The Magic Bucket: Simple Ways to Incorporate Thematic Fun

The following was written by contributor Jaimie  of Two Chicks and a Hen.

WWhen my older daughter went to all-day kindergarten this year and my younger daughter started a small part-time preschool, I found that between balancing work, school commitments, home responsibilities, and everything else, I was generally more tired and distracted than I’d like.  When we’d have a window of time to do something fun, or when the kiddos needed a little prodding to find something to do, I’d sometimes come up short.  I needed some more tricks to keep in my back pocket.

At the store one day, I came across a cute steel bucket and wondered what purpose we could find for it.  Inspiration struck, and the Magic Bucket was born.

The Magic Bucket

I love themes.  I can’t help it—themed parties, themed book clubs, themed group Halloween costumes—I love them all.  I decided it would be fun to have a little collection of themed activities at our fingertips for those times when we need a ready-to-go activity—and maybe we could learn something, to boot.

I put together our first Magic Bucket—a dinosaur-themed one—a couple of months ago, entirely from things we had at home—some from the kids’ shelves, and a few things from my secret mama stash of goodies (not the stash of chocolate…that one remains for me).  I didn’t spend anything on that theme, but I have spent a couple of dollars here and there on other themes.  Most of what I’ve used has come from our home; the purchased things were just for a little extra fun.

Want to make a magic bucket of your own?  Here are some ideas for what to include:

  • Books: I scan our bookshelves for stories and non-fiction books that relate to the theme.
  • Small toys: These can come right from your kids’ toy collection.  Somehow they become more interesting when put together with a new grouping of things.
  • Art projects: These can be very simple.  For our butterfly theme, I printed out this balancing butterfly project, and I also cut out a couple of paper chains of butterflies.
  • Puzzles of all kinds.
  • Experiments/hands-on activities: For our dinosaur-themed bucket, I made the kids homemade dinosaur digs from dirt and plaster.  For a plant or gardening-themed bucket, you could include some seeds to plant, and so on.
  • Stickers: I don’t know about you, but we are drowning in stickers.  For the Magic Bucket, I quickly scan the stickers for things related to the theme and throw them in.  My kids use them to decorate pictures or for other activities.
  • “Activity Cards”: I invented these for the purpose of the Magic Bucket.  Ours have so far been made of small index cards hastily cut in half and held together with a paper clip at midnight before setting out the new theme, but you could make them as cute and elaborate as you like.  On each card I write out a simple activity: an art project, a game, a physical activity, something musical, etc.  Some of these are things I’ve made up, and some have come from books, blogs, and my beloved Pinterest.

More theme ideas

Need help with themes?  The sky’s the limit, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • A specific animal or insect
  • Dinosaurs
  • Water (this is our current theme, and it’s great for summer!)
  • The night sky
  • Travel, or a specific locale (perhaps one you plan to visit soon)
  • Gardening
  • Baking
  • Fairy Tales
  • A specific ecosystem
  • Farms
  • A season or holiday

How we use the Magic Bucket:

In general, I use the Magic Bucket when we “need” something to do.  If my girls are happily playing on their own or have developed some self-motivated project, I always let them continue.  When we come to a point when they need more direction, I either go to one of my usual activities (reading aloud, helping mama cook/clean, simple art projects), or we pull something from the Magic Bucket.  And the girls always have access to the bucket as well.  I switch themes when we’ve done most of the activities, or when their interest seems to be waning, or when I actually have the twenty minutes to devote to that project.

How do you incorporate thematic learning into your children’s lives?

25+ Playful Preschool ActivitiesAre you looking for more ways to play and learn with your preschooler? The ebook Three to Five: Playful Preschool might be just what you’re looking for. Filled with ideas for creative, hands-on learning with math, science, and language skill builders plus art and play, too this ebook includes 10 printable resources and is available here.

About Jaimie

Jaimie, an American ex-pat living in chilly Montreal, is a single, work-at-home mom to a preschooler and a kindergartener. When she’s not busy building her freelance editing and writing career or making messes with her kids, she blogs about her adventures in creating a simple, creative, sustainable life for her family at Two Chicks and a Hen.

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  1. Jaimie, I love this idea! 🙂

    We follow a themed yearly curriculum for young children (Little Acorn Learning) and, after using it for four years now, I’ve been wondering how to keep it from getting a little stale (for myself and for my older kids, who’ve repeated the themes for four years now). I think your Magic Bucket idea will be a fun way to shake things up a little, and present the themes in a fun, inventive way (perhaps with some new additions) but still keep to our yearly rhythm that makes life so much easier for this mama.

    Thank you! 🙂

  2. I’m not a very theme-y person but this is so easy I might be able to pull it off. Thanks for the ideas.
    Steph´s latest post: Traveling Gluten Free

  3. What a great idea! We use themes for displays of our home library collection to spark a look at specific books. Sometimes it’s a seasonal theme, such as Christmas or Father’s Day. We also display books about various subjects such as the beach, our ABC books, or going back to school.
    Our Learning´s latest post: The Cow Loves Cookies

  4. nopinkhere says:

    Sounds cool! I’ve been struggling with activities for those sorts of times this summer. I had big plans, but I haven’t carried through. This seems a way I could still sneak some of my ideas in before summer is over. Thanks!

  5. My kids are so bored at home right now. We homeschool so there is no “summer break” to really change things up. It’s just more home, less school. I will definitely try one of these theme ideas! Thanks!
    Jeana´s latest post: How I Survive This Thing Called Parenting


  1. […] to be able to pull out a pre-organised activity that will keep them excited and engaged?  This Magic Bucket idea is pretty awesome! (Simple […]