Surprise Bags!

Have you ever heard the old saying, “Curiosity killed the cat?” This old expression is so accurate when it comes to entertaining young children.  Whether it is in a classroom setting, in the car, at the Doctor’s office, or out running errands, curiosity is at the root of good and not so good behavior from children.  As parents or teachers, we adults use reward systems to manage our children.  Not all of us… but a good majority of us do this.  “If you behave, I will buy you…” Have you ever done this? I have, on occasion, been guilty of this reward system.  However as an educator, I am aware that, as Dr. Montessori stated, “children have an innate, positive attitude toward learning, which can be fostered in a carefully prepared environment designed to allow the children freedom through purposeful work.” Simply put, children learn through play.  This is the main focus of our research based curriculum at The Children’s Workshop. Children need the opportunity to explore, ask questions, and make mistakes.  This is how children learn.  Setting up positive ways to explore these instincts is where adults need to put their minds to work and think outside the box. (Literally.)  In this case thinking inside a bag… human nature provides us all with an innate sense of curiosity.  How does this work? How can I fix a problem? If I do this… what will happen? What’s in the box? How about, what’s in the bag? 

Imagine walking into your classroom with a bag one day.  All the children are immediately intrigued with what might be in that bag.  Leaving the bag in view but out of reach will foster that curiosity.  When it comes time to sit down to circle time, pick up the bag and ask the children what they think is in it. You might be surprised at what they think is in there! Tailoring the items inside the bag to the lesson you are teaching the children that day boosts an interest in the subject.  You can make it a simple thing or as complex as you like.  The possibilities are infinite!  Not only are surprise bags great for peaking the interest in the classroom, they are also great for traveling.  Whether you travel by car, boat, train or plane; putting together a bag to entertain a child is as simple as 1, 2, 3.  You want to be as creative as you can.  You can find inexpensive things around your home to put into the bag.  Keep in mind, you need to put age appropriate, self guided activities a child can to on his/her own into the bag.

Surprise bags, activity bags, busy bags, boredom bags, hidden treasure; whatever you chose to call them, these bags will encourage positive learning and inquisitive nature in your child.  It is a simple, inexpensive way to keep children busy.  Some of the ideas for surprise bags include, but are not limited to:

  • Hair Gel Bags
  • Water Glitter Bags
  • Safety scissors and construction paper with lines drawn on it to practice cutting
  • Bottle & lid matching
  • Button outline matching
  • Books
  • Pipe cleaners and large pasta (uncooked) to make necklaces
  • Lacing cards 

If teaching a lesson in class, maybe you could outline the lesson outside the classroom.  Perhaps you could include a note to the parents.  Tell them what’s being taught in class.  Get parents involved in the surprise bag. 

If traveling, perhaps you could divide the miles into pre-determined segments.  Buy enough small items and divide them into small bags to be given out at certain times throughout your trip.  If at the Doctor’s office, perhaps you could include things a child might find at the Doctor’s office and show a curiosity about. 

The idea of surprise bags has really been around for some time.  Parents have been handing out goody bags at birthday parties, baby showers, weddings and many other important events for years.  Now, we take an old trick and give it some new meaning for a new time.  Some of the websites you can research this concept at are:

Check out our Pinterest for more ideas to fill your surprise bags.


It has been said… “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” ~Angela Schwidt 

“Creative play is like a spring that bubbles up from deep within a child.” ~Joan Almon 

I hope this information helps you all find your inner, creative selves! Have fun making your surprise bags!


Lyle Keleher has been a cherished member of our team since Summer 2012.  She is a Toddler Teacher at The Children's Workshop in Waltham, MA.