Classroom Ideas


Nov 23, 2022

Inexpensive preschool learning materials, and how to plan a classroom on a budget!

Angela Vencio

Are you finding your class is stuck in a rut of boredom? Playing with the same toys over and over can be un-stimulating for children, so it is important that we are able to rotate toys as needed to give children more variety in their play. A busy body is a happy body! 

Money, however, can be a constraint to toy rotation. There just aren’t enough toys to go around leaving children to resort to old, outdated ways of play. Or, maybe there are too many toys available, and children can feel overwhelmed by choice. Dividing the play choices into smaller and more manageable groups that can be rotated as children grow out of their interest is necessary in continuing to foster children’s curiosity and inherent desire to learn through play. 

While toy rotation is important, during my time as an ECE I had my own toolbox of must-haves for my classroom that stayed year-round! Here are my top 3 low budget (even free!) supplies for daycare that I incorporate into my daily activities!

1. Painters Tape 

Painter’s Tape is a must for all classrooms - and for less than $2 at your local dollar store, there’s no reason to object! The possibilities are endless - Whether you are using tape to create gross motor obstacle courses on an indoor rainy day, or using tape to create stunning tape resist art. Plus, easy set-up and easy clean-up is a win in my books! Not only can you use them as art supplies for preschool, children can also participate in the set up and clean up by peeling and ripping the tape pieces - a great opportunity to work on that pincer grasp! Check out Jamie’s blog post on Hands on As We Grow for some different gross motor activity ideas using painter’s tape!

2. Outdoor Natural Materials

If you’re lucky enough to have access to an outdoor space, start planning an outdoor classroom day adventure with your little ones! Go for a scavenger hunt and gather as many natural materials as you can - rocks, pinecones, sticks, leaves. Add these newfound materials to your loose parts table along with some magnifying glasses and tongs, and you’ve got a low-budget invitation for children to explore and count. Having these materials available and accessible to the children opens the door to even more possibilities - what about a discussion about the changing leaf colors through the seasons? Comparing the sizes of pinecones? Use children’s inherent curiosity to learn about the world through their senses through engagement with loose parts. (The best part about this? It’s free of charge!)

Check out Alysia’s blog post on Well Beings with Alysia, where she provides a great starter list for loose parts that can be added to the classroom!

3. Cardboard Boxes 

Something as simple as a cardboard box can hold so much value for children’s artistic and dramatic expression. In an early years classroom, a cardboard box can be a spaceship, a car, a robot, a train, a house, a garage - you name it! Pair these cardboard boxes with some of your existing craft materials, including scissors, tape, glue, paints, crayons, markers, tissue paper, buttons, and fabric and let children’s imaginations run wild! Use these as props for dramatic play, and watch as children naturally gravitate towards these materials to make up their own stories. Cardboard boxes are a great, inexpensive tool for fostering creativity, imagination, and positive social interactions. Be sure to provide various sizes of cardboard boxes to give children some variety in their creations. 

Check out Anna’s blog post on My Life and Kids, where she shares 20 cardboard box activities that include creative expression, gross motor games, shape matching, and musical exploration!

Tips for Purchasing Bargain Learning Materials for Preschoolers

Check for local garage sales and thrift store deals. Second-hand materials are a great way to find cheap play materials as well as support your local community. Many different materials can be found at these sales - including books, puzzles, old clothing and costumes (which can be recycled for dramatic play), and craft materials. As many garage sale holders are looking to offload their items quickly, you may even strike some luck asking for a further bargain! A quick walk around your neighborhood, or a search online can direct you to garage sale listings and thrift stores in your area. 

Check with your local grocery stores for any unneeded recyclable materials. As I mentioned in my list, cardboard boxes are a great inexpensive material to offer in the classroom. Check with your local grocery stores to see if any are willing to donate any extra boxes, other recyclable materials (ex: newspapers and grocery store flyers for cutting, plastic containers for stacking), or unused raw sensory materials (ex. rice, pasta). These are great, open-ended materials to add to art tables, dramatic play areas, and sensory centers. This is a great opportunity to even teach the children a lesson on the 3 R’s - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!

Take advantage of post-holiday clearance sales at craft and dollar stores. Big box craft stores like Michaels are an ECE’s heaven - but even more so after the holidays, as they rush to clear out old stock for the next holiday! Checking craft stores for post-holiday clearance sales is a great way to find inexpensive materials for seasonal activities - if budget allows, materials can even be purchased and saved for the next year. Keep an eye out for different craft materials like sequins, cotton balls, ornaments, confetti, tissue paper, and more! Local dollar stores are also worth checking, as their craft stock typically updates seasonally. 

I encourage you to rummage through those old storage boxes gathering dust and cobwebs and see what items you can repurpose for play. Reflecting on the resourceful ways we can use materials around us to create engaging learning experiences sharpens our planning skills as ECEs, so we can create inviting, stimulating environments for children to explore. Remember that high quality activities don’t need to cost hundreds of dollars - one person’s trash is another child’s treasure! To get more supplies for daycare ideas read our article on, Everything You Need to Run a Successful Daycare.





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