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Preschool Education Articles

24 ways to get something for nothing and practically nothing!

Article By Christa J Koch Owner/Operator of
© Copyright by Preschool Education

There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there are many other things that are free for the asking. The best advice I can share from my years of teaching is ask, ask, ask. You have nothing to lose by asking for what you need. The worse they can say is no. Remember when asking to always be polite and courteous. Donít be greedy. Just ask for how many you will need. You are more likely to get 20 of something donated then 100. Most importantly, remember to send a thank you card from the kids. If possible include a photo of the project you made with the items donated. This is so very important, because if you donít you will dry up the well for other teachers/educators.

Below is a list to get you started:

  1. Your number one resource is parents. Ask parent to donate recycled supplies needed to do different projects. Send home a colorful note asking for help. I.e. Magazines, baby food jars, paper tubes, coffee cans, shoeboxes, etcÖ
  1. Newspaper offices often have rolls of newsprint (about 20 to 25 feet long) left over. They change to new rolls before they get all the way to the end. The paper is wide enough for body tracing and other large exciting art projects. Most rolls are free or sold for a small fee.
  1. Labels are easy to get. Just like the newsprint some companies have left over rolls of box labels. They too change the rolls before they get to the end. If the company does in house packing, chances are they have end of rolls they would be glad to give away. I get mine from Friskies pet care.
  1. Printing shops are a wonderful source of scrap paper. They usually have a large supply of scrap paper available in many shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. When you call or stop by, ask to speak to the owner or the manager. Most times they will put a box aside for you on a regular basis. Just make sure you pick it up on a regular basis too, or they will recycle it. They donít want it cluttering their office.
  1. Film containers are fairly easy to come by if you know the right places to look. Try you local Wal-Mart or any film-processing store. They usually have tons of them. The film containers are not sent with the film for processing, and most times are thrown into a separate can for recycling. At one point I heard a rumor that the film containers are dangerous to use. That there are chemicals in them. This is NOT true. There is no film processing chemicals in the containers. They never make it that far. The film containers are no more dangerous then using a soda bottle.
  1. Local businesses are usually your best bet to get things free. The Mom & Pop stores are willing to help the community where they can. Chain stores take a bit more coaxing. I know a woman who searched around for nail aprons for a fatherís day gift. The chain stores (not mentioning any names) would not help, but a local hardware store was more then happy to help.
  1. Storage Containers can be easy to get. Check with your local Ice cream shop and ask them to clean and save the large ice cream containers. They are great for storing toys on a shelf. Ask your local shoe store if they can donate shoeboxes. Print shops are a good source of paper boxes. They are sturdy and have lids. Mc Donaldís is another good source of boxes. Ask the manager or host(ess) to save you some tomato boxes.
  1. Are you in the need of wallpaper or carpet samples? Go around to your local home decorating stores, and carpet stores. Ask them for their old samples. Home stores change wallpaper styles ever few months. Ask for their old books. Some time carpet stores will charge for their carpet samples. If you donít want to pay for them, check other carpet stores.
  1. Have you ever thoughÖ The children made such beautiful card for their mothers for motherís day, I only wish we had some nice envelopes to put them in. Well now you can have them. Free colored envelopes can be yours. Here is what happens, most card manufactures want all unsold cards shipped back to their warehouse. But most times they donít want the envelopes. This means they just get thrown out. So, the day after a card-giving holiday go to a store that sells greeting cards. Ask to speak to the clerk in charge of the card department or the store manager. They are usually more then happy to save them for you. You will never need another envelope again!
  1. Again Parents are your best resource. Find out if any parents work for an airline or a cafeteria. Ask if they can get some trays donated to your school. Trays are great for playing with playdough or to give each child their own working station.
  1. Find out if you have any parents that are electricians or work on telephone lines. Phone wires are great for sparking childrenís creativity. The phone wire comes in many colors and is very easy to bend. (My Husband is an electrician and is able to get me some scrap pieces. The kids in my room love it.)
  1. Ask around at your local upholstery shop or a custom fabric shop for out dated fabric samples and scrap pieces. You will be surprised what they will give you.
  1. Old magazines can be yours free for the asking. Check with your doctorís office. Unless you have one of those dreaded doctors who still has magazines from the 1970ís in their office. Most change and replace there magazines every 6 months or so. Ask them to put them aside for you. Make sure you go pick them up or they will most likely get thrown away.
  1. Never underestimate the value of going to auctions, thrift shops and garage sales. I once got three boxes full of yarn for $.25 at an auction. I have not paid full price for childrenís books in years. Between garage sales and the thrift shops, I have not paid over a quarter for a book. If you go to garage sales and find something you like, make sure to mention it is for your school. Some times people will give it to you for nothing.
  1. Cabinetmakers, furniture builders, and carpenters have small pieces of scrap wood in many shapes and sizes. They are great for wood sculptures. Ask them to save their scraps for your classroom to use.
  1. If you have a local winery that does tasting, drop by or give them a call. Ask them to save the corks for you. I did this and wound up with 4 large zip lock bags full of them.
  1. Foam meat trays can be used for many projects. It is not always safe to use trays that have had meat on them, unless they have been washed thoroughly. A great way to get clean, unused trays is to go to your local grocery store and ask to speak to the meat manager. Tell the manager what you have in mind and what you need. Remember the quantity tip. Donít ask for to many.
  1. Pizza boxes can be great for many things. Two examples are; Use the pizza boxes to store artwork of all sizes. You can label a box for each child and make them their portfolio. Second, if you teach in a small classroom and do not have the space to dry art projects you can place them in pizza boxes, then stack the boxes. Ask your local pizza shop to donate boxes. Some shops might not give them to you, but they may offer to sell them to you for a low cost.
  1. Everyone makes mistakes. Keeping this in mind check with your local hardware store. They often have miss-cut keys that they will donate to your class. They are great for math manipulative.
  1. Mc Donaldís will often donate drink trays, cups, etcÖ Your best bet is to talk to the owner or the hostess / host if your Mc Donaldís has one. They can not resist some PR.
  1. Fabric stores are a great resource of cardboard bolts. Most often they give them away. They also sell ribbon ends and mis-cuts inexpensively.
  1. A local florist can be a valuable asset too. You can ask them for some foil wrap. It comes in many colors. They often have roll ends that they will give you or sell to you cheaply. Ask about some floristís foam too.
  1. Children love to see photos of themselves and to take photos too. The problem is film is so expensive. Ask the manager at a specialty photo shop if they will sell you expired film at a discounted price. Many times they will sell it to you for a fraction of the price, and the film is still good enough for casual classroom pictures.
  1. Getting used books is an inexpensive way to build your classroom library. I mentioned the thrift shops earlier, but the library can help too. Ask your local library to let you know when they will have used book sales. Many libraries will sell to a select group prior to general public sale.


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