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Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

Between Candie (the Farmer) and myself (the Chef), we have four pretty amazing and completely diverse kids. Between our two families, we have girls and boys and cover toddlers to late elementary age. But the diversity goes even deeper: sensory processing disorder, perfectionism, anxiety, profoundly gifted, special needs, autism, and more.

So when we stumbled upon a resource that was an INSTANT HIT with all four of our diverse kiddos, we knew we had to share with all our friends.

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

Introducing STEM Bins

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineer, and Math (if you see the acronym STEAM, they throw Art in there). We are loving the big push to make STEM more interesting and exciting for kids.

STEM Bins are a GREAT way to get your kids thinking (and playing) creatively. We purchased downloadable cards that came with instructions, labels, and picture cards with ideas on what to create — wall, bridge, tower, trap, machine, robot, house, boat, etc.

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

Sometimes my kids can struggle with inspiration. That’s why I love these STEM idea cards: they get creative juices flowing, but are not so specific that the child is simply imitating an already-made design. 

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

STEM bins are also fantastic because you are challenging your children to think outside the box. Can you make a boat out of popsicle sticks? How about out of straws and pipe cleaners? Legos? Magnets? 

Suddenly the creative options explode because you’re not just thinking about how to make a boat, but you’re consider what it takes to make a boat based on the materials you have on hand.

Using STEM Bins at Home

While a lot of teachers use STEM Bins in the classroom for students who get done with their work early, we use them in our homeschooling as part of our curriculum. I have also grabbed a STEM Bin as we rush out the door to a doctor appointment or one of our many physical therapy sessions.

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

Candie found her 2yo was just as engaged and intrigued as my 9yo was. Just goes to show that there’s really something magical about hands-on play.

EDIT: My son has been using STEM Bins while I’m at my twice-weekly physical therapy appointments. His creativity has been fun to watch, but it has been AMAZING to me how he has interacted with others, explaining his creations. He now looks forward to PT/Stem Building Time. We were in a rush last week and I shoved an iPad at him instead. Within a half hour he was slumped over, saying “I’m bored.” This is coming from my technology-addicted child. MOM WIN!

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

Setting Up STEM Bins

1. Determine what you’re going to store them in.

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

It’s best to use small containers and keep all the various supplies separate. Candie uses $2 pencil cases for her STEM bins. I purchased these Sterilite containers (on the right in the pic) because I could get 10 of them inside my Ikea Expedit (formerly called Kallax) cubes.

I found some bins needed more room, so I also used these larger Sterilite containers (on the left in the pic) which fit beautifully four per Ikea Expedit cube.

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

2. Purchase the STEM Bin cards.

Head over to Teachers Pay Teachers to purchase the STEM Bin cards. You’ll be able to immediately download and print. We put ours on cardstock and laminated for greater durability.

(If you don’t have a laminator, I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s crazy good quality and inexpensive.)

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

3. Gather Supplies For Your Bins

If you’re on a tight budget, you can literally use anything for these bins — including toilet paper tubes and sticks. But if you want to branch out, there are some really great manipulatives out there. These are our TOP TEN FAVORITES:

1. Plastic Bendable Straws and Joints — This is a HUGE hit with my kids; definitely one of the best purchases I  ever made.

2. Pattern Blocks — A surprising hit with both the toddler and 3rd grader.

3. Snap Cubes — These are great for building and double as good math manipulatives.

4. Plastic Bricks — Legos are crazy expensive. But these bricks function just as great as Legos at a FRACTION of the cost. I love that there are a wide variety of colors and sizes, too.

5. Wood Planks — Sure, you could buy expensive Keva planks. Or you could get a colorful Jenga set for cheap and call it a day.

6. Jumbo Popsicle Sticks with Velcro Dots — Attach the velcro dots on both ends and on both sides to help your creations stick. Literally.

7. Magnet Tiles — These off-brand Magformers are incredible, affordable, and have been an INSANE hit with everyone (adults included).

8. Pipe Cleaners — The softness and pliability of the chenille pieces make this a unique material to work with. And paired with a colander, the possibilities are limitless…

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

9. Building Bars – Bright, colorful, multipurpose, and economical. These are very similar to K-Nex (but not as expensive).

10. Tinker Toy — You might say Tinker Toy was the original STEM toy, clocking in at over 100 years old. My grandparents smiled when they heard my kids were playing with these.

