I saw letter tubs in the Lakeshore catalogue last year and I fell in love…how awesome would it be to get little tubs of objects for each letter of the alphabet, ready to grab whenever you needed them! I seriously debated buying the set, however when I saw the price, I hesitated. I love buying amazing resources for my classroom, but have a really hard time justifying spending a lot of money on something I don’t know for sure I will use all the time/love.
So, me being me, I decided I’d make my own! (And yes I’m aware that I am completely I’m crazy… my teacher partner agrees). At the beginning, I definitely thought that it would be easy peasy, lemon squeezy. It hasn’t been crazy difficult, there have been some challenges!
The first thing I did was (big surprise) I checked out Pinterest (honestly, when I started teaching Pinterest didn’t exist and I really don’t know how I survived!). I found lots of great lists of things to put in the tubs for each letter and I started pinning like mad!
The next thing I did was look for containers similar to the ones from Lakeshore. On one of my many trips to Artsjunktion I actually found some recycled containers from the actual Lakeshore alphabet sounds product (along with a couple for their rhyming set…which is next on my tub making hit list (especially because it’s apparently discontinued now!)), but it wasn’t a complete set, and none of the objects were actually in the containers anymore. What was good about this find, was I was able to see what size of container they used and find my own! Enter one of my other favourite teacher stores – Amazon!! I found these containers, 36 of them actually, for a pretty decent price! I will admit, there are not as strong as the lakeshore ones, as I did accidentally crack one a while back, but I was able to put some packing tape on it and it seems OK. The joys of ordering from Amazon is that my containers arrived in 2 days. (Sidebar: having a Prime Membership means I have access to Amazon Music – and I use it to play classical music in the classroom when we are working with no adds!)
Next up was the trickier part…collecting all the bits! I started by just rummaging around my classroom. I went through toys – animals, play food, dolls, etc. and collected bits I didn’t think the kids would miss (I also did this after the end of the school year…so really the new students wouldn’t be missing something they never knew was gone!). That gave me a fair amount of stuff, which I stashed away in a little drawstring bag. What ended up being a bit of pay dirt was my mom! Turns out I got the collector of random crap gene from her! When I mentioned I needed stuff for the tubs, she and my nieces (helpers extraordinaire) started digging through the craft bins and boxes finding little treasures (like a tiny Canada flag pin or a thimble). The best part…this stuff was all free!! So, if you have a person like my mom in your life – ask them to check their stash for some stuff!
But sadly, I could not find enough free stuff to fill the tubs with just rummaging around and pestering my mom so, I hit up Dollarama and the Dollar Tree (seriously love those places). There I was able to pick up lots of little random things like toy cars, candles, feathers, and even Elsa and Olaf miniatures (sadly I haven’t found a mini Anna yet). Another great place to find stuff was Michaels! I know it can be expensive, believe me, I have spent far too much there many times. However, I went armed with my 40% coupon, my Manitoba Teachers Society member card (teachers get 15% off at Michaels…even when you travel to the US (I always take my teacher card to the states when I go, just in case), and a keen eye for the discount bins! I found some great stuff when I took the time to scavenge! Michaels have a great clearance section (not just the bins that are usually by the register – there is often a whole aisle of discounted stuff hidden somewhere in the store…mine is located between the picture frames and the cake decorating stuff). There I found that often the stuff for those little Christmas/Halloween/every holiday possible villages is often on sale and perfect for letter tubs! I picked up a little police officer, a box of popcorn, a tree, and an apron for the tubs. Another great find at Michaels are the Toobs , they are around $10 – but with a 40% coupon you can get quite a few objects for your tubs! I think I bought one with bugs and musical instruments (not on the same day…so I could you multiple coupons 🙂 ) . I also found around where the Toobs are, bins that have stuff that I think is intended for goody bags. They had a ton neat eraser packs – fruits, food, animals, etc. Those all pulled apart into smaller pieces, but I just super glued them together!
I also hit up is a local wholesaler called Gales. It’s a bit of a hidden treasure, definitely not the glitz and glam of Michaels (actually a bit dark and dusty), but they have some great (and some strange) stuff if you are willing to search for it! There I found some doll house furniture, some tiny birds, and a bag of tiny squirrels (I only needed one…so now I randomly send a friend squirrels in the divisional mail for fun). If you are in Winnipeg, and have a membership (that part is a little annoying…you have to be a member to shop there (I used my mom’s membership)) you can get some cool crafty stuff.
At this point. the tubs are definitely not all full, some are actually pretty darn empty but they have enough stuff for the most part to be used! Storage was also a bit of a challenge, until I realized I had a wooden mailbox thingy that I wasn’t using! My sister built it for my back when I was teaching grade 2, but for K it didn’t quite work. I had used it to hold daily 5 books, kids artwork from playtime, and random stuff, so using it to house my letter tubs seemed perfect and it just happened to be the perfect size! I think there were greater powers in the universe working there – because if you teach K you know finding perfect storage for things like this (that works in your space and isn’t expensive) is a miracle!
So, you’re probably wondering, what the heck I use these tubs that are taking so much time/energy to make for! So far, as this is the first year I’m using them, they’ve had 2 main functions.
Letter Tub Uses:
- Whole Group: When I’m introducing a new letter, I put all the objects into a bag and have the students sit in a circle. Then I take one object out at a time and the kids pass it around. I don’t tell them what it is. I want them to be curious about the objects and to start thinking about what they are and what they have in common. After all the objects have gone around the circle, I pick up each item and ask the kids what it is. Some are super easy (like the Dog) and others are a little harder (like a Dime). After we’ve named all the objects I ask if anyone knows what letter they all start with. The first time I did this activity, I just asked what was the same about them….apparently that was not the right question to ask, as the majority were pretty stumped (the closest thing to a correct answer was “they’re small”). Now that we’ve been doing this for a while, the kids know they are looking for what letter each object starts with! Today I passed around the objects for K and it was a pretty interesting discussion about whether or not it was K or C.
- Small Groups: My lit support teacher and I do small groups 3 times a cycle. I work with the students who are struggling to pick up letter identification/sounds. I found using the objects from the letter tubs really helpful for those kids. With letter sounds that are tricky to tell apart, like M and N, I put all the objects from those tubs into a basket. Then my group and I talked about what sounds those letters make, and I placed flash cards for each letter (with a picture) on the table. Then, the kids reached into the basket (I held it so they couldn’t see what they were choosing) and picked an object. If they knew what letter it was, they placed it in the appropriate basket. If they didn’t, as a whole group we talked about what it was and what sound it made.
What I really love about these letter tubs is the hands on aspect of them. As much as showing the kids a picture of nail or a bottle of ketchup is helpful, there is something about holding that object in their hands that makes that connection between letters and sounds stronger.
So…if you’ve gotten this far (thanks) you are probably looking for a list of what’s in my tubs (and pictures!). So here is it…
What’s in my Letter Tubs
Just a heads up…these are still a work in progress. Some tubs are very full, and others are very empty. I don’t have the X tub pictured…because it has nothing in it, yet.
As well, if there are objects around my room/school that go with the tubs I will add those. I put everything in a fairly big drawstring bag, so when we did the letter K I added a bottle of ketchup! I may steal a mini packet of ketchup next time I’m at a fast food place and use it instead, but in a fix the big bottle was perfect!
The labels on the tubs are just made with full page labels, which I cut…this was before I realized I could use my Cricut to cut out all the labels for me…next time I’ll do it better!
Thanks for reading – hope you found something helpful. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section! (also if you have any great things to add that I’ve missed, let me know!!)