This is the very first one I put together. Materials: oatmeal can, string, beads, duct tape.
First, punch a small hole in the bottom of the can, just big enough to thread the string through. Tie a knot so the string cannot come back out. Use a piece of duct tape to make the string as flat as you can. Second, cut a hole in the lid large enough for a stringed bead to go through. Third, cover the outside of the can with construction paper, laminating it first is even better. Velcro the beads to the outside of the can.
Skills: fine motor, hand/eye coordination, color identification, counting.
Another simple and fast task is setting up a puzzle:
These rectangle shape boxes with a short lip are invaluable! I am always digging these guys out of the trash.... box lids, water flats, ramen noodle boxes, there is no end to their uses! (sometimes at Wal-Mart I load one of these up with cans of vegies or whatever I'm buying) I orignally had a small box on the left of the puzzle, to place the pieces in. This format seems to work better because all the pieces can be seen.
I found this magnetic Sesame Street board at a thrift store for a dollar, it was all alone...I got my handy dandy box of magnet letters out and dug out close matches. I like to spread out the letters so we avoid frustration if it is taking too long. A fun variation is to hide the letters in a sensory table or box full of rice. As they find letters, ask them to tell you the name and/or sound it makes and match it on the magnetic board. Kids of all skill levels have fun with this one.
Mr. Potato Head! They love him but are not sure what to do with him. Providing visual step by step directions is very helpful. They quickly learn how to put him together without them.