I definitely “shopped” our house, too. A couple of coin purses, a toothbrush holder… anything fun to open and close and hide things in. :)

  • Reply jeni January 27, 2011 at 9:53 am

    i do somethin similar with my 2 1/2 yr old. she loves tiny things and also never puts things in her mouth so ive collecting little figures and such and put them in a little basket. she loves to carry it around and play with it.. i never thought of making more than one and switching it up tho.. i think my daughter would love it.! thanks for the ideas

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:44 am

      Oooh, what kind of little figures does she like? I snagged some from Kohl’s.. they have a special line of Fisher Price figurines called “Hideaway Hollow.” So, Rembot has a little house and a little mouse that she likes. :)

      • Reply jeni February 26, 2011 at 10:54 am

        She loves the fisher price people, she has a little set with dogs, and she has a little Dora set with a house, anything tiny she loves.I’ll have to check out kohl’s sometimes i get those $10 Kohl’s cash in the mail…

  • Reply Suzanne January 27, 2011 at 10:55 am

    I did something similar with all 3 children. They really do need to learn how to play away by themselves. I started with 15 minutes and increased to 30 minutes. Be prepared for it not to last long the first few times, but eventually, you may be able to go do something by yourself in another room, like say, brush your teeth! Good luck Roo!

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:44 am

      Thanks, Suzanne! I’m having the hardest time with my one year old, but hopefully she adapts quickly. :)

  • Reply Jennifer January 27, 2011 at 11:25 am

    I’m not a SAHM, but this is one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard and if I were I would totally be doing this. Very smart.

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:47 am

      Thanks, girl! :)

  • Reply Caitlin January 27, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I’m not a parent (not for a while at least), but I find things sometimes that I just want to tuck away to help me in the future and THIS is one of them. It’s brilliant!!!
    Your girls are so lucky that their mom encourages creativity!

    Oh, and BTW; my girlfriend has the same chicken nuggets problem with her 2-yr-old. She wound up making some at home chock full of vegetables (more zucchini than chicken) and he devoured them. So that’s a thought.

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:48 am

      Oooh, I’ll have to try out that chicken recipe. Thanks, Caitlin! :) :) :)

  • Reply April Emery January 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    love your lunch box idea! so cute and colorful! great items for the boxes, too!

    thanks for linking to me!

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:52 am

      Thanks, April! Your original post is brilliant!

  • Reply Dawn January 27, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    I absolutely ADORE this idea! The Gs are great to play by themselves, but it would be nice to have a fun little set for them. Would you share the secret of where you found your cutesy lunchboxes?? I think I must have them. And I’m pretty sure I’m breaking the “no coveting your neighbor’s things” rule.

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:53 am

      Old Navy!! :D

  • Reply Elizabeth January 28, 2011 at 12:00 am

    Hi! I’m a new reader and I love your blog!! I love this idea nad how you have it broken down so simply. I’ve seen similiar ideas and have wanted to do something like this for my kids but I tend to always feel a little overwhelmed at all the possibilities. But your breakdown makes it seem so much more…doable. Thanks so much!

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:56 am

      Elizabeth, thank you so much! I’m so glad you like it, and I hope you stick around. :)

  • Reply Beverly @ FlamingoToes.com January 28, 2011 at 12:09 am

    This is such a great idea Roo! I love it. Those lunch boxes are super cute too!!

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:57 am

      Thanks, Bev!

  • Reply angie @ seriouslyahomemaker January 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    UM…. THESE ARE GENIUS, AS ARE YOU. I LOVE YOUR MOMMY SKILLS TODAY! my school-aged kids would praise my name if i came up with something like this!


    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:57 am


  • Reply Elizabeth January 28, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Hi there,
    I do not have any suggestions for you, but this took me back to my working in daycare days. We had something similar that we called naptime boxes. If someone woke up early from nap they would get a naptime box to play with on their cot. The key was to have stuff in the box that was not available any other time, or would encourage noise. It worked out well. I really enjoy your blog.

