Tuesday, January 24, 2012

DIY Popsicle Stick Puzzles

A friend of mine hosted a toddler busy bag swap a little over a month ago, just in time for the holidays. I hadn't ever participated in anything like it, but it was a huge success!

Each parent (we happened to all be moms) made enough of one activity to be able to give one to each other mom and also keep one for her own family. Some of the activities included mini reversible felt boards, homemade playdough, geo boards, "I Spy" bottles, colored pasta beads for stringing together, a magnetic fishing game, and so many more!

The activity I chose to make for the busy bag swap was popsicle stick puzzles. They were fun and simple to make, and I love how compact they are! Right now, Daniel just likes to play with the sticks, but soon he'll be able to figure out how to arrange the puzzle pieces to make a recognizable image. No matter how he plays with it, I'm glad it's interesting enough to encourage solo play every once in a while so I can accomplish a task or two on my own.

Puzzle Supplies:
Jumbo popsicle craft sticks
Masking tape
Washable (Elmer's) glue
5x7" photographs
Small sharp craft (Exacto) knife
Safe cutting surface (like a self-healing mat or a thick piece of corrugated cardboard)
Bags for storage

Here's How:
  1. Lay out ten popsicle sticks side by side, matching up the flattest edges you can, then tape them together with a couple strips of masking tape. (I found that while these sticks look fairly straight, the edges are quite irregular. I rejected the lumpiest ones, or put then on the outer edges.)
  2. Flip the whole thing over and evenly distribute a layer of washable glue across the surface of the popsicle sticks. (Spread your glue out better than I did--I ended up having to re-glue a few in the end.)
  3. Center a 5x7 photograph on the glue and press down to adhere. Let it dry in a flat place (away from your kid's hands!). You may want to place the puzzle between two books to ensure that it stays flat while it dries.
  4. When the glue has dried completely, remove the tape and place the puzzle on your safe cutting surface.
  5. With the craft knife, cut the photo into strips along the seams between the popsicle sticks. (I admit, I asked Jaymz to help me with this step because I'm not great with knives.) A ruler or other stiff straight edge will help you to make precise cuts.
  6. Gather the puzzle pieces together and store them in a baggie. (I used sandwich size plastic baggies, but a small cloth bag would work just as well.)
    Each one of these is its own little activity!
    So much fun in such a small package. =)
I had a lot of fun (though it was difficult) choosing from my photograph collection to use for this project. I made a set on Flickr which includes the photos I used (plus a few extra). You're welcome to use my photos for your own busy bag popsicle stick puzzles. Keep in mind the difficulty of the puzzle in relation to the intended recipient's age when selecting photographs: younger kids could get frustrated with a puzzle that's too hard to figure out.

The part I enjoyed most about the busy bag swap was getting to see how creative the other parents were with their activities. Leaving with a huge bag full of new tools to try out when our kids are climbing the walls was pretty great, too. One of the moms decided to give these activities to her kids as their Christmas presents. I opted to introduce them one by one over time, and I still have a few new activities from this swap to give to Daniel. I've been grateful lately (since it's been too rainy to go outside) to have a few of these stashed away so I know there's something interesting to do when we both get stir-crazy.

Fortunately, there are tons of ideas out there for different kinds of busy bag activities, and I look forward to making more of them in the future!

Have you made busy bag activities for your little ones? Do you have a favorite rainy day activity (or last ditch effort to maintain the peace) that your kids like? I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions!


  1. I love this so much. We've done these stick puzzles just with our own drawing on them. I can't wait to try these!!

  2. I haven't done this, but I really want to. I should host a party like this.

    1. Ooh, I hope you do! I would definitely go to another party like this someday. =)

  3. Awesome idea about the busy bag swap. I love it, and I may suggest it to the play group we're part of. And that puzzle idea is just perfect!

    I have been meaning to post some of my pics from the last several months of various busy crafts. One we really dug from last fall was a spaghetti glue mobile. You cook up spaghetti noodles and let a child dip them one by one into various plates of glue that you've colored with food coloring or paint or beet juice or ?? Then, the child can lay the noodles at random atop one another into a pile (on a surface like wax paper that has been lightly oiled. It takes a few days to fully dry and stiffen, but then you peel it carefully off the paper, and you have this funky mobile that looks neat when sunlight comes through it. Forewarning: it's a bit messy, so it wouldn't be a good activity for a kid who doesn't like sticky hands.

  4. These are great, Im so glad you added this to the blog blitz, as Im definitely going to make this. And what a great idea for a party... Im going to do that too! ;)

  5. I love activity bags! And I've never made this, but it looks so great (and easy!) I will definitely be trying them. Thanks for the photo set link too!

  6. I keep meaning to make these! We have the popsicle sticks and everything. Thanks for the nudge — yours turned out beautifully. I would never have thought to paint the sticks, too. I'm going to have to whip up a few new activities for our upcoming family trips, and this is going on the list!

    1. Full disclosure: I didn't paint the sticks, I bought the multi-colored pack (which was far cheaper than the plain ones) from the craft store. ;)

  7. Totally pinned this - hopefully I'll get to it soon :) It is awesome and I think Jemma would have a blast with it. She is loving puzzles these days :)

  8. I love this idea. I've never seen popsicle stick puzzles before!

    I was digging the colored sticks, too. :)

  9. After buying 5x7 photos, I realized that they were much to big for standard popsicle sticks. I had to go back and buy jumbo sticks to finish this project. Just a heads up! 4x6 photos would probably work just as well.

    1. Yep, this project calls for jumbo sized Popsicle sticks to go with the 5x7 photos. The smaller sticks would make for a more difficult puzzle--if that's what you're going for, great!

  10. These are awesome! I think it might be fun to use familiar photos, such as your own home, pets or family members.

  11. This is a great idea! I think I'm going to have to do this for the kids. Since they already have so many toys, their big gift is going to be a "winter adventure." We're planning to take them down to the beach for a couple of days in January to climb a lighthouse (Hunting Island, SC). So, I could get a photo of the lighthouse and make a puzzle out of it for them to figure out where they are going!

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  14. Are your pictures printed on photo paper or regular paper?

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  16. What a fun learning activity. I will make these for my 2 kids. Thanks for the inspiration, Amy.

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