Last week, in Part 1, I talked to you about our new schedule and how well it’s been working for everyone.
This week, I kinda ate my words.
Our “extracurricular” schedule was overfilled and so more than once, we began our day LATE. The toddler seemed to interrupt more than last week, and something new: a couple different times, the kids got bored/restless at their 30-minute stations, and wanted to switch…which I allowed…but regretted when they threw fits when the timer went off after only 10 minutes at the new station they chose and were enjoying (new rule: no switching stations until the timer rings!).
All that to say, there are kinks that will need worked out, and this is not the end-all solution to homeschool craziness, but overall, it IS working very well.
I also made a note to myself to make SURE to play with my little 2 yr old Caleb 1-on-1 first thing in the morning while the big kids are doing their room clean up and personal hygiene because on the days I didn’t do that, he seemed to come in and demand my attention more. I’m reminded that he needs mama-love and quality time as much as my other kids did at his tender age and I can’t just expect him to go without it all morning and be ok with that. Mom first, teacher second.
On a positive note, I am LOVING how my kids are completely responsible to clean up their activities and how tidy the house has remained as a result. Also the room-check in the morning and fixing of beds, etc…priceless. The house feels pretty..clean..for once…without ME going crazy trying to keep it that way by myself!
Today I want to share pictures and details of the bins we’ve put together to further inspire you to get organized and keep your sanity.
Ready, set… let’s get organized.
We made a list of what activity bins we thought would be enjoyed by the kids, and I tried to continually keep in mind that they would have Caleb (age 2 1/2) with them at these stations, since one of the main goals is to keep that little mister happy and busy playing while I work at the table with the others to complete schoolwork.
We basically have two types of activity bins.
1. Activities that must be done at at table.
2. Activities that must be taken to the living room (these are the play-type activities).
When choosing the first type of bin, since we typically do school in the dining room, it’s worked well for my kids to take these bins into the adjoining breakfast room to work at the smaller table there.
The first set of bins are stored in our homeschool room (which is also our breakfast area).
Because I am a stickler about keeping this space neat and aesthetically pleasing, I keep these smaller, clear bins inside larger, solid-colored bins…does that make sense? The two white IKEA bins in the photo below fit perfectly into the shelf and are really large, so they can each hold 2 or 3 smaller activity bins–see? You can also see our thin, flat, clay-bin stored next to the bookshelf there on the left.
The second set of bins are stored in the closet / pantry near the living room.
Ok, now for what’s in each bin!
NOTE: See an arrow on a photo? Click on it to see more details about that bin.
1. Play-doh Bin with Accessories.
Who doesn’t love play-doh? Having ONE big bin where all our different sets can hang out has been great. With a batch of new dough just added, this has been a very popular station so far. More often than not, we make our own play-doh (what else does one use cream of tartar for anyway?) and I like to add a flavoring to it so it smells good. Every few weeks, we whip up a batch of fresh, warm playdoh. It seriously takes less than 5 minutes, and the kids enjoy helping. Remember to keep your old play-doh containers for storing your own homemade stuff.
2. Tactile Play Food Bin
I’m a big fan of Learning Resources company. They carry some great items, and these two are no exception. This is not technically an “active” bin yet because these two items are Christmas presents for my youngest! Shh!
But I am certain this bin will be popular. The Super Sorting Pie has a ton of colorful, rubbery-textured fruits that little hands will enjoy sorting using the tongs while working on colors at the same time.
The Train Mix and Match is also pretty rad. The pieces of trail mix are a nice size for little fingers to hold, and each one has a hole in it so your little ones can put them onto the string. Great developmental activity as 2-4 year olds love to string things!
3. Cut, Paste and Create Bin
This has been one of THE most popular bins so far, which totally surprised me! Maybe it’s because the kids can have free-rein to glue and glitter and bling out their own artwork to their heart’s content without mom standing over them telling them what to do. All ages have loved this. For the most part, I put things into it that I already had, and freshened it up by adding additional glue (including glitter glue) and some washable markers and stickers.
4. Do-A-Dot Bin
Do your kids love these things? Geared for younger kiddos, it’s mess-free art fun, and I simply added the do-a-dot paints we already had, and printed out some pages from the internet that the kids could practice dotting. I’ve also got a couple do-a-dot coloring books coming in the mail which will be added to the bin.
5. Clay Bin
We’ve been SLIGHTLY obsessed with polymer clay the past couple months. Like we can’t stop making ridiculously cute play-food for the AG dolls and GI Joes. Super super fun stuff and kids as young as 2 or 3 can join the fun (the baby has his OWN bag of mixed up clay since he likes to squish all the colors together anyway). I found this great bin for organizing our clay, and it has little movable compartment walls so you can customize it. It’s been a great way to keep it all stored nicely. The kids enjoy making their own creations, and will leave what they want baked sitting on the counter once they’re finished cleaning up.