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

      Great idea! I stay away from battery operated toys, for sure!

  • Reply Steph January 30, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    This is so cool. Love the idea to use lunch boxes!
    And I don’t know how many of my pictures have laundry, snot rags, tipped over drinking cups, etc in the backgroud!

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

      I know! I probably should be embarrassed. :P

  • Reply Jenn January 30, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    Ahhhh…I LOVE this!! I will absolutely be implementing this with our munchkin!! And you’re so right – I remember being fascinated with such simple things when I was little, and now everything has to be new & flashy. This is such a great way to bring back simplicity

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:58 am

      Thanks, Jenn! Your munchkin will love it. ;)

  • Reply Lisa January 31, 2011 at 11:31 am

    What a great idea! Too bad my kids are now in their 20’s. I’ll share this with my friends with young ones.

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Thanks, Lisa!

  • Reply Jodie February 2, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    I love you. Since my 2 year old no longer naps, I am doing this asap. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

      I love you, too, Jodie, but I still feel the need to see other bloggers.

      Just kidding. You’re welcome! I hope your two year old loves it!

  • Reply Crystal February 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    This is a fabulous idea. I’d like to blog link you in the future on this post… cool!?

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Definitely, Crystal!

  • Reply Kimberly February 15, 2011 at 2:08 am

    After reading this, I think I need to restructure my daughters quiet time. My 5 month old is still too little, and quite frankly, won’t have any of it, but I think this would be great for my almost 5 year old, who is much too big for nap time, but still needs a little time to herself during the day.

    • Reply Roo February 26, 2011 at 11:00 am

      Definitely try it! My girls love playing with each other, but I think they both benefit from a little quiet time by themselves.

  • Reply My Girls’ Bedroom Redo | {NiceGirlNotes} | {NiceGirlNotes} May 2, 2011 at 10:08 am

    […] lunchboxes on the top are four of their quiet time activity bins.  I made the little owl (it’s a Pottery Barn Kids knockoff).  The baskets on the hooks are […]

  • Reply Quiet Time Bins :: Money Saving Mom® October 13, 2011 at 9:53 am

    […] ::Nice Girl Notes […]

  • Reply Sarah October 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    Is “Baby Shark” your daughter’s real name, or is it a nickname? Just wondering, I’ve never heard a name like that before…it’s cute.

  • Reply Sunny October 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    This is a great idea. I do something similar for my almost 4 year old. He’s rarely naps anymore so he usually spends 1-1 .5 hours a day in “quiet time” in his room. Because we also have a playroom he uses all the time, I’ve kept a few bins of special toys in his bedroom for quiet times. He LOVES this product called “Magna-Tiles,” which are these amazing magnetic shapes. They are a little pricey (I found our first stash at a yard sale) but they keep him quietly occupied and creative for a very long time. I also keep a stack of puzzles, a box of “Playful Pattern” foam shapes with design-cards by Discovery Toys and some cars in his room. I realize these ideas are for slightly older kids, maybe 3+. When he was little (around 1 1/2-2) we kept our entire collection of hand-me-down Little People in his room. He only got to play with them during quiet time or when I was putting laundry away in his room/cleaning it, etc. That worked really well when he was small. (and had the benefit of being very safe). He’ll be 4 in a month and we’re just now packing up the Little People. Makes me a bit sad! But the next baby will get to use them again. The quiet time ritual has been soooo good for us. I know its important for his development and I love the sanity time it give me. Thanks for the suitcase idea. It might be fun to add a little extra special something to quiet time. A great kid deserves a little perk now and then “just because”! :)

  • Reply 3 Non-Boring Cold Weather Activities for Toddlers & Preschoolers | Famigo Blog December 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    […] talk more in depth about quiet time activity bins on my blog, but the idea is simple. Find an activity, game, or toy and ONLY take it out once in […]

  • Reply Kerry December 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    I used to do something similar for times we were in the car, at the Drs (w/ our own germs), on trips or in restaurants. We kept special things in a backpack that they could only play with at those times. Also had small snacks in case the food was slow or the line was long. Discovery Toys has great vehicles and dinosaurs that can be counters or just play things. Don’t forget to have “special” books. We still have special books and my youngest is 15. You can make a small selection for quiet time that only come out then.

