Keep the kids (and Grandpa!) occupied this Thanksgiving with these easy DIY busy bags. Individual designs and activities keep your family entertained on the holiday.

By Alice and Lois
Updated October 29, 2020
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children playing and drawing with pens and pipe cleaners from busy bags

This fun and easy Thanksgiving craft idea is a great way to keep the kids occupied before (and during!) the big Thanksgiving dinner. These simple hand-painted muslin drawstring bags can be customized with painted designs then filled with art supplies and toys for kids of all ages—and adults, too!

Kids will have plenty of activities to keep them busy while the adults chat around the Thanksgiving table. We filled our bags with notebooks, colored pencils, and Play Doh, but you can add anything you want to the bags, or customize them for each child.

  • Working time 30 mins
  • Start to finish 2 hrs
  • Difficulty Easy
  • Involves Painting

What you need


How to do it

Part 1

inserting white paper into busy bags before painting
Step 1

Prepare Bags

Purchase a set of small muslin bags ($13 for a 12-pack, Target) and be sure you have enough for each child you expect to be at dinner. If you're not sure, make a few extra! When you're ready to decorate the bags, place a sheet of thick paper into each bag as you paint to protect the other side.

applying tape to busy bags for painted line embellishment
Credit: Alice & Lois
applying orange paint between tape for color detail busy bag
Credit: Alice & Lois
Step 2

Paint Bags

Before you start painting, use decorative washi tape ($5 for a 3-pack, Target) to tape off the section of the bag you want to paint. We chose a striped design, so we put down two pieces of tape to create a nice edge for each line. Paint the taped-off area with washable acrylic paint ($9, Michaels), then let dry. Don't worry too much about staying perfectly in the lines—the tape is there to help keep the paint inside the pattern. We added a second coat of paint over the top of the first for a more vibrant color, then let it dry again.

removing tape from front of painted busy bag
Step 3

Create a Design

Once your first painted design is dry, remove the tape and tape off more sections until you have a design you like. Tape off the four corners for a triangle pattern, layer tape in a cross-hatch design to create diamonds, or section off the bag horizontally and vertically for a color-block design. By letting the paint dry and then removing the tape each time, you can have two colors right next to each other. Continue taping and painting until you're happy with the finished design. Let the bags dry completely before filling them with goodies.

fun add-ins for busy bags project thanksgiving tiny dinosaurs pens
Step 4


Once the bags are painted and ready, pull out the paper and load the bag with goodies. A deck of cards, coloring supplies, stickers, and other small toys are all great ideas for filling the bags. We added notebooks and mini colored pencils ($6, Amazon) and small containers of Play Doh ($5, Amazon). Lay out these bags at a kids' table well before dinner is served. The kids can sit, draw, play with their new goodies—and stay out of the kitchen while you finish preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Win-win! 


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