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Got other STEM building/creative toys you enjoy? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll keep adding to our list!

Make Your Own STEM Bins (Plus 10 STEM Toy Suggestions)

An Open and Honest Letter From a Therapy Mama: 15 Things I Wish I Had Known

Find yourself shuttling your kids to therapy -- physical, speech, occupational, vision, and more? Though the road can be lonely, you aren't alone.

Dear Fellow Therapy Mama,

I just wanted to let you know that I see you.

I see you transporting your amazing kiddo back and forth to their therapy faithfully. I see you there, tired, exhausted, worn out, beat up, and pressed in from all sides. I see you sagging your shoulders, trying to figure out how to fit it all in. You are not alone.

You’re doing an AMAZING job raising your kid and getting them to their therapy sessions.

And you know what? This is hard. This life of raising an amazing kid with extra needs is HARD. But because we love our kids fiercely, enduring this crazy is worth it.

15 Things I Wish I Had Known

As I reflect back where the last few years have taken us (especially the last 10 months), I wanted to record some of the truths/nuggets of wisdom I wish a fellow mom had shared with me at the beginning of our journey. Granted, many of these principles one really may not fully grasp until fully in the trenches. But in years from now, I want to be reflect back and remember where we’ve come from. Continue reading

Review Games: Make Drilling Facts FUN! (+ Free Downloads)

Who says learning needs to be boring? Use these easy and versatile ideas to make reviewing facts FUN. Plus, get free downloads of our best review games!

Sometimes you just need some fun to spice up the mundane parts of life. Whether you’re practicing math facts, memorizing notes on the scale, or reviewing the periodic table — games can bring a whole extra element of fun.

My son has been receiving speech therapy for awhile and our speech therapist has been a MASTER of doing “review games” — taking a fun toy, game, activity and using it as a tool to review. She has taught me how you really can use ANYTHING to make a fun game. Continue reading

Northern Pickling Cucumber

A high-yielding, early variety for salads and pickling.

Medium green fruits bears early and sets heavily on short space-saving vines. Pick frequently at a small size to maintain good color and fruit shape. High resistance to scab.

Jackson Supreme Cucumber

 

The blocky pickling cukes have white spines and a broad disease resistance package that keeps plants healthy over a long season. Harvest at 3-5″. High resistance to cucumber mosaic virus, downy mildew, and scab; intermediate resistance to anthracnose, angular leaf spot, and powdery mildew.

H-19 Little Leaf Cucumber

 

Blocky, medium-length (3-5″) fruits are good for fresh eating. They pickle well and have a distinctive, bright emerald green color. Vines are compact, multibranching, and yield well even under stress. Half normal-sized leaves provide easy visibility and harvesting. White spines. Parthenocarpic. High resistance to anthracnose, angular leaf spot, bacterial wilt, and scab; and intermediate resistance to cucumber mosaic virus, downy mildew, and powdery mildew.

Valley Girl Tomato

 

Sets fruit under heat or cold stress, Determinate.

This productive, flavorful tomato has been a top yielder in numerous areas. Maturing early, the medium-sized (avg. 7-8 oz.), globe-shaped, red fruits are uniform ripening, firm, smooth, and crack tolerant. High resistance to fusarium wilt races 1, 2 and verticillium wilt.

German Johnson Tomato

 

More vigorous, higher-yielding Brandywine type, Indeterminate.

Excellent flavor. Deep pink tomatoes are earlier, more uniform, and slightly smaller than Brandywine at 8-16 oz. Fruits have lots of deep, acidic tomato flavor and a rich, creamy texture. There are two strains of this heirloom variety; this is the regular-leaved strain, which is earlier and more productive than the potato-leaved strain.

Celebrity Tomato

Long-popular variety with good flavor, determinate.

Medium-large, 7-8 oz., flavorful, globe-shaped, firm red fruits ripen midseason, widely adapted. High resistance to fusarium wilt races 1, 2, nematodes, tomato spotted wilt virus, and verticillium wilt, AAS winner.

Supersweet 100 Cherry Tomato

 

The classic sweet, red cherry tomato, indeterminate.

Supersweet 100 is a reliable cherry tomato with prolific yields of great tasting, 15-20 gm. fruits produced in large clusters. Widely adapted. High resistance to fusarium wilt and verticillium wilt.

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