Teacher Series: How To Stretch Your Dollar
Have you ever heard a teacher talk about how much of their salary goes back into the classroom? Better yet, have you ever met a teacher who didn’t spend his or her own money on their students? I cannot tell you how much of my own money I spend on my classroom. I can’t tell you mostly because I’m too scared to find out myself… Some of the money I spend is on bare necessities, like a CD player or rice and beans for transferring activities. Some of the money I spend is on books that I want to have for my students. A lot of the money I spend is on extra activities, trays, wooden and natural objects, and things that add a softer touch to my classroom. I’m not complaining; I choose to spend that money pretty willingly (and it’s really fun!). I want to give the students in my classroom the absolute best learning experiences and unfortunately, I just can’t find anyone to give me glass pitchers, seeds to plant, and beautiful wooden and ceramic pieces for free. But just because I love spending the money doesn’t mean that I can spend carelessly. Luckily, I work with an amazing team of teachers and we share things and keep an eye out for each other on the quick-moving swap sites. I get some money to spend on my classroom from my school. But mostly, I am able to save money, and get way more awesome stuff, because of the Dollar Tree, the beloved Target Dollar Spot, and the awesome Salvation Army right by my house.
I always joke with the families in my classroom that I could create half of our activities with $10 and a trip to the Dollar Store. The fact of the matter is that probably 60% of the materials I buy are from the Dollar Tree and Target Dollar Spot. When I incorporated Montessori into my home for my son, these dollar items really helped make it an affordable lifestyle for us and I’ve just carried that with me as my career has transitioned from home-based to a school setting.
It takes a little creativity, imagination, and some flexibility but you can create TONS of Montessori activities with just a couple of dollars. Here are some ideas:
Language Arts: The Target Dollar Spot had beautiful, bright caddies, deep trays, and shallow trays. I picked some up in pink, blue, and green to match the language colors. My preschoolers will probably only use pink and blue but these materials made perfect sets to display our pink, blue, and green Language Arts materials.
Practical Life: The Dollar Tree (yes, I believe it is hands down the best dollar store for teaching materials and everything is actually one dollar) had some amazing brown weaved baskets in multiple sizes. I love soft plastic baskets because I can throw them in the dishwasher and clean them easily during flu season, which is an absolute necessity with preschool children. I bought some measuring cups with handles and spouts and some pom-poms to make a beginning of the year pouring activity; I often add beans after the children have acclimated to the classroom a little bit. I also use small spray bottles and washcloths – I typically have 2 or 3 sets out at a time because my children LOVE to clean our classroom with these. The Dollar Tree also has trays with a rubber bottom; I love using these for liquid and glass activities because they help hold everything in place with my preschoolers who are still learning about walking with trays. The chopsticks, pom-poms, and plastic cup are from the Dollar Tree. The glass pitcher and beautiful Chinese porcelain bowls are from the Salvation Army. My Salvation Army has entire rows of wooden, wicker, and glass pieces; I have found the best trays and baskets here, and many of them are sold as sets. The Chinese porcelain bowls came as a set of six small ones and a larger one for $3. I have a set of 4 dark bamboo bowls that were $2.
Mathematics: Every item in this picture was purchased at the Dollar Tree except for the beautiful wooden serving dish, which was $2 at the Salvation Army. The rulers and foam blocks are common measurement methods in my classroom. The foam blocks are also sometimes used with the Sandpaper Numbers or these number cards. I made the number cards and we use those for several learning experiences throughout the year. The rubber-bottomed white tray is holding popsicle sticks that I colored and clothespins with numbers on them – this activity focuses on sequencing numbers and understanding what number comes next.
Some must-haves from the Dollar Store: The 3-compartment shallow tray – I’ve used this to sort with Color Box 1, to sort Land, Air, and Water animals and vehicles, and to sort letters, words, and sentences. Spray bottles, all sizes of rubber-bottomed and woven baskets, buttons, popsicle sticks, clothespins, pom-poms, serving utensils for transferring and pouring activities, glass beads, rocks, pinecones
Some must-haves from the Target Dollar Spot, which is actually named Bullseye’s Playground: small erasers, notepads, seasonal and holiday materials
Great finds at thrift stores: Baskets, containers, small utensils, bowls, kitchen and Practical Life items
Next week, I will share some more ideas for creating your dream environment by thrifting and visiting estate sales.