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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Setting Up STEM Bins
1. Determine what you’re going to store them in.
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.
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.)
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.
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…
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.
Subscribe to Blog via Email
Got other STEM building/creative toys you enjoy? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll keep adding to our list!