DIY Preschool Sorting Bucket

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Are you in need of a quiet, DIY activity to keep your preschooler busy and learning? Check this quick and easy way to make learning fun, strengthen fine motor skills, AND keep mom's sanity intact!

A couple of months ago, I called a friend I hadn't seen in over 10 years.  Even though we live in the same state, and only 30 minutes away, we had lost contact for that length of time.  

I had heard that she was in the process of adopting a little girls from Uganda and, my heart so full for her, I wanted to see her and congratulate and give her a gift in person.  There are certain times when a phone call just won't do.  This event definitely called for an in-person visit.

We decided on a location that we could both get to easily.  For me, this meant that I'd have to bring my three daughters to a coffee shop.  I wasn't worried about my nine-year-old.  I wasn't worried about my seven-year-old.  I was worried about my 3-year-old.  Because taking a 3-year-old to a coffee shop for 2 hours is relaxing and quiet, right?

Um......actually, no.  

Which Planet do you live on?

And just so you know, though I love the girl to pieces, the girl's got needs.  Lots and lots of needs and opinions and is super anxious about all these needs getting met.  Um yes....she is only three and shouldn't have any care in the world.  But she does.

The following are true, real-life examples of my girl's needs: 

When she hears me on the phone saying, "I'll meet you for lunch," I'm not even off the phone yet and she's got her head buried in the pantry, gathering food for the lunch that she overheard me talking about.  

If we are running errands and the girls have eaten all the snacks I brought, we all know we can look into her backpack and pull out enough food for an army and us, too.  

When I leave someplace, she's vocally going through her mental checklist of all the things we brought with us, and will tell me if I have forgotten anything.   "Moooom!  You forgot my diaper bag!"  or "MOM!  Go back home! We forgot the birthday present!" she'll shout with her megaphone voice. (Yes, she is quite handy in those moments!)

In the morning, she always asks about our whole day and who we are going to see and what kind of fun we are going to have and what exactly it is that she needs to bring with her.

She has lots of questions and lots of ideas and wants everyone to be a sounding board for her vocal communications.  

She gets chilly and hungry and thirsty. Right now. Then she gets hot.  Then she takes her socks off and I have to put them on again for the 22nd time that day.  

If we go to a restaurant, she orders all by herself and then when they bring out the food and hers isn't in the first batch to get delivered, she's tracked down our server to let them know they forgot her food--before anyone can stop her.  She's also panicked when she saw ketchup on her plate one time, and kindly told the young man serving us that she is allergic and will get itchies and could he please bring her a side of ranch instead?  

She's definitely a take-charge girl and so I try to have things all organized and prepared for her so that time away from the house is peaceful for me and for those around us. If I don't have all the things she needs, it can make for an exhausting afternoon trying to get her all the things she needs.

Slowly, I am trying to get her to become a minimalist who can live on nothing but the clothes on her back and the weeds of the field.  But until I have made quite a bit more progress, I need to beef up my "bag-o-tricks" arsenal when we go out and about so that life can be pleasant and fun for all.  For at least 20 minutes.  And hey....take it from fight this kind of stuff when you have one or two children.  But by the time you have had your do what you can to keep the peace!

So....since I hadn't seen my friend in quite some time, I wanted to be able to sit down with her for more than just 20 minutes.

I started filling a bag of activities for this three-year-old, Georgia Reese.  

I took a book for her, and even some crayons and paper.  Check.  Check.

Snack #1.  Check!  

Snack #2.  Check!  

Snack #3.  Check!

Water bottle.  Check!

Hmmm...what else.  Looking around the room I was standing in, I spotted a clear plastic bucket.  

I think I had.....


...I just had an idea!

DIY Preschool Sorting Bucket:

1.  Gather the following items:  
          *clear, smallish plastic bucket or sturdy disposable container with lid
          *utility knife
          *a whole handful of red, blue, green and yellow counters 
          *4 sharpie pens in corresponding colors of red, blue, green and yellow.

Counters can be anything that a child can pick up between her two fingers and placed in a pile.  Buttons, thin round circles the size of coins, counting bears, letter tiles.  Just make sure you choose counters that can fit in a small opening.

2.  Carefully, cut out 4 slits the size of coins in the lid.  If you are not using round, square or rectangular counters, make the openings whatever size and shape you need them to be in order for your counters to fit through.  If you are using those cute little bear counters, then you'll not make slits, but circles instead--round instead of rectangular.

3. Then, write the following words with the corresponding color of marker right above each slit: red, green, blue, and yellow.

4.  Place the counters in a baggie.  Put the bag in the bucket and your sorter is ready to go wherever you go! 


Open up baggie and instruct child to place counter, one-by-one, into the correct opening.  The red counter will be placed in the opening labeled, "red", etc.  When all the counters are used, they can be placed in the baggie and used again and again!


I kid you not...this contraption of fun lasted at least 1 hour!  AND, with all the other activities and snacks I brought my sweet three-year-old, and the way my wonderful friend involved each of the girls into our conversation, we actually got to visit for a full two hours without scaring away any patrons!   What a great afternoon that was!  We all had a great time!

Next time, I might tape a penny, nickel, dime, and quarter above each slit and ask her to sort the coins into the correct opening.  Another idea would be to tape different buttons above each opening: a round button with 2 holes, a round button with 4 holes, a square button with 2 holes, a square button with 4 holes.  

The development of fine motor skills (or the coordination of small muscle movements) is a very important thing for your child to practice.  Among other things, it will improve your preschooler's ability to write, tie shoelaces, and open a lid.  Fine motor skills are also key to your child's success with later activities like sewing, drawing and tracing, and playing musical instruments.  Any sorting or activity involving the pincher grasp will strengthen these fine motor skills.  If would like to make the above sorting bucket activity more challenging for children who have mastered the pincher grasp, find a pair of plastic tweezers and see if they can pick up the counters with the tweezers instead of their fingers.  

What ideas can you come up with to help your child develop their fine motor skills?  

How do you keep your preschooler occupied in public places?