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! 

A Life-Changing Professor Teaching All Of Us

In college, I had this professor. You know the one that changes your life and puts you right on course for where you need to be? Yep, she’s the one. 

Dr. Mecham was my professor for my level two practicum (level four is student teaching, for perspective). On the very first day of class, she stood up in front of the roughly 150 students currently in the practicum and said, “This semester is going to be really hard. It will push you to a lot of limits and we will expect a lot from you. So if you feel like you need to switch to an easier major, perhaps engineering, then go ahead and talk to us and we can direct you to the correct advisors to help you make this switch.” 

I was blown away that she had the audacity to state that majoring in engineering would be an easier route than an education degree. I’ve never taken any engineering classes, so I cannot confirm or deny that her statements were true, but I will say that we were worked very hard by our professors and we were expected to perform to the highest standard that semester. 

During my practicum, it not only required 14 hours of classes a week but also being in an elementary school classroom every day of the semester working with a teacher to provide classroom experience. This time in the classroom was focused on working with students in small groups and one-on-one to slowly introduce us to eventually student teaching.

My practicum experience in the classroom was less than ideal, with a teacher that often sent me to the copy room to do mindless copy work and rarely let me work with students. There were multiple other problems I ran into, most of which I wish I would have been bold enough to stand up for myself, but at the time I wasn’t. 

After a semester of feeling discouraged and not very adequate as a teacher, I had my final interview with my professor, Dr. Mecham. I accomplished all of my school work, had a 4.0 GPA, and according to the books, it looked like I was the perfect candidate to continue my education degree.  However, my mental state said otherwise. Dr. Mecham was ready to pass me off and tell me I was ready to continue, but before so, she asked her final question that went something like, “Do you feel ready to move on and that you passed your level two practicum?” 

With tears in my eyes, I told her I couldn’t. I said that being a teacher must not be what I am supposed to do as a career, because I felt so inadequate in the classroom, and that I possibly needed to consider a new degree. 

She comforted me with compassion, asked details on why I was feeling this way, and reassured me that I wasn’t the problem, my situation was the problem. 

I left her classroom with a warm hug and felt better and more confident than ever before. She truly had just changed my life and kept me on the path as a teacher, one that I am still so happy to be on, even if I’m not actively teaching at the moment! 

A handful of times I ran into Dr. Mecham in grocery stores and other places throughout town. Every time she saw me she always stopped to say hello with a warm, welcoming smile. She always was ready to take the time to acknowledge an old student, which made me feel like a million bucks! 

About a year after being in her class, I was walking through campus with a new haircut. I happened to pass Dr. Mecham on my walk and the first thing she said was, “Oh cute new haircut! I like that style on you!” 

I want you to realize that Dr. Mecham hadn’t had me as a student in a full year. I had only seen her very briefly in passing a handful of times. And still, she recognized that I changed my hair! If you want to know the true definition of personal teaching, she is the icon for it. She also asked about my experience at college how far along I was in my program. I was happy to tell her that I would be student teaching soon, ready to take my final step in the program to reach graduation. She was elated for me! She knew how hard it was for me to get through my level two practicum and I knew she was the only reason I continued on. 

I thanked her again for telling me how truly hard it would be and preparing me to work hard. And for knowing me and my struggles through it all. I wasn’t just another student walking the halls of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education at Utah State University, I was a student of Dr. Mecham, someone she knew and cared about. And that made all the difference for me. 

I try to remember Dr. Mecham in my teaching experience. I try to get to know each of my students personally and pay attention to them as a human, not just someone to teach the curriculum to. 

And I strongly suggest you teach like Dr. Mecham too. 

You can read an interview I did with her earlier this year. Read her advice to pre-service teachers, it’s so good! 

 

Great List Of Elementary Aged Read Alouds

I’m a sucker for a good read aloud in the classroom!! This post is focusing on read-alouds for elementary-aged students. Please also note that they are equally as good for middle and high school ages! But these specific books are age-appropriate for these younger grades. 

