Thrifty Classroom Decorations
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A New Teacher
I will be just starting to teach at a small, private school. I was wondering if any of your readers could help me with finding free (or really inexpensive) materials for my classroom. I've checked out our local library, which has a lot of books, videos, and computer programs, and I'm scouting yard sales for the like. What I really need help with are things like posters, bulletin board items, stickers, rewards, etc. I want my classroom to be inviting and pleasing to the eye and I want to give my students rewards for good work and behavior, but I don't want my wallet to suffer for it (my salary's pretty low already, so I don't want to sock it back into my classroom)! Can any of your readers help?
Try School Express
School Express has a variety of worksheets online that you can print and use in your classes. You can find it at schoolexpress.com
Use What You Already Have
Use colored print newspaper cartoons and cut scalloped edged borders out of them for your blackboard and room. Have them laminated at school. Most schools laminate for free without question. Find old wildlife calenders and use the pictures as posters or borders. Use different color construction paper in back at odd angles to add color and interest.
Have your students do a project initially to decorate the room. I was a math teacher and they did posters illustrating math concepts or famous mathematicians. It's fun and the students love seeing their work displayed. Take orange juice can lids and put pictures or letters on them to make a concentration game. You can stick magnets on the back to use on blackboard. Finally, use the school's computers (most should have them) to make your own posters with inspiring messages.
I am not a teacher, but I am a scout leader. I volunteer at the library where I do the bulletin boards. My tip is to ask!
I have gotten displays from K-Mart. They throw them out when they are finished. The nursing home lent me a tropical scene mural (wall size). People love to help out and they are always throwing out things that you could use for your classroom. This includes fish tanks, rugs for reading corner, poster, whatever. Get the word out and you will have tons of stuff. Also check out Goodwill.
Bookstores & Publishers
I work at a bookstore, and we are always receiving promo material from different publishers, including posters, etc.
One way to spruce up the classroom would be to write to different large publishing companies, such as Little & Brown, Houghton Mifflin, Random House, etc., in care of their children's department. Let them know that you are a teacher, and that you would be interested in receiving book materials (posters, etc.) from them. If you include specific authors, you will probably have better luck. More often than not, these companies are more than happy to send you gobs of information. This is also a great way for children to get information for oral book reports. I remember writing to Houghton Mifflin when I was in school for information on Scott Odell's books. For a simple letter, I received posters, a short bio on O'dell, a catalogue of HM's other books, and a listing of all of Odell's works. Can you say A+?
Cindy Erica N. in Boston, MA
The Consumer Information Catalog has some great free or very cheap stuff. Visit their website at pueblo.gsa.gov/ and click on "Children." There are also other very good publications and kits to be had on the site that might be useful.
Need colored paper or neat pictures for art projects for your school? Try asking a local fine paper company for samples they don't use. Fine paper companies are the ones who sell paper to printers. They get some terrific artwork on paper samples that kids will like. You can also get posters printed on just one side. The back is plain and makes great poster paper for classrooms. Sometimes the pictures seem corny to the sales rep, or all their customers have seen plenty of samples from the particular company so they won't use them.
If you ask nicely and let them know that you actually used the freebies, you may make a long time friend who will save up goodies for you. It never hurts to ask. Ask the owner or the receptionist. They are in a position to know what's available. It's best to contact them by phone.
You can check with local printers to see if they have overruns or misprints that you can use the back of. It's best to stop by and introduce yourself in this case.
Teacher Freebies on Web
One site that has teacher freebies is http://freebies.miningco.com/, specifically "freebies". Stacy Fisher is the Freebies "guide" and has lots of information on how to find decent connections.
Consider approaching wallpaper suppliers for old books. They are great for crafts. Another place to approach is printers for scrap paper and small note pads. Most will have colored as well as white availble.
Check hospitals, clinics, and surgery centers in your area for their throw aways such as plastic screw top bottles that they get with saline and sterile water in, plastic containers that sponges and other medical supplies come in that they just throw away, and paper towels and drapes that they also throw away if not used. I worked at a surgery center and hospital where we had collection bins just for these things that we threw away, and when approached by our adult and child care centers, this project was such a success that they had to come collect three times a week. Gathering the possible supplies also made the staff feel better as it is amazing the amount of usable items we used to just throw away.
