Starting Up Preschool Activities: Your Guide To Getting Started

If you’re here you need some direction on how to start up sensory bins and other activities for the early childhood age! So before we begin, I want to share with you a whole page I’ve put together of multiple blog posts that can direct you and answer questions that you may have. Check it out here!  

Adding in hands-on activities for your early childhood learners can be overwhelming at first, but don’t stress! I am here to help. What qualifies me? I was in the exact same position as you a few years ago. I had the desire to be the #teachermom that pulls out fun, educational activities for my kids, and even followed plenty of people on social media giving me all of the ideas for activities. BUT it seemed absolutely overwhelming to do so. Eventually, I got the hang of it, and now I am in a place where I can walk you through it! Here’s what I did. 

I invested in materials. Typically, these materials are fairly inexpensive and you’ll probably find a lot of them around your home (rice, cooking utensils, paper, markers). But I found the most success when all of the materials were there and ready for me to pull out. I spent around $75 at Amazon, Walmart, and The Dollar Store combined. This is also partially because I didn’t want to share my kitchen materials with my kid’s activities, so I spent a good chunk on new spoons, cups, muffin tins, etc. Having all of the materials together and organized helped tremendously to help me feel like I could be a part of this crafty early childhood educator bandwagon of hands-on activities! 

I lined out the purpose of these activities. Yes, I want my child to have these experiences and learning opportunities. But was I setting up activities for me to sit down and work with my kids one-on-one? Did I need the activities out to keep them entertained while I worked on something else? Yes to all of the above. However, it would take time to achieve the latter. 

I decided to use the sensory bins and activities for one-on-one time and connection with my kids at first, and then eventually use them as something for them to do while I made dinner or worked. I wouldn’t be setting myself up for success by expecting my kids to play independently and keeping expectations of the activities. 

I found the right social media accounts to follow. There are parents and educators out there that have done all of the dirty work for us! You don’t have to carefully create a new activity each time you feel your child needs entertainment or has a skill they need to practice. Others have already done it, and they are on social media! My favorites: Busy Toddler and Days with Gray.

These two stand out to me because they don’t post extravagant activities. It takes minimal set up time, simple materials, and are doable for any parent or educator to put together! Watch out for those social media accounts that are posting above and beyond activities that will make you feel inadequate to carry them out! 

I made a schedule. This was a temporary thing that I didn’t have to do for long, but helped initially. It made it predictable for all of us and gave me a visual of what I could expect. I decided activities in the morning would be 1:1 and done with new activities that needed a lot of supervision. Afternoon activities, while I was cooking dinner, would be independent activities that I knew I could trust my kids alone with. It looked like this: 

Week one: Activities in the morning after breakfast, before nap. 

Monday: bubble foam
Tuesday: rice scoop and transfer
Wednesday: water painting on construction paper
Thursday: Color mixing pour station
Friday: contact paper art

Week two: morning activities for together time, afternoon activities for independent play

Monday morning: moon sand
Tuesday afternoon: water painting on construction paper
Wednesday morning: color mixing pour station
Thursday afternoon: contact paper art
Friday morning: dot sticker line-up/ color match 

Week three: Start trying two activities a day!

Monday morning: moon sand
Monday afternoon: sticky note shape match
Tuesday morning: rice bin scoop and transfer
Wednesday afternoon: water sensory bin
Thursday morning: play dough
Friday afternoon: dot sticker activity 

This isn’t exactly but gives you an idea. Mornings were for working together and learning together. Afternoons were for independent play with materials I could trust my kids with. This schedule didn’t last forever, only about 3-4 weeks. But once I was in the rhythm and knew what to expect more, I didn’t need the schedule as much and slowly tapered off. Eventually pulling out activities became intuitive and I could tell when we needed one, what type it needed to be, and so forth. 

Do what you feel comfortable with. Are you not into playdough or paint? THAT IS OKAY! You can still have success. Just because a teacher or mom on Instagram shows how “easy” and “doable” it is to let children play with slime doesn’t mean you have to do it too. 

My first activities with my daughter were water sensory bins (because all it takes to clean up when it spills is a towel.) and “painting” with water on construction paper. Again, because cleaning up water is mounds easier than cleaning up rice. 

Eventually, all of our water play led to me being more comfortable with dried corn in a sensory bin. Then rice. Then, I let my daughter paint… It was absolutely nerve-wracking, but guess what I learned? The paint can be cleaned up. I can clean it up, and my daughter can learn how to clean when she helps! “Everything can and will be cleaned up.” Now, years later, we paint at least once a week, and I can comfortably leave my 3.5-year-old alone at our kitchen table to play with play-dough. Rome wasn’t built in a day, friends. 

Set you and your kids up for success. This is something that deserves a whole blog post, but I’m going to sum it up in two paragraphs for you. When setting up activities, think ahead. Are you working with paint? Keep a wet rag close by for messes. Maybe today is rice sensory bin day? Don’t put the bin near the fridge, because when it inevitably spills, it will roll under there and you won’t ever want to set up a rice sensory bin again. Also, set your kids up for success. No child was born knowing how to play properly in dried rice and corn, they need boundaries and rules! Keep it simple, but keep them there. 