Picture books:

The Little House. It takes a talented writer and illustrator to give a house such expression.

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits. 

The Book With No Pictures by B.J Novak. For when you just need a good laugh! It’s also excellent to teach how words can be so powerful and important in reading. 

The Day The Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

The Napping House by Audrey Wood. The rhythm of this book is so peaceful and nice, a great book when the class needs calming. 

I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont. I cannot read this book without shedding a tear! “I like myself! I’m glad I’m me. There’s no one else I’d rather be.” a message you really hope every one of your students knows. 

Chapter books:

Frindle by Andrew Clements

A Series Of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Such a fun series! I’m also a big advocate for reading the first book in a series to students in hope that they pick up books two, and three, and so on….

Nate The Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. Start them early with some good mystery books! 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. My new favorite! It’s written in verse, making it a unique chapter book. It’s a great read! 

What are your favorite elementary school read alouds? 

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. 

Let’s Get Behind This #ClearTheList Movement

If you’re an educator out there, please tell me you’ve heard of the #clearthelist campaign. If you haven’t please look into it! If you have, please make a wishlist!! Some background to the #clearthelist idea: one teacher in Texas named Courtney Jones used her social media as a powerful, powerful tool to share her Amazon wishlist with friends and family of different items she would need in her classroom. Which then spread to her sharing the idea as far and wide as she could. 

Teachers spend so much money out of pocket on supplies that are so beneficial to their students. And on top of that, there are so many generous donors out there willing to help how they can. Courtney’s goal was to connect the two, and she has very, very successfully! 

This campaign has gone so viral, even celebrities are posting about it. 

Sometimes, big companies choose one #clearthelist to actually…. Clear the list! Like how T-Mobile decided to help this teacher out. What warms my heart the most is that she turned around and tried to pay it forward to as many teachers as she could. 

What an amazing project started by this teacher! We love innovative thinkers who can use social media for good (for example, have you seen our yearly scholarship?)

Look how excited teachers get over these donations! 

For the past two school years, I have dedicated a small amount of money to donate to other’s #clearthelist Amazon wishlists. I typically donate to friends and family first, and then I choose a stranger from social media to donate to. 

Finding Amazon wishlists to donate to can be so easy for you as well! 

-Ask your friends and family that are educators if they have an Amazon wishlist they can share with you. 

– Do a quick social media search (on basically any social media site) with the hashtag #clearthelist. Read through other teacher’s stories and why they need the materials they do. Then choose one to donate to! 

There are Amazon lists with $3 items, and some with $500+ items. Even just sparing $3 for an educator can make the biggest difference in their classroom! 

Do you have any success stories with #clearthelist you want to share? Leave it in the comments! We would love to hear! 

Graphic by Kelsie Housley

Amidst The Negative, You’re Doing A Good Job

One month before my first-grade year started, I received a letter from my teacher welcoming me to class. To start off my full career as a student, this was a great way to begin. I beamed with pride reading the words my soon-to-be teacher left for me in my mailbox. I knew this year would be extraordinary. 

Our first library trip as a first-grade class was overwhelming for me. I loved reading and I loved books, but I had a hard time choosing with all of the options in front of me. When library time was over and I was about to leave the room empty-handed of something I loved so much, tears overcame my little 6-year-old body. My teacher ran to my aid and led me straight to the shelf I never knew I needed. Books by Ann M. Martin. The Babysitters Club. She told me I would really enjoy them and that it was perfect based on my reading level. This simple act gave me the confidence in her that I could trust her judgment and that she would always be in my corner when I needed her. 

