Find bargain preschool teacher supplies 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 9 different places where 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 businesses 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, countertop 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 of 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 from 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 reused 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 a while 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 the preschool dramatic play center.
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 of dollars.
Habitat for Humanity Re-Store
Most major cities in the U.S. have a Habitat for Humanity Re-Store. Just check Google to find one in your area.
The Re-Stores sell all kinds of building materials and their proceeds benefit local Habitat for Humanity projects. Some of the materials in their store are new, but a lot of the items that they sell are donated materials.
Like many of the ideas listed above, you never know what kind of treasures you will find at a Re-Store. Remember to think outside the box. On my recent trip to the Re-Store in Austin, TX, I found the items pictured above….small round tiles ($1 per sheet), industrial carpet squares ($1 each), and a few planks of wood flooring in a couple of different colors ($1 per plank).
The tiles can be used in loose parts or tinker trays, in playdough trays, or as counting manipulatives. Kids can sit on the carpet squares at circle time. They can be used as a building pad in the block center. I also think that I can cut them into smaller squares and kids can use them for flooring, etc in their structures that they create in the block area. The planks can be used as ramps roads etc. in the block area. You can cut them to any length you like.
Additional treasures….look for dowels, loose parts, pipes, paint brushes and rollers, slate tiles, etc. You just never know what kind of materials people will donate from day to day. Years ago, the Columbus, OH store had a bunch of plants from an office building. I snatched up a good-looking plant. It’s still thriving 10 years later.
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 is 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 times 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. Asian restaurants often have plastic training chopsticks that are great for fine motor activities.
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. Stop daydreaming about having awesome learning materials and get out there and start searching for bargains. For me, the search is half the fun.
Look all over, look in unexpected places, use your imagination, and have fun!