Rice Sensory Bin Tips

Hello, early educators and parents of littles who are ready to dive deep into the sensory bin world! Sensory bins can be daunting given the mess that can come with it. But I’m here to help ease your fears and bring more sensory play into the world. First, a few other resources for articles: 

One Big List Of Sensory Bin Fillers

Tips For Sensory Play In General

Here are my tips specifically for RICE sensory bins. 

SET BOUNDARIES: Before you even begin, set boundaries. Our number one rule is to keep the rice and tools inside the bin. This idea of rice in a bin to play with can be new for the majority of kids and we can’t just assume they know to keep the rice nicely in the bin. Give them good boundaries BEFORE you give them the materials. 

SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS: One thing I firmly believe is that we have to set kids up for success before we expect them to perform the way we want and expect them to. Even if you set them up for success, accidents still happen. The best solution I have found for keeping rice contained is to put the sensory bin on top of a quilt or rug. Then it can easily be shaken off outside or vacuumed up when you’re done!

KEEP THE BOUNDARIES: When lines are crossed, don’t be afraid to take a break from the rice. Separate the child and the bin however you can, take a minute for a break, and come back to try again for success when you feel the child is ready. 

FIND THE RIGHT TOOLS: Too many tools, not enough tools, or the wrong tools can make or break the sensory bin experience. We’ve done our fair share of experimenting with tools and here are our favorites. 

  1. Scoops and spoons 
  2. Small bowls 
  3. Ice cube trays
  4. Small people or animals for pretend play 
  5. Holiday-themed toys (usually from the dollar store) 
  6. Puzzle pieces for a puzzle find. Expect this to be messier because they’ll be pulling pieces out of the bin. 

PRAISE THE POSITIVE: Applaud and praise the correct behaviors. 
“I love how you’re sharing so nicely with your friend!” 
“You are keeping the rice in the bin so well. I am proud of you!”  

TASTE SAFE IS NOT AN AFTERNOON SNACK: Dyed rice is typically made taste safe (recipe coming soon!). Just because it’s taste safe doesn’t mean it should be eaten. It means you don’t need to call poison control if it ends up in their mouth at some point. With diligent supervision and boundary setting, babies as young as a year old can play with sensory bins full of rice. More on that in the next point. 

The first experience of a sensory bin looks like sitting right next to the child, helping them scoop and play. When rice is inevitably put in their mouth respond with, “Yucky! No no!” and help them spit it out. Repeat over and over. It takes multiple times to remind them and in multiple settings! Be diligent and they’ll understand. Take it away if you need to. 

IT TAKES TIME FOR RICE TO BE AN INDEPENDENT ACTIVITY: To go along with the last point, it takes time for any sensory bin to be an independent activity! If you’re a parent, handing your child a rice bin with toys and tools for the first time so you can make dinner isn’t setting them up for success. Rice bins are a side-by-side activity to teach your child self-control and pretend play. 

In an early childhood educational setting- model, model, MODEL how to play with any sensory activity. Set a responsible adult next to the bin with a handful of kids to monitor and keep the boundaries. 

Given time, independent play with rice is possible! 

Do you have any tips for rice sensory play you can add to this list? 

Dear Teacher: Thank You For Your Service

Dear Teacher, 

How are you? No, really. Take a minute to close your eyes and really think. How are you doing? 

This school year is unlike any other. Instead of walking into your classroom, putting up creative borders and posters around your classroom, and setting up for students, you sat at your computer waiting for emails, calls, or anything that would indicate how you would be teaching this year. 

Virtual? 

Hybrid? 

In-person? 

Masks? No masks? How much plexiglass would be installed in your classroom? 

It’s natural and okay to feel overwhelmed by the state of this school year. So many of you were told one thing, only to be changed last minute. Those expecting to be all online had to curate a socially distant classroom experience in a matter of hours because districts and higher-ups changed the protocol in the 11th hour. Some who spent all summer working on their socially distant classrooms were changed to all online and had to revamp their whole curriculum overnight. 

