Woodhaven Place

Your Neighborhood Farm

Category: Curriculum Review

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)

Car Schooling: 29 Tips To Survive School On The Road

When I first began dreaming of homeschooling, I had this luxurious idea of my kids and I huddled around a sunlit table, pouring over books and performing perfect little experiments together while the birds chirped outside and the flowers outside garden window smiled at me.

Do you SEE that sunshine? Ah, now I look back at this photo and just LAUGH. I thought I had it all together back then.

You see, the seasons of life have a way of changing.

Not long after receiving our Celiac disease diagnoses (yes, plural), my kids began receiving Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Physical Therapy every week. We spent at least 6 hours a week shuttling back and forth for these [medically necessary]  events. And this didn’t include doctor visits, grocery shopping, library trips, playdates, or homeschool co-ops.

AH! I thought I was going crazy!

I quickly learned the value of Car Schooling — that is, taking homeschooling on the road.

Continue reading

Handwriting Without Tears (Review + Budget Friendly Ideas)

Curriculum Review: Handwriting Without Tears

Handwriting Without Tears is – hands down – my favorite handwriting curriculum for little people. It’s a manuscript-style (as opposed to cursive) program that specializes in reducing all pen strokes to two basic shapes: straight lines and curves. I find this reductionist approach simplifies handwriting for little learners and makes it approachable.

If you want to read more about the HWT philosophy – which really is extremely well thought out and quite excellent – see their website. I love that the program is simple, easy to understand, approachable, consistent, affordable, and FUN. Continue reading

Review of 6 Books Every Parent Needs To Own

You remember that game called Desert Island? (You know — the one where you pretend you’re stranded and can only take three things with you?) I detest playing that game (and not because I think it is a waste of time). Rather, it’s unrealistic. The point of the game is to name your three most precious items you couldn’t live without. But let’s be real: if I’m on a desert island, the last thing I’m really going to want is some precious memento. Give me a knife, a field guide to non-poisonous plants, and Robinson Crusoe to help keep me alive!

But I have given great thought to my book collection. When we recently sold our house, I packed away 90% of our book collection. There were only a few books that got to stay out for 6 months. Which made me think: if I lost all of our books in the move (or worse, we had a fire), what would be the first 6 books I would immediately purchase again? Continue reading

{Classical Conversations} Flip-Flap Books & Cycle Match Ups!

We love using Flip-Flap Books (especially to flesh out our Classical Conversations work at home). Check out our recommended supply list and cycle match ups!

Along with farming and homesteading, we are a home school family. We belong to a local Classical Conversations community and I am always looking for fun ways to add depth to our memory work. I use the website Teachers Pay Teachers a lot and I would like to introduce my favorite seller Simply Skilled in Second.

She has created a resource called Flip-Flap Books that my son and I both love.

Anna has a great website that explains many of her resources.

Each book has a single theme, comes with detailed easy to follow instructions, and matches up with CC memory work wonderfully! Right now we are working with books that match up with Cycle 2, but she has books that will work with all of the CC Cycles. I love this resource because it is easy to put together and looks great. Continue reading

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