Don’t add too much rice, don’t give them access to too much paint, or too much water, etc. Use big blankets or dollar store table cloths and shower curtains to protect your floors. And know your exit plan. What will clean up look like? What will your child help with, and what will you take on? Read my whole list of sensory bin tips here.


I know, I know. This post can be just as overwhelming, if not more so than you were before. But take it in baby steps! Figure it out as you go! Your child isn’t looking for the perfectly curated bin with exactly the lessons and skills they need for their current age and stage. 

Your child is looking for an opportunity to play. To spend time with you. To just be a kid. These finite details aren’t here to scare you away or add more to your plate, it’s just a reference guide for when you need help. 

So let’s break it down to basics. 

How do you start a rice sensory bin? Open a bag of rice. Pour contents into a large bin or bowl. Add in a cup and spoon. Sit on the floor with your child and enjoy. 

It really is that simple. So, go play! Go have fun! And go let those kids explore! 

Why Picture Books In The Classroom?

Between Mary and I writing blog posts over the last few years, I think we’ve put together somewhere around 100 book lists. What can we say?! We are both book lovers! You can see Mary’s book round-up here. And I’ll be working on one in the coming months! 

But maybe we need to step back and focus on the why. Why books in the classroom? Why have Mary and I written endless lists and posts about reading and books? Here are a few reasons.

TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS

With the books, the characters in the books, and with reading. To see more on this idea, read Looking Into The Bond We Make With Literature.

TO SET THE FOUNDATION FOR LIFELONG READERS.

Especially in those early years, having the example of being read books can help curate a love for reading in children. 

TO LEARN HOW TO VISUALIZE

Reading books with pictures leads to reading chapter books and seeing the pictures in your mind. 

TO TAKE A BREAK

What better way to switch up the mood of the classroom than to pull out a picture book and get lost in a new world for a time? 

TO LEARN A LESSON 

Sometimes a good solution to learn a needed lesson is to let a beloved book character do the teaching. 

Here’s what Mary has to say on the subject: 

“[Picture books] make for outstanding anchor texts for students to learn small, targeted skills, both for writing and for social/emotional learning. Everyone should check out Jill Heise’s #classroombookaday for more on daily picture books! And regular fifth grade books for grade level texts to build up and transfer reading skills.”

What is your reason for reading picture books in your classroom? 

Parenting And Teaching Strong- Willed And Independent Kids

Strong-willed children. Independent children. You know them, raise them, teach them, and love them. But man, it can be so hard. So hard. I know this because I have a strong-willed child myself. I’ve been brainstorming my favorite tried and true ways to help foster this independence in children, whether they are the strong-willed type or not. It will mostly be in a bullet point list so that this doesn’t turn into a lengthy post.  

  1. Don’t be a helicopter mom.
    • Read more about my experience being a helicopter mom with both of my kids.
  2. Give kid access where possible. Can you imagine living in a house where everything is out of reach and inaccessible? Because that’s how your kids can feel. It is freeing for them to have everyday things on their level to have access to. 
    • Access to their dishes 
    • Access to electronics, with boundaries. 
    • Helping make meals and snacks
    • Access to snacks/ food- again with boundaries. 
    • Books and toys at their level. 
  3. Think “what can I not do” 
    • Can your child wipe down their high chair after a meal? 
    • Sweep the floor with a dustpan and small brush? 
    • Put items away? 
    • Tip: Give them specific tasks, not big tasks. 
      • Example: “Can you put this pair of shoes in your closet?” instead of “Please clean up the front room.” Younger kids can get so overwhelmed by these bigger tasks! Break them down. It takes a lot more conversation and working with them, but doing this can eventually lead to, “Can you please clean up the front room?” 
  4. Basic daily tasks they can do by themselves. 
    • Getting dressed (clothes at their level)
    • Brushing teeth 
    • Using the bathroom
    • Opening snacks and drinks 
    • Preparing meals 
    • Getting buckled in the car (with supervision) 
    • Helping grab items off the shelves in grocery stores. 
    • Opening doors for self and others. 
  5. Remember that struggles are okay. It’s okay if your child doesn’t get it right the first time or becomes frustrated when they can’t do a task. In the words of Daniel Tiger, “Keep trying, you’ll get better!” Always keep in mind that they are only (this many) years old. For example, when my daughter can’t get her shoes on by herself, I remind myself, “It’s okay, she’s only 3 years old.” to keep it in perspective that I shouldn’t be expecting her to act older than she is. 
  6. Remember that messes are okay. Learning and growing are messy and hard! Everything can and will be cleaned up. And I firmly believe that kids learn the responsibility of being clean when they are given the chance to get messy and clean up. It’s important that they are expected to clean up too! Even if it’s just a small portion of the mess. 
  7. Remember that getting hurt is okay if it’s not serious. A short tumble off the bottom step of a ladder, a little slip in the grass, and other small ways kids get hurt are how they learn to move their bodies without getting hurt someday. 
  8. Remember that you are the parent/ teacher and you have the right to any boundaries you want to set. Constantly be evaluating your boundaries to see if you need to give more or less freedom. Do what is comfortable for you! 
    • Ex: It’s okay for you to have this cupboard of dishes. But it’s not okay for you to pull out all of these dishes and spread them all over the kitchen. 
    • Ex: It’s okay for you to play on your tablet or watch TV, but I will set a timer for one hour and that’s all the screen time you can get for the day. 
    • Ex: It’s okay for you to play in the backyard by yourself, but I will close the gates so it is locked in and leave the window open so I can hear you if you need me. 
    • Ex: You can buckle yourself into the car by yourself, but I will check it when you’re done to make sure you are safe. 
    • Ex: You can ride your bike on the sidewalk by yourself, but you cannot go past that tree down the road, it is too far. 
  1. The power of choice is your BEST FRIEND when it comes to an independent-minded child. You choose what they can have, but the ultimate choice is in their hands. 
    • Ex: Do you want a PB&J for lunch or a ham sandwich? 
    • Ex: Do you want to go down the slide first, or swing first? 
    • Ex: You can wear a yellow shirt or a green shirt today, which shirt do you want? 
    • Ex: We need to go to Walmart and Costco today, which one should we go to first? 
    • Ex: Do you want to walk to the car, or do you want me to carry you? 
  2. Mantras you can teach your child. Read more about our experience using them.
    • “I can do it if I try!”
    • “I can do it if I practice!”
  3. Mantra for yourself. 
    • “Go for good enough” – How your child performs doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good enough. 
  4. Conversations/ questions to have with your strong-willed child about to attempt something or just have attempted something. These conversations can lead to good, independent decision making. 
    • “Why do you think that happened?”
    • “Show me how you like to do it!”
    • “What would happen if you did it this way?”
    • “What are all of our options?”  

