Morning Tubs/STEM BINS

Every year, we try to make changes to make our classroom better for our kids. Each year we make 1 big change and lots of smaller changes. This year, our big change has been our morning work so I want to explain how we’re integrating morning tubs or STEM BINS into our morning work.


Yep. Kids need to play. Yep. Many of us teach in districts where this isn’t allowed. Yep. Many of us know we should be doing more play-based learning but we’re bound by district rules/mandates/curriculums. Yep. We know we can be creative and make curriculums play-based but when you’re being watched daily by district people and checking that you’re on the right lesson on the right day, it’s hard. I share that to say this: don’t assume it’s the teacher not wanting to have play in the classroom. It’s probably more of being stopped by district rules. That said, now we have more PLAY in our classroom with our morning bins! I actually say each morning: “After your journal, you may read or play!” And let me tell you, that feels amazing!

Morning Tubs/STEM BINS Set Up

When I decided I wanted to bring morning tubs into the classroom, I wanted a SIMPLE system that could basically be managed by the kids. I had these photo storage boxes from Michaels that I bought on sale a few years ago but never used, so I knew those would be perfect for our bins. They’re small and don’t take up room. They’re the perfect size to hold the materials and the perfect size for kid hands. And really, the rainbow colors are everything!

Each box contains different objects for the kids to use to play. These will be changed out monthly.

So, what’s in the bins? Here are some examples: Squigz, pattern blocks, linking chains, and building blocks are from Lakeshore. Snap Cubes and fish are from Oriental Trading. Target mini-erasers. These are all items that the kids can use to build, stack, sort, connect, and play with. They’re small enough to fit in the boxes and there are multiple boxes with the same items. For example, there are 3 or 4 boxes of snap cubes, etc. I’m always looking for things to use in our STEM BINS. I already have Legos, dominos, plastic tiles, and A BILLION mini-erasers to use!

How Do The Kids Use Them

Here’s how our morning arrival works: (For details on morning work and morning arrival, visit the blog post at the end of this post)

  1. Put away backpack.
  2. Greet your teacher
  3. Eat breakfast if you want.
  4. Journal (or name writing practice if you haven’t earned your journal)
  5. Read OR PLAY!

The beloved journals have not gone away. Students must still do their journals and then they can play! So they can read or play after doing their morning work which is their journal. These pictures illustrate this very well: you see students reading, playing, writing in their journals, and working on the names! And you should also know there is A LOT OF TALKING! And that’s what we want. Conversations are a MUST for student learning.

There are no task cards or required activities for them. They are simply playing and exploring. They are building fine motor skills, building critical thinking skills, and problem-solving skills. And they’re having FUN!

NOTE: because we have no tables and desks, students are taught to write laying on their stomachs which is good for handwriting. Since this picture was taken on the 3rd day of school, we are still working on expectations and routines.

Students choose 1 box to play with. They play as long as they want and they clean up and get another box. Or they can read books. They can play alone or with friends. They sit wherever they want to read and play! It’s all about choices!

Clean Up And Storage

When the clean-up song comes in, students clean up their materials and place the boxes back into the case. A student makes sure the cases get returned to the shelf.

Here’s a video of our morning bins/morning work in action:

For more details on morning work, journals, flexible seating, the trampoline, and classroom management visit these posts:

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