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Setting Up Morning Work Bins

What teacher wouldn’t want to start their morning with less stress for themselves and their students? Who wouldn’t want mornings to be the best time of the day? I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t. But, too often, the thought of starting something new paralyzes us into doing nothing. And so, there are still teachers who struggle with the morning arrival routine. I can help you with that. Setting Up Morning Work Bins doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Let me show you how.

Why Morning Work Bins

The reasons why you should consider using morning work bins in your classroom are numerous, but let me just share why I started using them so long ago. Back when I started in kindergarten, I had this naive idea that my students will arrive at school each morning, well-rested, fed, and ready to start the day. They would march would all march into my classroom, remove their things and get right to their seats where they would quietly complete a standards-based worksheet while I would have time to collect lunch money and notes from home and take attendance or attend to whatever else needed to be addressed at that time. But after teaching kindergarten for about 5 minutes, I understood very quickly that my idea was a big fat fantasy.

Instead of compliant kindergartners, I had students wandering in from the playground, one was crying because they missed their dog, 3 were hungry, 2 had shoes that needed to be tied, and they all needed to go to the bathroom but there was only one potty. Of the ones that had actually made it to a table and found the ‘engaging worksheet,’ one had decided to scribble over the top of it, one had taken the scissors and was cutting it into little pieces and 4 thought it was too easy and had found the items from my ‘inside recess’ tubs and were making their own fun. I still hadn’t taken attendance, there was a lunch count that needed to be turned in, notes from parents to be read, and 2 sweet babies that just weren’t able to hold it and now needed a change of clothing!

The face below could be the poster child for that morning! I hated mornings, my students hated mornings and I knew that something had to change.

So instead of mornings, mornings now look more like the picture below. Students are dispersed throughout the classroom, working with other students on engaging, fun activities that are focused on fine motor, but that also address essential skills. It isn’t FLUFF. It isn’t ‘just play.’ It’s meaningful and important kindergarten work.

Benefits of Morning Work Bins

Implementing morning work bins into my daily routine has changed and made my teaching life infinitely better. My students come to class excited to see what they will be using in their bins that day. They come in quickly and take care of their things. Then they can grab breakfast if they need it, and use the bathroom at their convenience. As they use the engaging morning work bin activities, they are actively moving about the classroom, choosing a comfortable place to work and engaging with their peers. All that chit-chat and those wiggles are getting taken care of before I start whole group instruction.

But more importantly, morning work in my classroom keeps students engaged in activities that promote fine motor development. And, it does it while focusing on essential skills for kindergarten. These stations build student confidence and my kindergarten friends feel successful.

Designing Your Own Morning Work Bins

Of course, your morning work bins and activities do not have to look exactly like mine. You may have different goals and a different vision of what you want your bins and this time of day to look like. That’s ok. Just make sure you take some time to jot down what you are looking to gain from morning work. I am happy to share what I came up with for my own classroom. When I thought about morning work, this is what my wish list looked like . . .

Making a Plan

Now for the nitty-gritty details of organizing and structuring your morning work bins. You know what happens when you don’t have a good plan don’t you? You get chaos. Kindergarten does not work in chaos. So to avoid it, I asked myself these simple questions which helped to organize my morning work details.

How Many Activities Would I Need?

For my classroom, I planned on using morning work bins four times a week, leaving Friday morning for computer work. That means that in a given month, I would usually need somewhere between 12-16 morning work bin activities. Students would only attend each bin once in a given month. At the end of the month, bin activities would change.

This would mean I would need a system that could hold at least 12 bin activities with the possibility of adding more. I chose this 12-drawer system and use the bottom shelves to house extra activities in separate totes if needed. This drawer system has lasted for over 10 years and has been very easy for students to manage.

How Many Students?

These morning work activities are not meant to be done in silence. I want my students to be able to have conversations with their partners. This time is perfect for visiting and sharing with their peers. It gets it out of their system so that when it’s time to learn, they are ready to listen.

However, I find that when there are more than two students at a station, the noise level can get out of hand. By keeping two students per bin, students can spread out around my room and the noise level is very manageable.

Choosing partners to work together is a bit of a work of art. I typically like to place students together that might not normally choose to be together. I find this helps build new relationships with my students. Being partnered with different students exposes them to new friends they may not have met yet. Students keep their same partner for the entire month and then I switch them up. When students come into class in the morning, they simply walk to the morning work bin pocket chart, locate their name, and find the corresponding numbered drawer. At the end of the day, these numbers move down.

How Long Does Morning Work Last?

When I first started offering Morning Work in my classroom, these activities would last between 15-20 minutes. But a few years into it, ‘breakfast in the classroom’ was introduced in our classrooms. I thought this was going to make morning work impossible, but I just needed to make some minor adjustments. First of all, I try to have two dedicated tables for my breakfast eaters. Because my students were anxious to get to their bins, they don’t tend to dawdle at breakfast. They quickly eat and get to their bins. So now morning work and breakfast together last around 20-25 minutes.

Tips for Making Morning Work Independent

The whole goal of morning work bins is to create activities that would give my students extra practice in essential skills. But I also needed to be able to complete the necessary chores of a teacher’s morning. If I have to manage materials and bins, that defeat one of the main goals of morning work. So setting up these bins so that they can be managed by students independently is a must. That means that the bins or drawers need to be located in a place where they are accessible to students. It also means teaching students how to select appropriate areas to work.

You should Plan on spending time modeling and practicing what your expectations are for different materials that students will use throughout the year. This time spent during the first weeks of school teaching students how to find their name and their corresponding bins as well as managing materials will be invaluable and make morning work your favorite time of the day too.

If You’d Like to Know More About Morning Work Bins

Check out all my blog posts about morning work bins and the resources I use each month by clicking HERE. You will find links to my blog posts and material lists. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

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Setting up your classroom for successful morning work bins just got easy. These classroom tested tips will insure that you start your year out right with routines and expectations that make morning work the best part of your day. With engaging activities that provide students with practice with essential skills while building fine motor, this morning work bin set up is just what you need in kindergarten or any primary grade.

Marsha Moffit McGuire

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