Fast forward to the winter. I was out playing in the snow with friends, too far from the school to hear the recess bell. I walked into the classroom 20 minutes late (it felt like over an hour to me). I felt bad for not following protocol and not paying closer attention to the bell, I knew I would be in trouble. However, it got worse when the blue board came into play… 

The blue board was a public shame. It was a big board with two columns and everyone’s name running down the left, white side. When an individual did something wrong (like come in from recess 20 minutes late), their name was moved to the other side of the board, the blue side. No one wanted to be on the blue board. But walking into my own fate, my name was moved for the first, and only time that year, and my soul was CRUSHED. I felt like my whole relationship and trust with my beloved teacher had shattered in seconds because of one mistake I made. 

Slowly throughout the year, the trust was rebuilt and I truly loved my teacher and the relationship I had with her, but I always held the blue board moment in the back of my mind. I held it so close that at the end of the school year I said to myself, “Someday, I’m going to be a teacher, and I will never use a blue board. That’ll show her!” 

Fast forward even further to my experience as a pre-service teacher. Many college classes spoke of clip charts or “shame boards” and it solidified in me that what my teacher did in first-grade was wrong. I had a small run-in with a clip chart in a different classroom, you can read about the experience here.  During this very brief time of using a clip chart, I still held my resentment for my teacher’s use of the blue board in my heart. I knew how much it affected me, and I truly did not want that for any other student I taught. 

A few years later after I had graduated with my teaching degree and did my long term sub job in a first-grade classroom, I unexpectedly ran into my past teacher while on vacation. I sat and spoke with her for an hour and told her about my experience subbing the same age of kids that she taught for years and years. I asked her advice on certain situations, how she would have handled some of the harder kids I had to teach, and ultimately thanked her for being such an influence on my life, especially for helping me keep my love of reading. I never mentioned the blue board, because even though it was still something that I thought about often, I held no resentment 20 years later. 

But in the conversation, she said something that really stuck out to me. She said:  

“I didn’t teach in a time of educational blogs and information readily at our fingertips, learning new teaching methods took a lot of searching and dedication. I made a lot of mistakes and I worry that I negatively affected the kids that I taught. But then I hear from you the successes you’ve had and it makes me feel better, so thank you for sharing.” 

I found this so interesting that she spoke these words to me since I had not brought up the negative interaction I had with her. I held these words close and silently forgave her for putting my name on the blue board years and years ago. It also made me think about my own interactions with children. 

How have I negatively affected students? 

What positive interactions have I had? 

Also, how many more of my past teachers and professors out there are beating themselves up because they weren’t the perfect teacher every day, and could use an encouraging message from past students? 

Teachers invest their whole heart and soul into educating human beings and often focus on the bad days and interactions. Let’s all take a minute to remember that even if you made a mistake, you’re still a great teacher, and your students still love you. 

You’re doing a good job. 

There’s A Lot Going On In The World. But We Can Do This.

I apologize for being somewhat distant from this blog for a few days. I try to post as regularly as I can, usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday each week. People like consistency!

Lately I’ve been processing so many different situations and emotions.

How I personally can change my home and my community to support Black lives matter. Here are a few books we added to our home that was a small step in the right direction.

My feelings on opening schools this fall considering the COVID-19 pandemic, and worrying about my kids’ colds they’ve been fighting. Something that didn’t cross my mind as worrisome until a pandemic brought added anxiety into everything.

Keeping all of my teacher and administrator friends in mind as new rules, regulations, processes, information, etc., come out regarding the next school year, and finding ways I can support them.

Considering whether or not it’s a good idea for me to go back to substitute teaching considering the risks.

How well positive reinforcement is working for my daughter’s behavior right now, and how much my own attitude, anxiety, and feelings rub off on my kids. An important thing to remember during such a roller coaster of a year.

Processing the information being shared on child trafficking and deciding how and where I have the ability to help.

It’s not secret that in the education world and our children’s lives are surrounded with uncertainty and scary situations. Teacher’s across the nation and the globe are up at night thinking, planning, worrying, and more. Parents are doing the same.

But deep breaths everyone, WE CAN DO THIS!

Where are your thoughts and feelings in all of this? What are your feelings on going back to work and sending your kids back to school? What are you doing to cope with the uncertain times?