On Wednesdays, we here at The Snarky Schoolteacher bring you #EdHack, a feature designed to bring you tips and tricks for your classroom to make your life just a little easier!
Today's #EdHack post is brought to you by Ms. L, a second grade teacher in a Title I school from the San Francisco Bay area. This school year will be her fourth year teaching!
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Cleaning Supplies: SAVE!
Tissues, hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes — these items are basically made to be thrown away, and elementary students, in particular, have not quite learned the art of conservation. If one tissue is good, four must be better!
Do not spend a fortune on these items. They are at Dollar Tree year-round and can be replenished as needed. I also request donations of these items at the beginning of the year specifically because they can be purchased at Dollar Tree, and parents who want to help stock the classroom can contribute without breaking the bank.
Ah, the Post-It note. My first year, I bought hundreds of these on sale over the summer, thinking I would not be able to get as good of a deal during the year. Not true! While it’s hard to resist back-to-school sales at Target and Office Depot that discount the brand-name sticky notes that come in fun colors, head over to Dollar Tree once those sales are over. You can get a pack of five pads for $1.
Pro tip: If you provide sticky notes for your students to write on during reading or writing workshop, the cheaper ones are less sticky and won’t destroy your classroom library books or rip up the kids’ writing journals and their hard work. I save the good ones for myself and give my class the cheap ones (shhh...).
Game Materials: Save!
My second graders love math games that help them to practice new skills in a fun, social way. You can stock up on playing cards and dice at your local Dollar Tree. Two decks of cards will only set you back $1!
Storing the cards/keeping the decks separate can be a chore, so I labeled each card with a letter (deck A, deck B) and then store them in a travel soap holder with a corresponding letter. I have only ever seen these soap holders at independent dollar stores, but they come in packs of three.
Classroom Storage: Save and Spend!
Certain things need to be durable to make it through the whole year, especially if they are going to be handled by students on a daily basis. I love the storage bins at Dollar Tree because they come in fun colors, but the ones that I bought to store classroom library books in early on in my career lasted about two months. While those bins might work to store your own personal supplies, game materials that are only used a few times a year, or light items like pencils and erasers, they are not durable enough to hold heavy things or to be taken out and put back daily.
The replacement bins I bought at Ikea (Samla, pictured above) have lasted for years and are still in excellent shape—I have yet to see one crack! They are a bit more expensive at $2.49 per bin, but will ultimately save you money. Ikea sometimes has them on sale with their Family Card, which means that you will spend closer to $2 per bin. There are also lids available for the bins for $.50 each.
Target has colorful buckets in their One Spot throughout the year. These are perfect for supplies like pencils and crayons, they’re $1 each, and can last for years. Target changes their stock seasonally, too, so if what’s there now doesn’t match your classroom color scheme, check back in a month or so.
My students store their weekly Words their Way spelling words in a plastic baggie stapled inside of a folder. These baggies can be purchased at Dollar Tree, 29 bags for a dollar. Even the more expensive brand name bags will rip and get yucky, so in this case spending more will not always save you money in the long run.
Classroom Décor: Save and Spend!
Target’s One Spot has lots of great teacher finds this time of year. In past years, I have gotten seasonal borders for my bulletin boards there, and this year I found punch-out letters, banners, calendar sets, and sentence strips. Cute and practical!
Another great tip I’ve picked up over the years is using fabric on your bulletin boards instead of the Fadeless paper — no rips, reusable, and far less frustrating/difficult to put up. I ordered bolts of Joann’s Oly-Fun fabric (online only), which I like because it cuts like paper with an Exacto knife and is available in bold colors. I bought it during a sale and got it 60% off, meaning instead of $29.99 per bolt, I paid $19 (including shipping). Since I can reuse it every year, it was a good investment.
If you have a good pair of fabric shears, regular cotton quilting fabric is usually available for under $3.50 a yard without a coupon. With the ever present 40% off coupon, you’ll pay just over $2 per yard, AND Joann gives teacher discounts that stack with all promotions, although much to my frustration their discount cards expire August 31st and some employees will not give you a new card without a current school ID with picture.
Dry Erase Boards and Supplies: Save and Spend!
Dry-erase boards are a great tool in the classroom. They get a daily workout in my room, and for that reason, I am so happy I invested in these boards from Lakeshore. A set of ten will cost you $28.99, but they clean up nicely and are durable — much more durable than their Dollar Tree equivalents
Likewise, spend the extra money for good dry erase markers (Expo is the best). Those 3-packs at Dollar Tree with an eraser on the end are tempting, but they last about two weeks. Other brands of markers smell bad and leave behind extra residue when students erase their work. If you spring for the Expo markers in sets of 10, you will only end up spending $.80 per marker (or you can buy a 12 pack on Amazon for less than $6). I got 36 markers for my class last year, and never needed to buy more. In fact, I still have some left over!
When it comes to erasers, you can save. Dollar Tree sells three-packs of microfiber sponges, or a regular sock will do the trick. If you’ve invested in nice dry-erase boards, DO NOT let your students clean them with Clorox wipes. A former co-worker destroyed her boards this way. I get a big bottle of Expo cleaning fluid — one squirt and a quick wipe-down with a paper towel, and your boards are good as new!
Adhesive Vel-Cro/Hook-and-Loop Dots: SPEND!
I learned the hard way not to buy these at Dollar Tree. In past years, I’ve used these to put up calendar days, attach laminated name tags to student desks, and display student names in centers. The cheap Dollar Tree ones were constantly falling off bulletin boards AND students were able to peel them off their desks and stick them to their faces. Spend the extra few dollars to get the name-brand ones at Joann. Again, 40% off coupons every day (occasionally up to 60%), plus a teacher discount, will take the sting out of the $3.99 price tag.
Pencil Sharpeners: SPEND!
My first year, my class went through two pencil sharpeners before I bit the bullet and bought this beauty $60 at Office Depot. It’s rated for “continuous” use and I have not had to replace it in three years.
If you have Amazon Prime and/or can wait a few days to receive it, it’s currently on sale on Amazon for $23.99. ((Snarky tip: if you're not a Prime member, you can sign up for a free 30-day trial here!))
Duct Tape: Spend!
Duct tape can have lots of purposes in your classroom, and your budget will probably be dictated by what you need to use it for. The brightly colored, patterned Duck Tape is fun for labeling supplies or decorating table groups, but when it comes to tough jobs like holding down classroom rugs or taping over extension cords, the only tape I’ve found that lasts (all year, even!) is the Scotch Tough tape. It comes in clear, too! It’s pricey at about $8/roll, but very much worth it because you will not need to re-tape your rugs on a monthly basis.
I have seen teachers use clothespins in lots of innovative ways, from tracking behavior and work completeness on a chart to using them as hall passes (students clip them to their clothing, meaning they are less likely to leave the pass in the bathroom). Hot glued to thumbtacks, you can display student work without putting holes in it. Dollar Tree clothespins, unfortunately, do not make it through the year. I prefer Target’s clothespins, which are bigger and sturdier. It’s $2.50 for a pack of 50.
Good luck this year, teachers! We hope these tips help you as you purchase décor and supplies for your classroom this year. Also, if you missed last week's post from Nicole about decorating your classroom on the cheap, be sure to check it out here!
If you’ve spotted a great deal in-store or online, or you know of a terrific product that won’t break the bank, let us know in the comments. Happy shopping!
The Snarky Schoolteacher is an education and lifestyle blog run by dedicated educational professionals. Our goal is to bring you relevant and fun educational content with a side of sass. Read more about our team here. Thanks for visiting, and we hope you will find these ideas and resources helpful in your classrooms and in your lives.