What else would you add to this list? Bookmark it to save for later! This much information can be overwhelming to remember all at once, so keep this post tucked away and pull it out when you find yourself frustrated with your strong-willed child. 

Early Childhood Resources All In One Place!

Hi friends! A lot of my posts lately have been focused on early childhood and how we can foster this education as parents and teachers. It’s been my focus simply because it’s my daily life right now. I spend the majority of my day fostering the learning of a one-year-old and a three-year-old, so naturally, it’s where my thoughts have been centered.

Because I have been throwing this content at you so much, I felt like it needed a place where it’s all corralled for you for easier searching. Lo and behold! My early childhood page!

You can find the link to this new page here!

Featured on the page are sensory bin lists, tips, and recipes. Some thoughts on raising independent kids. Really great articles on PLAY. And bonus material on emotions in kids and using Myers- Briggs and Enneagram to understand your child better.

This list and page will be ever growing as I continue to create new content in this scope of ideas, so check back later for more articles. You can find this new page on our top banner under “blog”.

How To Dye Rice For Sensory Bins

Did you catch my post a few weeks ago on how to find success with dyed rice sensory bins? This post will give you tips on rice sensory bins, as well as our favorite tools for rice play. Today, I wanted to share how to make the dyed rice! Here’s my tried and true recipe plus some tips! This rice is taste-safe but does not mean it should be eaten by the handful. 

Materials: 

1 cup dry rice
1 tablespoon vinegar
Lots of food coloring! Liquid or Gel
Sandwich bags
Sheet pan
Wax paper/ parchment paper/ tin foil (optional but nice to have) 

Instructions: 

Place the rice and vinegar in a plastic sandwich bag. Squirt in lots of food coloring. The more food coloring, the deeper and better the color will turn out. 

Sandwich bag with rice, vinegar, and food coloring

Shake the bag until the coloring is evenly spread through the rice! 

Spread the rice on a sheet pan to dry. I like to cover my pan with parchment paper (or something similar) to keep the pan cleaner. If this isn’t possible, it’s fine to place the rice directly on the pan. In my experience, it has always washed off with a little soap and water 

Dump the rice on a sheet pan
Spread it thin. This is one cup of rice on one half of a standard size cookie sheet.

*The thinner you spread the rice, the faster it will dry. 

*For an even faster dry time, put in the oven on the lowest setting. If it’s a sunny day, place outside to dry. 

After about 30 minutes, you will have to break up chunks of rice that stick together.

The rice is dry once you can run your fingers through it and it doesn’t leave a residue of color on your fingers. 

Other Tips: 

Use the 1:1 ratio for rice and vinegar. You can do 2 cups of rice, 2 Tbs vinegar, and so on… 

The sandwich bag is a great way for kids to get involved in making the rice, they do great at mixing up the color into the rice! 

HOWEVER, we’ve had our fair share of little fingers puncture the ziplock bag, sending rice everywhere and food coloring places you don’t want. Teach your kids to mix the bag with flat hands and rub, like this!

If you’re looking to use less plastic, a glass bowl and spoon work great to mix as well. Make sure to rinse and dry the bowl and spoon before starting another color so you don’t mix colors.

Store in a gallon Ziploc bag or tupperware container. 

The rice smells strongly of vinegar for a time. Leave the baggie or container open all day or through the night to get rid of the smell before sealing and storing. Once the vinegar smell goes away, I have never found the strong smell to come back.

The rice can last for years and years stored in an airtight container!

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? 

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?