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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)

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.

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Marble Money: How Our Family Handles Allowance and Chores

Marble Money: How We Handle Chores

It’s been a challenge for our family to implement any sort of chore system over the years. Part of the problem is that the systems I have tried rely heavily upon me for successful implementation.

  • I’ve tried chore charts (kid sees card, completes card, flips it over when done).
  • I’ve tried bribery (“Hey, I’ll give you 25 cents for XYZ”).
  • I’ve tried just assigning tasks willy-nilly and saying you’re-part-of-the-family-so-do-it.

While each have worked, it really required ME being mindful and constantly remembering that this system needed to be used. I didn’t like that. In a word? I needed my kids to have OWNERSHIP.  Continue reading

How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself – Part 1

How To Get A Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself

This post is the first in a series: How To Get a Homeschool Space That Cleans Itself.

A few years ago, I came across a book that completely upturned my life called The House That Cleans Itself. It’s a simple, easy read — and insanely practical with step-by-step advice and humor, as well.

I’m the sort of person who people describe as “organized” — which is true. I love organization. However, I’m also TERRIBLE at keeping things tidy. Confession: my nickname growing up was Messy Bessie…

I hated this about myself. So I did the only thing I knew to do: I read books, scoured magazines, and looked for ways to organize better. And as you can probably guess… none of them really worked longer than a few weeks. Continue reading

How To Make Instant Pot Freezer Meals

Stretch the Instant Pot's ability (and your budget!) by making Instant Pot Freezer Meals. No need to thaw before cooking; learn all the pro-tips here!

If you’re a fan of the Instant Pot, you know just how versatile this kitchen tool can be. After all, you can:

But did you know you can make fully-assembled freezer meals… and cook them directly from frozen??

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RECIPE: Easy {One Hour} 3-Ingredient Instant Pot Bone Broth

Looking for an easy way to make bone broth in your Instant Pot? This one hour recipe yields nutritious bone broth (and doesn't make your house stink)!

There are approximately a gazillion recipes for bone broth on the internet (give or take) and a growing number for the Instant Pot. Most traditional methods involve simmering bones – typically chicken or beef – for 12-24 hours. While this yields a nutritious and inexpensive bone broth, this method does require planning ahead and some time management.   Continue reading

{Classical Conversations} How To Survive Tutoring Abecedarians

Are you tutoring the youngest class for your Classical Conversations community? Check out our popular strategies to help your morning go smoothly.

When I went to college to get a teaching degree, I was adamant about one thing. Teaching preschool was NOT for me. The thought of spending hours in a classroom setting with 4 and 5 year olds literally made me break out in a cold sweat.

But becoming a parent has a way of changing you. And when my own daughter got old enough to participate in Classical Conversations, I took a deep breath and signed up to tutor her Abecedarian (aka: 4 and 5yo) class.

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RECIPE: Easy Instant Pot {Brined!} Whole Chicken with Lemon Au Jus

Don't settle for bland when cooking whole chicken. My two secrets -- brining and using the Instant Pot -- will create a moist and flavorful dinner!

I’m not sure what became the deciding factor for me to purchase the Instant Pot. It may have been the ability to cook frozen ground beef in 25 minutes. Or to hard boil eggs in just 2 minutes (with no ice bath necessary). But the deciding factor came when I realized I could make my own delicious, whole chicken with virtually NO MESS and super easy clean up.

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Instant Pot Accessories: What You Need and How To Use Them

You have an Instant Pot, but what about all those accessories? See our comprehensive list to find out what you really need (and how to use them).

It wasn’t long after purchasing my Instant Pot that I became interested in accessories. Yes, that’s right. Your Instant Pot can have accessories.

If you’re around the Instant Pot Facebook group much, you’ll see people raving about their accessories. There are certainly a lot of specialty items and doo-dads you can purchase to make cooking in your Instant Pot even more exciting.

People ask me all the time – which accessories should I get?? But here’s where I struggle. At heart, I’m a kitchen minimalist. I don’t want to just buy stuff to have stuff. So I’m going to present these accessories in order of ranking: Absolutely Necessary (because there are some that simply are!), Really Helpful To Have, and Fun If You Have The Extra Money. Continue reading

How To Unbox And Set Up Your Instant Pot in 10 Easy Steps

Overwhelmed on how to unbox your Instant Pot? Not sure how to set up your new appliance? Check out these 10 easy steps to get you cooking in no time.

I remember the emotions I went through when I first decided to purchase the Instant Pot: Excitement. Skepticism. Anticipation. But when that beautiful big box arrived at my door, all emotions faded into one. Absolute overwhelm. How do I unbox this thing, let alone use it?!
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