You’re expected to teach our “lost generation”, those who won’t have the opportunity at the same education as others have. It can put a certain level of guilt on you as their main source of education! 

But you’re a good teacher. 

You’re trying your best. 

The students are the center of your work. 

How do I know? Because it takes a special heart to be an educator, especially in today’s political world. And I know you wouldn’t be there if you didn’t care about your students as much as you do. 

Think back to one year ago, did you know the term “socially distant”? Would you have ever imagined teaching with a mask on all day? Did you ever see yourself on Zoom teaching concepts that really need to be taught in a personal setting? Like…. How to write….? 

No. No one saw this coming, no one could have prepared us for today. 

Your students are the same way, they were blindsided one day in March when nearly every school shut down with very little notice for an undisclosed amount of time. 

Doctors and nurses on the front lines treating COVID are heroes and need recognition. But maybe our teachers are being somewhat forgotten about. Here you are, putting in as much time and effort as these doctors. You’re working long shifts and giving your whole heart and soul to bring the education back to your communities, putting your life and your family’s lives at risk while you do it. 

Instead of nursing COVID patients back to health, you’re nursing our lost generation back to education. You’re providing our society as a whole a brighter future through your efforts. 

You are seen. You are of immeasurable value. You are the heroes we need right now. 

Thank you for your service. 

Flashback To Helicopter Mom

A year ago I wrote a post about me being a helicopter mom with my daughter while she attempted to climb up the ladder of our playset in our backyard. This summer I had flashbacks to this article I posted when my son attempted the same thing. However, he is a year younger than she was at the time! 

My son just turned a year old and isn’t walking yet, but climbs like it’s nobody’s business. He started reaching up high to grab rungs on the ladder, ready to scale it as fast as his little body would let him. As I rushed over and picked him up, the words from my past post rang in my head. 

““Be careful! Be careful!” I kept telling her. All while her feet never left the ground.”

His two feet were firmly planted on the ground as I picked him up in the worry of him falling and failing. I hadn’t even given him a chance to try

Realizing my mistake, I set him down and let him try again. He fumbled through the process of climbing, sometimes not knowing where his hands or feet would go. I would step in and guide him through this, then step back and watch him figure out the rest. Eventually, he did it! He made it to the top and beamed with pride over his accomplishment. (Cover photo of him satisfied with success.)

Almost to success! I was feeling comfortable enough in his ability to step back and take a picture.

A few takeaways I learned from this: 

  1. We may figure things out as a parent or as a teacher, but we continually need to learn and grow and be reminded of those things. Just because I had the helicopter moment with my daughter a year previously did not automatically help me to know how to handle the exact same situation with my son. I needed the reminder. 
  2. The same can apply to our kids- they need reminders and to be told again, and again, and again. And we need to give them grace for this. 

What is something with your students you have to relearn again every year? How do you let your kids fail to find success? 

What I’ve Learned Teaching Preschool

I’ve been teaching my daughter and her little neighbor friend preschool since mid-April. At first, it was very consistent and every day, but now we’ve tapered off since the world is (somewhat) opening up again and we can leave our homes again. We have been using Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool curriculum and love it! You can read more about my review here.

Today I want to share a few little nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned from teaching on a preschool level. This age and curriculum are somewhat out of my realm, my dream teaching job would be 3rd-4th grade, but I’ve learned a lot teaching this age and learned to adapt to this different age range. 

More play. Less instruction. I knew this before, I live by the phrase “play is a child’s work.” However, sometimes when we put the label “teacher” out there, it’s easy to fall into teacher instruction mode. I found that the less I was involved and the more play that took place, the more learning that came. 

Sing. Sing all of the songs. I’m not a singer!! I know a lot of people say this, but I’m REALLY not a good singer. Guess what? They didn’t care. They just wanted songs. They craved the repetition and beat and learning a new tune. Sing the songs, and sing them loud and silly. 

Consistency is important for them at such a young age. We had our schedule that we did every day (laid out by Playing Preschool), and the days we strayed from it, left something out, or switched it up slightly, the whole lesson was hard for them. Be consistent. 