6. Bead Bin
Another very popular choice for the littles. To make it even more accessible, I keep pipe cleaners in it and even tie beads at the end of a few so the baby can open the beads and get going right away. He has probably used this bin every single day since I first set it up. Here’s a tip: don’t throw away large beads from broken necklaces! Add them to the bead bin and let your kids enjoy them.
7. Playful Patterns Bin
My friend Barbara gave me this set of foam shapes and cards, and my kids really enjoy creating pictures with them. Sometimes they’ll try to see how many of the cards they can complete using all the shapes in the bin.
8. Blocks and Bears Bin
So my girlfriend Hannah was recently telling me how she remembered these little bear counters that her teacher used to let the kids play with when they had free time in the classroom…she said she just LOVED getting that bin of bears and sorting them all out by color and making them play together. I decided I might just have to try these bears out! Found them on Amazon for less than $10 and went ahead and purchased them. Technically they’re math counters I think. Anyway, she was right–they were an immediate hit! Who would’ve known? They came with cups for sorting, but it didn’t take long for my kids to mix them into their other play worlds. Soon, it was blocks and bears. They enjoy making elaborate “houses” for the bears and having them visit each other, etc.
And occasionally, the boys bring the squinkies/trashies or their little mini GI Joe guys to play too.
9. Kinetic Sand
Have you tried it yet? We think this stuff totally rocks. It’s good for an hour or two of fun for the kids when we get it out, and usually, they bring their animals or sea creatures down to create play environments with it. We used it a TON when we studied Ocean Creatures last year. We got ours as a gift and it think it was purchased at Brookstone but I’ve noticed many toy stores carry it now. It really is sand without the mess. Cool stuff.
10. Automoblox Bin
You guys, we seriously love these toys. They’re cars that you build and interchange. They have been thoroughly enjoyed by every single child in our family (even the girl though she may not admit it), and each year, I like to add a couple more cars to the mix. My little 2 year old loooooooooovesssss these things and plays with them pretty much all day long in between the other (“lesser”) activities. They are expensive, so look for sales 2 or 3 times a year online, or find them in museums and learning stores everywhere. Super great well-made toys.
11. Waffle Town Bin
Going vintage here, peeps! Did you guys play with waffle town when you were little? Did you love them as much as I did?! Such a great toy set. A few years ago, I went on ebay and found a vintage set selling for cheap, and I grabbed it up. My kids all love building towns for their matchbox cars or little people to live in. It’s a nice challenging activity for under 4s because you have to fit the pieces together in a certain way for it to work.
12. Lego / Duplo Bin
My 2 year old is also really into Duplo blocks and so that is always an option for him during the day.
Of course for big kids, there are regular legos. We keep all legos upstairs in the boys’ room, and when they want to dump their BIG bin out, they know they have to dump it onto a sheet. This makes lego-cleanup a breeze. Legos are def. a creative-play staple around here.
13. Animal / Farm bin
We have a collection of Schleich animals plus our Playmobil 123 Farm Set in this bin, and the littles enjoy getting it out every few days.
14. The Hess Truck Bin
My dad worked for Hess Energy for a couple years, and during that time, our boys received many wonderful trucks as gifts from their Grandpa. The whole Hess fleet lives in this toy box, and from time to time, we renew batteries on all of them. GREAT quality toys, and they put out a new model each year. A day doesn’t go by that my boys don’t play with their Hess trucks.
15. Wooden Train Bin
Do these toys ever get old? Love the imaginative play they provide as the kids build elaborate train track configurations on the living room floor.
16. Waterbead Bin
I think you guys know by now that I am a huge fan of waterbeads! These things are addicting to play with. Awesome sensory fun for ages 3 and up. We like to mix and match colors and make ocean bins, or rainbow fairy bins, or whatever! This bin is not always an option because waterbeads, once hydrated and played with, do have a shelf-life and once they break down, you have to toss them. But when I do offer this activity, it is by FAR the most popular choice! Order your waterbeads cheap on Amazon, or find them in the floral department of Dollar Stores, WalMart etc.
That’s it for our bins right now, but there are a few others I’d like to add over time, including:
The ideas are endless!
Hope you’re inspired to get some activities organized for your kiddos that will keep them busy and happily playing so you can accomplish more, experience less frustration and interruption, and keep your homeschool running smoothly.
Looking for more activity ideas?
Click here to check out some of the Sensory Fun Boxes we’ve created ~