    Sounds like you’re doing a great job! Kids are the greatest things in the world!

  • Reply Hide Yo’ Logos | {NiceGirlNotes} | {NiceGirlNotes} March 27, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    […] be hitting Mama May i up for some Easter basket fillers tonight.  Her toys make awesome quiet time activities.  And apparently teaching my girls how to play with matching games is less illegal than teaching […]

  • Reply April Emery April 23, 2012 at 11:36 pm

    Thanks for the link back to my Quiet Time Bins post! I LOVE the lunchbox idea!! What a steal!

  • Reply Tiffany September 5, 2012 at 1:14 am

    My one year old (as of last Friday) love love loves a bell. Maybe not so quiet, but your bins made me start thinking about things she will play with by herself. Be ready for a few bonks on the head once they get good at ringing!

  • Reply Quiet Time Learning Bins for Little Ones | Passionate Homemaking October 23, 2012 at 10:00 am

    […] How to Make Quiet Time Activity Bins – Nice Girl Notes […]

  • Reply Haylee November 2, 2012 at 11:04 am

    I’m just now trying to get some quite bins together as my 3 yo son is giving up naps:(! I wanted to do puzzles but thought it’d be to much so I love the 2 piece puzzle idea…I noticed you had some Cars ones. Could you tell me where you got those. Thanks for some great ideas!

  • Reply My Home Office Slash Where I Look Up GIFs | {NiceGirlNotes} | {NiceGirlNotes} November 5, 2012 at 11:24 am

    […] the basket.  If you remember that post about quiet time activity bins, it’s sort of evolved into quiet time activities here in the office.   I schedule most of […]

  • Reply Hide Yo' Logos - NEON FRESH April 8, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    […] be hitting Mama May i up for some Easter basket fillers tonight.  Her toys make awesome quiet time activities.  And apparently teaching my girls how to play with matching games is less illegal than teaching […]

  • Reply 7 Game Changers for Parents - NEON FRESH April 23, 2013 at 10:56 am

    […] after a day of school (and another hour of play), and have a little alone time.  I used to do quiet activity bins regularly, and I’m thinking about utilizing them again.  But right now they mostly read, play with […]

  • Reply Camille April 23, 2013 at 12:33 pm

    I love you. This is great, I’ve been trying to do quiet time for my 3 year old twins with little success. This will work perfectly.

  • Reply My Girls' Bedroom Redo - NEON FRESH May 15, 2013 at 10:30 am

    […] lunchboxes on the top are four of their quiet time activity bins.  I made the little owl (it’s a Pottery Barn Kids knockoff).  The baskets on the hooks are […]

  • Reply A Day in the Life of This WAHM - NEON FRESH May 22, 2013 at 11:35 am

    […] Minnie goes down for a nap, and it’s Quiet Time for the big girls.  Usually I split them up so one goes in my bedroom and one goes in the living […]

  • Reply ang September 1, 2013 at 1:28 am

    Sensory tubs are another great way to keep little ones quietly occupied. I have some ideas here: http://angathome.com/2013/07/05/sensory-tub-ideas-for-toddlers-and-preschoolers/

  • Reply Priya April 22, 2015 at 11:03 am

    New reader here. ;). I love this idea! I know this post was a written a while ago but do you know where else I can find these lunch boxes? I called our Old Navy and all they have are Frozen ones..my 2 1/2 year old has never it. These candy ones are perfect though! Thank you!

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