A few weeks ago I was really in need of something I could easily throw together to entertain Landon. I needed it to be portable so I could bring it out when I needed Landon to be occupied for a few minutes (or, you know, an hour or two), easy to clean up so I didn't defeat the purpose of the activity in the first place, and something that actually challenged him intellectually (read: NOT the television).
Because of the WIC program (I am not ashamed to admit that we receive WIC: it is an incredible program and I am grateful for all that it provides!) we have a surplus of dried beans in the house. I grabbed a large tupperware container with a secure lid, and dumped three 1 pound bags into the bucket: one bag of lentils, one bag of red beans, and one bag of black eyed peas.
Then I assembled three small Dixie cups (for sorting), a coffee scoop I never use since I grind all of my coffee fresh in my Magic Bullet right before I brew my coffee, and a small measuring cup.
Then I placed the new activity in front of my ecstatic preschooler and he was completely content for the next THREE hours!!!
Since beans are super cheap (or free), it doesn't matter if you have to vacuum a bunch of them up. A one pound bag of beans is under $1 at most grocery stores!
When I first presented the bucket to Landon, I challenged him to sort each kind of bean into a separate Dixie cup. When he had sorted several in to each cup, we dumped them out and counted how many he had collected of each kind.
We also talked about color, relationship of size, and texture.
Several times a week he asks to play with the beans and I am guaranteed at least an hour with a completely entertained and occupied 3 year old. And he even loves to help clean up with the vacuum hose!
**Obviously this activity is NOT suitable for children who still swallow small objects or put objects in their mouth without super close supervision. For younger children, do NOT leave them alone with this activity. My 3 year old is out of the "mouth exploration" stage so he does fine by himself with this activity. Make sure you explain to your child beforehand that these beans are NOT for eating and are just for playing! And, because I don't want to be responsible for any trips to the ER, please make sure and tell your child that we do not put beans up our noses!!!! Thank you! Enjoy!