I have been getting such great information and feedback from those of you who have taken my ten question survey over at SurveyMonkey!
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I can tell from several of the comments that a few of you are new to the teaching profession and would appreciate tips on not only organizing your classroom space and sprucing it up to inspire students, but on making purchases for center activities, crafts and decor.
Frugality tends to be a teacher focus out of necessity, which is why I seek out classroom treasures at:
~yard, garage, or estate sales
~thrift (Goodwill, DAV, etc.) stores
~ dollar stores such as Dollar Tree
~discount book stores (those that sell new AND used books, possibly offering credit on books you bring in for exchange)
~Farmer's Market/Craft Shows for unique, homemade, local-friendly items
~Teacher Supply stores (though I try to only make purchases if items are on sale or I can laminate and reuse them year after year)
~carpet remnant stores (some stores will donate carpet squares or will sell deeply discounted remnants; make sure to ask the salesperson if 1) the carpet meets fire-resistant codes for schools and 2) if they will bind the edges of the carpet for you so it won't fray)
~School furniture surplus sites like this one
~end-of-season clearance sales at stores like Target, Fred Meyer, WalMart, etc. (buying seasonal/holiday decor at 75% off to use the following year makes every August feel a bit like Christmas! Don't forget, "Christmas red" and "Christmas green" also look great for Valentine's and St. Patrick's!)
~and sadly, stores that are going out of business
Did you know...
...some school districts sell their surplus furniture and outdated book/curriculum items once a year? Many of those books are still great references or sources of historical/biographical photos and portraits, maps, poems, charts/tables and artwork. Remember to try to look at items with a fresh vision, and as sacrilegious as it might sound, don't be afraid to scavenge only what's needed from books, curriculum kits, or other materials. Tear apart the seam binding, punch holes, laminate if necessary, and sort your resources into binders, folders or tubs.
It doesn't take long to refurbish an old chalkboard with fresh chalkboard paint for a writing center or wall display, and that touch of vintage-school-charm will probably put many of your students' parents at ease when they visit your class. Check out office supply and furniture surplus stores/auctions in your town/state, and don't forget to visit large antique/collectible shops, malls or country venues for affordable and home-y baskets, trays, storytime chairs, classic books, dress up clothes, and tons of goodies for hands-on sorting (buttons, keys, wooden blocks, old lettertype blocks, marbles, game pieces). Reuse, refurbish, recycle, but make sure to ask if large-sized additions you are considering buying are allowed in the classroom before you buy- your principal, building supervisor, or head of Risk Management can let you know which items meet safety standards and have the green light.
Many schools have a teachers' lounge or swap center where staff members can bring in materials that they no longer use each year (teachers are notorious hoarders, but are known to clean out the cupboards from time to time). If your school is undergoing a new curriculum adoption, find out if the sample kits and materials sent by the book companies will be kept at school or tossed- magnets, center activity cards, puppets, and even extra student workbooks are often included in such samples. If your school or district office doesn't have a swap center, suggest creating one, and consider including a school donation tub or set of shelves for those families who enjoy donating baby food jars, egg cartons, paper, crafting supplies, plastic tubs with lids, extra clothes, cardboard paper tubes, etc. for school use.
Don't forget to look in-house for classroom materials. If your own children or siblings have outgrown their Legos, blocks, games or books, ask if they'd be willing to donate them for your students to use. Enlist the help of your yard-saling-extraordinaire aunt, uncle, cousin or mom by providing family members with a very specific wish list (include photos if necessary so there's no question!).
But some words of caution...
...for all of the affordable items that can be found for classroom use, there are some I would recommend *against* adding to your basket:
~items that you think you MIGHT use- only purchase materials you WILL use!
~previously owned stuffed animals; these can be extremely dirty, dusty, and their stuffing may contain mold, mites or other allergens
~ items with chipped paint or cracked corners (unless items are going to be used up and away from students' hands for display purposes)
~ any clothing or purses/backpacks with broken zippers; young children will either become frustrated when they don't work or might injure themselves trying to force the zippers to slide
~ household rugs or carpeting unless you KNOW they meet fire-code for school buildings, and please make sure they are professionally cleaned as well (dirt, mites, mold, allergens)
~ c.d.s, electronic games or videos that you can't try or preview, that you're not allowed to have/show at school, or that don't support curriculum standards
~one-of-a-kind toys for the pretend center that children might fight over (two or three dolls are better than one)
Once you've acquired classroom treasures...
Save receipts for all of your purchases for taxes.
...and of course, enjoy!