Building a strong classroom community helps your students feel welcomed, valued, and connected to each other. Being a teacher of very young students, I’ve always strived to have a classroom where my students feel safe, loved, and where they WANT to come to every day. A great way to help build a positive classroom environment is to use the bucket filler strategy. It is a concept that is simple for young students to understand and encourages good behavior and kindness to others. In this post I’m sharing some of my top bucket filler activities.
Bucket Filler Books
The bucket filler concept became popular because of several children’s books. I use Tom Rath’s How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids book to introduce my students to the bucket filler concept and then follow up with Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud.
The basic gist of the books and bucket filler theme is that we all carry around invisible buckets that represent our level of happiness. Our buckets get filled when we receive love and happiness from others or when we spread love and happiness to others. When our buckets are full, we feel happy.
Our buckets spill or empty when others are mean to us, when we feel sad or when we are cruel to others and “dip” out of their buckets. When our buckets are empty, we feel sad.
The objective is to keep everyone’s bucket full by being bucket fillers, not bucket spillers or dippers. Bucket fillers fill each others’ buckets by being kind, following the class rules, sharing, and caring for each other.
I also like to read these 2 additional Carol McCloud books:
Bucket Filling from A to Z: The Key to Being Happy
Fill a Bucket: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Young Children
Visual Explanation of Bucket Filling & Spilling
Since I work with young students, I like to use visual explanations as much as possible to help them understand concepts. This is an activity that you can choose to do when first explaining the bucket filler strategy or after reading any of the bucket filler books previously mentioned.
Make a bucket by attaching a pipe cleaner to the top of a Styrofoam or Dixie Cup to resemble a bucket handle.
You can use real water, water beads, blue pom-poms, foam heart or star shapes as bucket fillers. I’ve found that water beads and pom-poms work well.
Show students the bucket. Explain that it is similar to our buckets, however we can see this bucket and our buckets are invisible.
Give students scenarios and have them tell you whether to put more bucket fillers in the bucket or dump some out of the bucket. For example, say “sharing your book with a friend” and then have the students tell you whether to put more bucket fillers in or dump some out. Continue in this manner until you feel the students grasp the concept.
As you go, stop when the level is low and ask them how a person feels when their bucket is almost empty (sad) and then ask them again when the bucket is full (happy). This simple visual explanation really helped my younger students understand the concept better.
Bucket Filler Anchor Chart
I like to use an anchor chart that shows the difference between a “bucket filler” and a “bucket spiller” (or “dipper”) because it is a good classroom management tool that can serve as a visual reminder to students of classroom expectations and also help them self-monitor their behavior. It also helps them understand how their actions can affect others.
It is important that you create the anchor chart with your students. When students are involved in the process, they are more likely to comprehend and remember the lesson.
As a class, we come up with examples of Bucket Fillers and Bucket Spillers. I use the term “Bucket Spillers” when first introducing the concept because it rhymes with “bucket fillers” and is therefore easier for my younger students to remember. After we read the Carol McCloud books, I introduce the “Bucket Dipper” term.
I write the examples of the Bucket Fillers under the Bucket Fillers heading on the anchor chart and the examples of the Bucket Spillers / Dippers under the Bucket Spillers or Bucket Dippers heading.
Bucket Filler Pocket Chart Sorting Activity
To help reinforce the bucket filler concept, I create a pocket chart sorting activity for my students that matches the anchor chart we created. Young students have a natural ability to sort and make sense of the world, so I capitalize on that by having them sort the behaviors under the correct headings.
Bucket Filler Class Pledge
We say this bucket filler class pledge together as a class during morning meeting. It not only reminds students of good bucket filling behavior, but also helps to build our classroom community.
I hang a copy in the classroom as a reminder and also give each student their own copy.
Bucket Filler Sorting Page
In order to check each student’s individual understanding of the bucket filler concept, I use this printable cut and paste page. Students cut apart the pictures along the bottom of the page and paste them in the correct boxes.
If we have read the Carol McCloud books prior to doing this activity, I use this Bucket Dippers version:
Bucket Filler Bulletin Board
I love using this bulletin board display as a reminder of our bucket filling behaviors and pledge!
Students cut out and decorate a bucket, then draw / write something that they do to be a good bucket filler. I also provide them with hearts, stars, and water drops with hearts as fillers for their buckets.
I display all of their buckets around the title “We are bucket fillers not bucket spillers” along with our class pledge.
Bucket Filler Classroom Management Activity
I have used this classroom management strategy at the beginning of the year to help students with learning our class rules and behavior.
First, each student makes their own bucket by decorating a Styrofoam cup to resemble themselves (I make one too!). We use crayons or markers and wiggly eyes to decorate the bucket and pipe cleaners for the bucket handles.
I use pom-poms as “warm fuzzies” or bucket fillers for students’ individual buckets. When I see them doing something nice or behaving, I drop a pom-pom (a “warm fuzzy”) or several, depending on the behavior, into their buckets. When they misbehave, pom-poms are taken out of their buckets. I also have a teacher bucket as well and fill it when the class is behaving / listening and take out of it when the class is misbehaving.
When a child’s bucket is filled, they earn a reward. Here are some of the rewards I have used:
Bucket Filler Awards
This award can be paired with a special privilege such as lunch with the teacher, extra play time, picking your class job, etc.
When the class has earned a reward, I like to make little “treat buckets” by putting pipe cleaners on Dixie Cups to resemble bucket handles, drawing a smiley face on the cups, filling them with Skittles, Lucky Charms cereal, Starburst, or blue jello to resemble water, and then adding reward tags.
I’ve also filled buckets with little trinkets from the Target Dollar Spot, Dollar Store, Really Good Stuff, etc. (pencils, erasers, stickers, spring toys, etc.).
Since my students looooove earning reward tags for their necklaces, I created bucket filler reward tags for them to earn when they exhibit bucket filling behaviors.
Bucket Full of Compliments Activity
This is an activity that boosts classroom community as well as moral.
For younger students, this activity is best done as a small group activity that is led by a teacher, parent, or volunteer.
Older students can complete the activity in groups OR it can be an ongoing activity for the entire class.
Students can fill their classmates’ buckets by writing compliments or kind words on heart cut-outs, attaching them to craft sticks, and placing them in each other’s buckets.
For a small group activity, have each student write a kind word or words about each person in the group on a heart, cut out the hearts, glue each heart onto a craft stick, and then place the sticks in the correct student buckets.
Younger students may need assistance writing on the hearts.
Each student’s bucket gets filled with compliments from their classmates 🙂
This activity can also be an ongoing activity where students can give a classmate a heart in their bucket whenever they wish. The teacher can also give out hearts. The heart patterns, craft sticks, and glue can be kept in the writing center so students can access them anytime. Each student’s bucket can be kept on their desk or in a general area so that students can access them and put the compliment heart sticks in them at any time.
I found rainbow colored craft sticks at the Target Dollar Spot that were perfect for this activity!