Find inexpensive learning materials for your preschool classroom with these tips and tricks. A great resource for teachers and parents who are interested in getting classroom supplies on a tight budget.
I love finding a bargain. How about you? Buying fun and engaging materials for learning activities can get pricey. Here are 8 different places that you can get inexpensive manipulatives, learning materials and art supplies for your classroom.
Recycled Art Supply Shop
If you are lucky, you will find an organization in your area that sells recycled supplies to artists and teachers. Do a Google search for recycled art supplies in your nearby city. I currently live in the Austin area and found Austin Creative Reuse. They collect supplies from business and take donations from individuals and sell them at a steep discount in their retail store. If you have a similar place in your area, please share in the comments at the end of this article.
What can you get at a recycled art supply shop?
You never know what you are going to find in one of these shops. but I have found paper, poster board, foam core, yarn, fabric samples, wallpaper books, counter top samples, tiles, binders, tape, buttons, etc.
If you have issues with second hand materials, you might get over it when you realize that can find amazing things at bargain prices at thrift shops. There are a couple tricks to shopping at thrift stores. I have found that not all thrift shops are created equally. So, you might have to shop around until you find a gem. I look for a shop that has a good assortment of children’s books and games/toys.
When you find a thrift store that is good, the second trick is to frequent that shop. Thrift stores get new donations daily, so you never know what you will find. When I was living in Ohio I took my kiddo to speech therapy and OT once a week. There was a great thrift shop in the same funky neighborhood as his therapy center. I often ran over to take a look while he was in therapy and found some amazing bargains.. Since moving to Texas, I haven’t found a great thrift store nearby – but I know there is a gem out there waiting for me.
What can you get a thrift shop?
Books – Browse through and you will find some great titles. Sometimes a former teacher will drop off her entire collection. Above are just a few of the books that I picked up at thrift stores…most for just 50 cents!!
Games, Puzzles, & Game Parts – Of course you can use games and puzzles as is, but don’t forget to think outside the box. Game pieces can be re-used for other purposes. You may find letter dice, fun spinners, etc. The little penguins in the Penguin Pile Up game can be used in a sensory table or on a ten frame game. I often find plastic poker chips that can be used for counting activities and name puzzles.
Craft Supplies – I have found yarn, buttons, stickers, marbles, novelty vase fillers, silk flowers, rubber bands
Dramatic Play Items – Silk flowers, kitchen items, costumes (especially around Halloween), old cell phones, preemie clothes for baby dolls.
Misc. – muffin tins, divided trays, etc, plastic animals (I hit the jackpot here one time), training chopsticks, sorting baskets. You just never know what you will find from visit to visit, and for me that is part of the fun.
Garage Sales or Yard Sales
Like thrift stores, some amazing things can be found at garage sales. I have found a few tricks to successfully shopping at garage sales.
- Look in affluent neighborhoods, but not neighborhoods that are too affluent. I find that people who have visited a garage sale or two themselves have a better handle on pricing items.
- Find a neighborhood garage sale event. This way you can park the car and walk around for awhile instead of driving from neighborhood to neighborhood.
- You can often make a deal at a garage sale to get an extra bargain.
- If you are lucky, you might find a former teacher having a garage sale. Browse through local garage sale listings on Craig’s List where people will often describe what they have.
The most important tip when garage sale shopping is to get an early start. The good stuff goes very quickly. Don’t expect to find great stuff if you wait until the end of the morning to start looking. If someone has a multi-day garage sale, be sure to stop by on the first day. The downside of a garage sale is that you won’t get a receipt.
What can you get at a garage sale?
Books – It seems like every garage sale has a box of books. Dig through them and make a deal.
Costumes – My kiddo LOVED to dress up and I found lots of garage sale costumes for him. I also bought tons of costumes for preschool dramatic play.
Other items – Games, toys, puppets, counters, craft items, etc…. I hit the jackpot when I found a former preschool teacher’s garage sale and bought the counters above for a couple dollars.
I like browsing the dollar store to look for seasonal erasers (counters), small baskets and plastic containers, sorting trays, kitchen tongs. One of the best deals at the dollar store are cookie sheets that you can use as magnetic boards. On my last visit, I also found some feathers, foam shapes, and lots and lots of plastic Easter eggs.
Target Dollar Spot
It seems like Target’s Dollar Spot has really started catering to teachers. They often have cute seasonal erasers (counters), stickers, cute straws, Dr. Seuss items, sorting baskets and buckets.
Every area has a local gem – an unusual place where you can find lots of fun things. Sometimes it’s an outlet or warehouse store. When I lived in Ohio I frequented an Eddie Bauer salvage center. Boy, do I miss that place! Not only did I get great deals on clothing, but I sometimes found some great items for preschool. I bought boxes of ribbon for crafts and plastic ice cubes for counting, sensory tables, and building. Once, I also bought some Plexiglas containers. I used them as planters and kids could see the roots.
If you shop in an unusual place like this, keep your eyes peeled and use your imagination. In Dallas, I love going to the fabric warehouses. Ribbons, zippers, and buttons all at discount prices…..they are great places to get my creative juices flowing. I also love going to US Toy. Think Oriental Trading meets party store meets teacher supply store…..it can be dangerous because all of those little things can add up. Where are the gems in your area? I would love to hear about them.
Think about friends, families, students’ parents…. you never know what is available…and often for FREE. Many time companies have surpluses or things that they don’t need anymore. When I was a student teacher, a parent supplied our class with some great adhesive papers that we could use in crafts, etc. Parents or friends who work in restaurants will sometimes donate little containers or cups. I got some great blank books from a friend. If you know a decorator, or someone who works at a place that sells counter-tops, fabrics, etc, check to see if they have old samples for you. See how Deborah from Teach Preschool got some free tube blocks from a local store.
My last tip for finding bargain learning materials is to shop after-holiday clearance sales. I always check out the clearance areas at the big-box retailers, grocery stores, and craft stores. I’ve picked up plastic bugs and spiders, erasers, bunny tongs, bendable bunnies, Easter eggs, Easter grass, seeds, stickers, sequins, gems, Christmas ornaments. Below is my latest after-Christmas haul. Many of the items can be used for winter-themed activities and Valentine-themed activities, a few things that I will save for next Christmas, and some fun stuff that I will use year-round.
Hopefully, this list gives you a few ideas to help you save a little bit of money. I love finding bargains, and for me, the search is half the fun. Look all over, look in unexpected places, use your imagination, and have fun!