A Brainstorming Session
I am responding to any teachers out there, since I've been one, on how to come up with inexpensive and even free classroom items. I learned a lot about this while I was a student teacher. Anytime I was going to do a unit on some topic, I would brainstorm the items I'd be needing. For instance, I was doing this unit on "Spring" so I needed dirt for grass we would be planting, seeds, and many "props" that were flower/garden related. First, I went to a local nursery. I explained what I was doing, and they gave me four huge bags of dirt and a huge bag of grass seed. I found many store owners to be generous once they found out it would be put to use in the schools.
Also, for the props, I simply sent home a note with the children explaining what we were doing, and asked for either donations of items, or simply if we could borrow some items for the unit. Parents sent in tons of stuff. I was even able to pack it away to use in the future. This gets parents involved in their child's education, and I think they really appreciate that as well!
Teacher Resource Centers
I don't know where you are located, but if it's near a larger city, try to locate a Teacher's Resource Center (TRC). These are basically places where clean industrial scrap materials (small pieces of fabric, left-over paper, and other "junk") that would otherwise end up in the landfill are made available to teachers, daycare providers, parents and anyone else who wants them. The fee is nominal (usually $2 - $5 for a full bag). Baltimore has one called Re-store, run by the Maryland Committee for Children. They sell the supplies for $2 per bag and are usually open the first and last Friday and Saturday of each month (although in August they'll be open every Friday and Saturday to prepare for the school year). If you don't have a TRC near you, contact the Boston Schools Recyling Center, P.O. Box 1741, Boston, MA 02205, (617)635-8284. According to the book "Beyond Recyling, A Re-User's Guide" (written by Kathy Stein and published in 1997), you can order an inexpensive assortment of odds and ends through the mail from this group. Your local recycling group or government office might be able to help you locate a TRC.
From Yard Sales
Design your own "business card" on your computer and print up some to distribute at flea markets or garage sales, offering to clean up and haul away the leftovers. You will get lots of supplies and other goodies too. Many of these yard sale throwaways are perfect for craft projects and for gifts and prizes (stuffed animals are always a hit!) to give students. Team up with a partner and a hand truck (your husband or someone with a truck) to haul off the big items, too, selling them to a second-hand appliance or furniture store. Cash for these items can buy other "schoolish" supplies.
I work at a travel agency and we always have extra posters and outdated material that we give away to the local schools. It is great for studying different areas of the country.
Call the State depts. of agriculture/wildlife resources agency, etc. They frequently have free educational posters, etc. Call or write to education departments in zoos and museums for things they might be able to send you. I've gotten tons of posters, endangered species lists, etc. from these places.
You can send a note home with each student asking parents for help with needed items. You'd be amazed at what parents will provide when asked. We've received paint, electrical work, equipment, and stickers. Ask at local shops and stores. Very often, they will donate items that aren't selling well.
Try going to the video stores and asking if you can have specific posters when they take them down. They will probably be willing to notify you when you can come get them, and you can get popular posters the kids like. Just make sure you get there before the other teachers.
Keep your eye out for trade expos, job fairs, health fairs, anything of this sort where there will be vendors showcasing their wares and frequent them. These vendors usually have items with their advertising on them that are free for the taking.
I am an Independent Distributor so my children and I frequent these venues. I may set up a display booth while my kids "collect." They love it! We have gathered some great things from pencils and keychains to diaper bags and articles of clothing. I probably have lost more pens and pencils than I have bought in the past two years!
Go early and go back later! Go early to make sure you get the good stuff that vendors don't have in mass quantity. Go back later (near closing) to get the stuff vendors don't want to have to pack up and take home.
Lots of older teachers are retiring early and setting up totally different businesses. I went to a yard sale of one such teacher and she had a huge machine shed chuck full of books, posters, lesson plans, visual aids, manipulatives, etc.
Try places like Office Depot and Office Max for damaged but usable items for school projects. They may donate them for free word-of-mouth advertising. You don't know until you ask.
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