Not all kids grow up with a #teachermom and do activities like poke toothpicks in an apple, and that’s okay! Our cute neighbor boy that joins us for preschool was doing the apple poke activity. It promotes counting, spacial awareness, and fine motor skills. After he had put two or three toothpicks into the apple he looked at me and asked, “Why am I doing this?” while my daughter sat next to him happily poking her toothpicks because an activity like this is fairly normal in our household! Gave me a good laugh!

Learning letters and numbers isn’t the goal of preschool. Playing is the purpose of preschool, and throwing in the letters and numbers is just an added bonus. I was reminding myself often that just because my daughter still didn’t know that R says rrrrrr by the end of two weeks, it doesn’t mean the two weeks was a fail. We played, we sang, recited poems and painted. So much paint! The purpose of the R unit wasn’t to engrain the letter or sound into her mind, it was to expose her to a new letter, maybe recognize it, and most importantly- to play. 

I think doing this preschool program with my daughter has opened my eyes to what playing for a child truly is. I knew it was important and I knew that’s how they can learn, however, now I realize that it’s not just how they CAN learn, it IS how they learn. It is crucial! 

To you preschool teachers out there, what other tips do you have, or what else can you add to this list? 

#TeacherMom Struggles: What’s The Balance?

The other day I handed my 2.5-year-old scissors for the first time in her life. When handing them to her, I had a moment where I realized this was probably her first physical exposure with scissors herself instead of watching me use them, so I gave her a quick tutorial on how to hold them. 

Within minutes she was frustrated. She didn’t know how to cut the paper I had given her. I originally started her on this project so I could have a few minutes to cook dinner, so you can imagine my frustration when I had to go back over to show her, yet again!, how to hold and use the scissors. She worked diligently, and very, very slowly on cutting up a big sheet of construction paper into tiny pieces, struggling and asking for help the whole way. 

Once she had completed the construction paper, she moved on to the next task without consulting me first. The blanket. Luckily, we have some fairly dull kid scissors that won’t cut up the fabric so the blanket was saved, yet it still wasn’t okay. 

But it made me think that if I were teaching in a preschool, kinder, or first-grade classroom (maybe even older) and we pulled out scissors for the first time in a while, I would have an explicit lesson about what is okay to cut, scissor safety, and more. Yet with my daughter, I didn’t! A couple of thoughts I had about this situation-

  • Using scissors seems like such an every day, easy task to us who have used them for years and years. This is absolutely not the case with a toddler. 
  • Explicit instruction can do wonders. 
  • New activities such as using scissors aren’t for “from a distant” parenting. I should have chosen a safer activity I knew she could be successful and handle on her own. 
  • I try to turn off “teacher mode” often around her because while it’s valuable, I want to be play focused and not “coach” her too much throughout our day. But sometimes, teacher mode is okay and should come out. 

Mistakes were made! The first time a child picks up scissors they don’t need a quick tutorial, they need a sit-down, explicit lesson! I know that. I guess as a #teachermom, I expected myself to have a perfect balance of teacher mind and mom mind, and while it seems to work out some days, it doesn’t others. So here’s to me working hard at this balancing act of #teachermom life! 

You #teacherparents out there, do you struggle with finding a balance between being a parent and being a teacher to your kids? 

I’m Back In The Classroom! But Not How I Expected

If you remember back to my introduction post, you know that I haven’t been in my own classroom teaching my set of students for quite some time now. I’ve had plenty of substitute teaching jobs, which don’t get me wrong, has been amazing! But not the same as your own, personal classroom. 

Alas, I’m here to say- I’m finally stepping back in the classroom! Although, my “classroom” is in my basement and my students are my daughter and her little friend that lives down the road. The curriculum is learning letters and counting, something I was never given proper instruction on how to teach because my degree is in elementary education, not early childhood. While most would not think twice about the difference between the two, there is enough difference that I somewhat feel out of my realm here. My dream job would be to teach 3rd grade, not 3-year-olds! 

