Morning Tubs (Ideas, Management, and More)

I have been intrigued by the idea of morning tubs for the past few years. Starting the day with play based learning just seemed so developmentally perfect to me. However, it wasn't really a viable option for me until this year. And, let me tell you, they are the best.

Morning Tub Ideas

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This summer, I spent some time reading (and rereading) blog posts from The Brown Bag Teacher. I used her information and suggestions to formulate a morning tub system that works for me.

I love that the kids start their day with a small chunk of time that lets them just be kids. They get time, right from the start, to interact and play. It's a great way to get that "out of their system" so they can focus on their learning.

Morning Tubs
Morning tubs are a hands-on alternative to morning work. Instead of completing a worksheet, or filling in an agenda, the kids are touching, creating, thinking, talking, sharing, and having a great time. Additionally, depending upon the kind of materials you put out, your students can work on their fine motor skills.

Through play, they learn to problem solve and interact with their peers. It's a non-threatening way to ease into the day, which for some kids is huge.

How I Manage Morning Tubs
I have five table groups in my classroom. There are anywhere from 4 to 6 kids at a table group. Every day, each table group gets a new tub of materials. The students get 7 minutes to use the materials, and 2 minutes to clean them up and put them away.

We have a few rules:
  • No complaining about the materials in your bin.
  • Work nicely: share materials, use kind words, and work together.
  • Use the materials appropriately (no flicking or throwing materials across the room).
  • The tubs can be used on the floor, so long as the whole group agrees.
  • Use appropriate voice levels.
  • Clean up within specified time.
Here are a few more particulars:

  • If a student doesn't like the materials at their table, they have the option of silent reading instead.
  • While the tubs are in use, the students are expected to use "level 2" voices (table talk voices). If they are too loud, they could lose their tub.
  • If a specific student is having a hard time sharing with the group, or being kind, they lose the privilege of using the materials the rest of the morning.
  • When it's time to clean up, they must do so at a "level 0" (silence). If the class struggles with a quiet, and speedy, clean up they don't get morning tubs the following day. 
  • Voices aside, students are not allowed to throw materials into the tubs. They must place them into the tubs carefully, without making extra noise.
The use of tubs has so many benefits, but ultimately, it is a privilege to get to use them. So, I do hold the students accountable. We have had days where the tubs were off limits so we could revisit expectations.

How I Store Morning Tubs
These are the 10 drawer rolling carts from Michaels. They are perfect for storing and presenting morning tub materials. The materials are placed in the drawers.

Each morning, I remove a tray and place it at a table group. When it's time to clean up, the drawer is placed back into the cart.

I numbered each drawer with vinyl numbers (see top photo). This helps me make sure that the drawers are placed back into the carts in the proper order. The square number tags are attached with velcro and are used to note which table group gets that particular tub of materials.

Every day, the tubs go back into the rolling carts in numerical order (vinyl numbers) and the table group cards are moved to the next tub in the rotation. This means that the students get to use a variety of materials throughout the week and a few weeks will pass before they use the same tub again. This eliminates burnout and keeps the kids excited about the materials.

What I Put in My Morning Tubs
Anything I think the kids will love to use. I'm not picky, and neither are they. I have lots of building materials, as well as some materials that are meant to encourage imaginative thinking. Take a peek!

Beads are perfect for fine motor development. Plus, they are fun. I use pony beads mixed with some animal beads. My kids use pipe cleaners to string the beads, but you could use lacing strings too!

I also have some alphabet lacing letters. The kids love stringing together favorite words, especially their names.

The drawer below the lacing letters features some felt pieces that I found at the Target Dollar Spot over the summer. I got some plain felt (off the bolt) from Hobby Lobby and cut it into 12x18 inch pieces. The large pieces of blue felt serve as a background, and are folded and stored at the bottom of the tub. The kids place the cute pieces from the Dollar Spot on the larger pieces of felt to build scenes.

These plastic animals (and a few trees and fences) are a bigger hit with the kids than I thought they would be. They build scenes and engage in imaginative play. It makes my heart happy to see that.

The drawer below the animals contains small tiles that the kids use to make words. I've had these for a while, and since they weren't seeing much action, I decided to put them in a tub.

This Melissa and Doug building set is great. I found it on clearance at Target, but Amazon sells it as well. The kids work together to make all kinds of interesting creations. Plus, it's great for fine motor skills.

Below the wooden building set are our snowflake blocks. These are lots of fun too! Currently the kids love building rainbow patterned wands. They often work together to make really long "trains" of blocks.

These brain flakes (similar to the snowflake blocks) are fun and easy to use too. They are also great for fine motor skills while allowing students to be creative.

I also put out snap cubes. These were some extra cubes I had on hand (left over from an old math program), so I put them in a tub. My students love using them to build tall towers, walls, and other creative structures.

I saw these balance toys in the Target Dollar Spot over the summer, and decided to give them a try because the price couldn't be beat. I got two sets, and I'm glad I did. The kids really, really like them. You can find similar balance toys on Amazon.

The dominoes are left over from when we used Everyday Math. They make for a great morning tub now!

Finger puppets are a fun morning tub too. I was worried that my second graders would think they were too babyish, but I was wrong. They are perfect for imaginative play.

The drawer below the puppets is filled with square tiles. Another math program "left over." The kids typically stack them or arrange them to make patterns or pictures.

LEGOs...a no brainer. Kids love them. They build all sorts of things with them. I got mine at Walmart last year (Black Friday deal). Keep you eyes peeled for deals, they pop up around the holidays.

Below the LEGOs are our building block bars. They're fun, colorful, and easy to use.

Shown below is a gear set that I found at Costco. They are fun, and the kids really like them, but they are kind of big and actually take up two drawers.

The magnetic blocks in the second drawer are fun too. These blocks tend to be really pricey, but I got lucky one day and grabbed this set on Amazon as a lightning deal. It isn't a huge set, but the kids love it and do build creative things.

These hashtag blocks are super small but they let the kids be creative as they build. Plus, they work on fine motor skills. I found these in the Target Dollar Spot over the summer. And, I basically wiped out their entire supply when I bought them. Haha!!

The foam pattern blocks are from our math program. The kids like to use them to create pictures and patterns.

Where I Got My Materials
Truthfully, I purchased most of them. But not all at once. I've accumulated things over time and have used them for different purposes in my classroom up until deciding to use them as morning tub materials. Many of these materials were once part of my "Fun Friday" stash. I just repurposed them into morning tubs.

Some of the materials are from our current math program, or left over from previous math programs. In other words, they were things I had on hand that weren't really being used for much.

My favorite places to find materials include:
As soon as my own kiddo outgrows her toys, I plan to add many of them to my morning tub rotations. So, don't forget to raid your own kids' toy stash!

Donors Choose as an option for getting materials like these in your classroom. Amazon even allows you to create a wish list that can be shared with your students' families. Also, don't be afraid to ask your own friends and family to gift an item to your classroom. Many times, our loved ones are willing to purchase something that we want/need for our classrooms.

Click HERE for a direct link to my Morning Tub Ideas page on Amazon.


Morning Tub Management Tips

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  1. Thanks for listing your rules, that really helped me think through this for my own classroom!

  2. Thanks for all the wonderful morning tub ideas! Approx how long do they play with the tubs in the morning?

  3. I can't wait to try this! I plan to start my year off with morning tubs next school year. Thank you!


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