The Busy Box: How to Teach Productive Waiting

I literally tell my kids to go to the busy box and wait for me. It reduces yelling (by me).

DOES:  prevents arguments and frustration (for both child and parent) as you are about to leave the house
INVEST: $1 and up
Family Fix-it (gives kids something fun to do that is easy to transition away from);
I Can Take Care of Myself (kids recognize they need to keep busy while they wait);
My Body Needs to Move (hands and eyes will move and help bring focus on chosen toy);
Fertilize Responsibility and Courtesy (because they need to keep the flow going too- it’s not all up to me)

Take a moment the next time you are around people (grown-ups) in a waiting area (or commuter ride) and count the percentage of them that are looking at their Kindles, iPads, or smartphones.  Then count how many are staring off into space or looking very calm as if they are deep in thought.

More likely than not, few will portray that pensive appearance.

By the way, there is no criticism here.  I am among those who are staring at a screen or scribbling in a notepad (yes, I still use an 8.5 x 11 notebook).   I am always thinking.  I can’t turn it off.  I feel a constant need to do something especially when I am in a state of waiting, like in a waiting room, riding the subway, riding the car (being driven by my husband).  My face is staring at something, my eyes are collecting information and then applying it to something on my to-do list.

AND— a big AND — Heaven forbid, I be alone with only my thoughts!!!! There are few greater tortures.  You know what I mean!  Think about the last time your cell phone battery went dead.  The panic!   $#%^!

photo courtesy: Ohio Art


Mini-Battles at Pre-Departure

Even though, they have way less patience than we do, we expect children to wait for us – sometimes with not a single thing to do.  “Guys, let’s go,” I’ll say, and even though they are dressed and have their shoes on and are standing by the door, I am still walking around the house, looking for my wallet, my car keys, my sunglasses, my bluetooth, and oooh, did I turn off the stove?

Pretty soon, Number 2 is crying because Number 1 took something away from him or I find myself yelling at Number 2 for taking his socks and shoes off and going back to play.

When boarding the plane, they always say, “Put your own mask on first and then your child’s.”  I suppose, one could apply this wisdom to remind myself to get ready first and then get the children ready.  To them, I say that even if I did do that (sometimes I do), I would probably be really hot because I would have my jacket on and be walking around the house collecting things I need and I would also, without fail, forget something (or two somethings).

So my poor children must stand next to the door and watch me look for the various things I forgot to pack in advance. I suppose this could be amusing but in my house, this is a re-run.   I cannot change this about myself but their problem of I-do-not-know-what-to-do-with-myself-while-I-wait is just so painful.  After yelling at them one too many times, I decided to make the Busy Box.


Gong-gi (pronounced Gohng- gi (hard g sound)) is a game that my mom played when she was a little girl. It's like jacks. My mom and her friends used pebbles. It must have been wartime then (Korean War) - I suppose there weren't too many toys around.


What Goes Inside?

It’s a box full of things that are within easy reach and at the child’s eye level.  (both points are very important).  I take out and add new things to keep it interesting but basically it’s just a bunch of little toys and most of them are easy to carry out into the car just in case your child finds himself on a roll and does not feel like stopping.  (unlike what happens with things on electronic screens… “I’m almost finished with Level 27!  No, wait, I have to save it….”)

Nothing electronic can go in the Busy Box. That’s a rule. Why? The whole purpose is to not have to manage the box and so I don’t want to hear that something is out of batteries as I am trying to get out of the house. The best part is that they are all relatively quiet too.  When I am leaving the house, I need quiet to help me focus on what I might be forgetting.

Right now, my kids are off from school and so with the constant going in and out of the house, I find that the Busy Box is very important to this family.  I also changed the look of the Busy Box and used a silver platter this week (with sorrow, indeed, as I do not entertain as much as I used to, pre-children).  I will likely change the box again and so next month it might be wood and then plastic.  I do this because like our own homes, we need makeovers for things we see and use everyday even if there is nothing functionally wrong with it.  The change in color and material sort of perks us up.  Variety if not carried to excess is not evil, it’s just human.

Here are the things in our Busy Box this month:

Pocket Etch a Sketch by Ohio Art (click link for special item review)

Fifteen Puzzle by Think Fun  (click link for special item review)


Number 3 poses with the Rubik's Cube. My fingers cannot be shown this close.


Rubik’s Cube: Even if you have given up on solving it, as we have, it is still fun to just grab it for a few minutes and see how far you can go.  I really haven’t gone past getting just one color on one side.  (Is that pathetic?) Anyway, everyone has had one at one point or another.  If you have bought it and have given up too, don’t give it away – this is a Busy Box classic.

Other items include:

  • Transformers Motorcycle
  • Buddhist meditation bracelet
  • Miniature ball maze (has nothing to do with Perplexus)
  • Wikki Stix- totally self-explanatory, right?
  • Other stuff: slide puzzle left here by a friend, dollar store toy, and Gonggi- a Korean pebble game, sort of like jacks… video coming soon.


photo courtesy: ThinkFun

It’s Okay to Tell the Truth – Waiting is No Fun

Another thing that is really important to note is that by making this Busy Box, I am acknowledging that waiting is hard.  It really is hard, isn’t it?  It’s harder now as we addict ourselves to information (email, news, text, tweets, facebooking…)  The other day, I was trying to encourage a 12-year-old relative to play a game with me.  It was not an easy sell.  She was staring at her iPad looking at Facebook and texting her friends on her cell phone (and let me tell you, this girl has sky-high grades and is very darling and polite).

The very existence of the Busy Box is another way of saying that it is their responsibility to help themselves at this time.  This is nothing more than a box of strategies for them to understand how to keep yourself busy without starting something that will be hard to stop.

We all do this, don’t we?  We start stuff while we wait for others and then others have to wait for us until we finish and during that time they’ve started something, and so on…..  We can teach our kids what good waiting is supposed to look like and truly, the time that it takes to get bored of playing with something in the Busy Box SHOULD be just about enough time for me to get my act together and shepherd my children out the door.  If it is not, I shouldn’t blame them when they start taking off their jackets and shoes and walking all over the house looking for things to do.

So what’s is in your Busy Box?  Do you have one?  If not, what might you want to put in there?  Some of the readers have told me about interesting fidgets at  Will try to investigate….


Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.

Jenn Choi is a writer and mom to 2 children with special needs which include the roman letters A, D, H, N, O, P, and S in various combinations. They also possess superpowers like high-energy (really high), number and small detail memory, creative thinking, and an uncanny ability to drive a parent to the very edge of the universe and bring them back with one quick smile. Her writing about toys as tools for developing skills and feeding talents can be found at

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About the author

Jenn Choi is a writer and mom to 2 children with special needs which include the roman letters A, D, H, N, O, P, and S in various combinations. They also possess superpowers like high-energy (really high), number and small detail memory, creative thinking, and an uncanny ability to drive a parent to the very edge of the universe and bring them back with one quick smile. Her writing about toys as tools for developing skills and feeding talents can be found at


  1. Andy Drouin says:

    your box looks like the inside of my purse!   I try to keep little fidget toys on hand for impromptu waits.


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