However, it’s still my dream job right now, even if it isn’t in a 3rd-grade classroom because it means I can teach and be with my kids at home every day. 

The curriculum I purchased for preschool came from Busy Toddler, a former early childhood teacher but now a mom running her own business by blogging about kid activities and writing preschool curriculum. So far, I have been very impressed with the book. It’s very play-based and includes math, writing, art, science, plenty of children’s books, and lots of sensory bins, my favorite! I plan to do a full, honest review once we have had a few more weeks under our belt and I can give a better idea of what it’s like. 

It has also been very helpful to have a little slice of normalcy in our lives right now during this crazy time with everything shut down due to COVID-19. It’s about 20-30 minutes of our day where we can just leave the world behind and have a little structure. 

My absolute favorite part about it is that I went deep in our storage to pull out a little plastic bin my grandma gave me years and years ago to use for my first year of teaching! While I imagined it very different, I was still just as excited to pull it out again and use it for this! 

So for now, you can catch me in my little classroom corner that I’ve created! 

The Ultimate Test for Child-Directed Learning

This is not a drill. This is the ultimate test for honoring child-directed learning.

And it turns out I failed the first round.

How many times have I written about working from a place of love instead of fear? Yet I’m afraid that fear has been at the helm far too often over the last week. But I’m going to be kind to myself as I decide to try again each day through this crisis. Meanwhile, here are some of the lessons we’ve learned so far:

#1: Schedules & Routines are valuable, but remember to co-construct them with your children!

Here was my first attempt:

At first, I felt pleased because I had my daughter write and post it for our family. But it was still entirely conceived by me, with no input from my children. And it, um…didn’t go well.

The timetables didn’t work for all 3 kids at the same time, with some finishing fast, others experiencing boredom, and others feeling anxiety to do something that was arbitrarily placed later in the day. I struggled to get any of my own remote teaching done as I was constantly interrupted by “I’m done; what can I do next?”

As I fell asleep last night, I realized that in my fear of making sure my kids got all their physical, emotional, and intellectual needs taken care of, I was neglecting the key ingredient: autonomy. And with it, the peace and confidence that’s fostered by purpose & ownership.

I resolved to do better the next morning, and I fell asleep thinking about all the years and ways I have tried to help my children visualize and own their schedules & routines…

…and I decided to sit down with each of them to talk about what they hoped the day would bring.

#2: Take time to truly listen, early and often.

As a result of our discussions this morning, I learned from my 9 year-old that writing time slots with her schedule created tremendous unnecessary pressure for her. She preferred to write a sequence that could be flexible. I also learned that she preferred to finish all her difficult tasks (like cleaning her guinea pigs’ cage and homework) first thing in the morning.

And from my 5 year-old, I learned that he wanted me to draw pictures next to each item on his list, talking through each one so it made sense to him.

Setting the tone for listening first thing in our day has fostered more meaningful discussion, self-awareness, and self-regulation throughout the day. Words like, “When I do __, it helps me feel __.” And we all need this kind of mindfulness now more than ever.

#3: For the schoolwork coming home right now, try to make it as independently accessible for your children as possible.

For my 9 year-old, this looks like creating a Google Keep note with checkboxes, sharing it with her, and then adding any additional tasks I hear from her teacher to this one document as we go. That way, tasks don’t slip between the cracks, and I don’t overwhelm my daughter by telling her again and again, “Oh, and don’t forget this other assignment!”

For my 5 year-old, this looks like having a designated folder on the counter where he can access all the materials he needs each day. He doesn’t have to wait around for me in order to get started each day, which helps us both tremendously!

I still have work to do to improve this situation for all three of my children and myself, but our home feels more peaceful than it has in days. Now that I’m working toward child-directed learning again, the ship is righting once more, and we can look toward tomorrow with greater confidence and hope.

My very best wishes to families and teachers everywhere at this time! Remember to hold onto what you value and cherish most, and to be kind to yourselves through this stressful time!