By Nicole Sasso January 24, 2011 6:19 pm
Sometimes the line between teacher and dumpster-diver is razor thin. During my career as a teacher, I have, on more occasions than I can count, embarrassed family and friends as I loaded pockets with free promotional items or begged local businesses for supplies for my class.
Just last week, my local Barnes & Noble was giving away free posters to promote reading and various children’s books. The polite thing to do would have been to take one or two. Nine of them currently adorn my classroom walls.
I gave up being ashamed a long time ago. When it comes to my kids and their ability to thrive in my classroom, I will do whatever is necessary to procure anything I think will help. Most of my colleagues feel the same way, and we frequently exchange ideas on the best places to score free stuff for our classrooms.
With that said, here are five of my favorites.
1) Doctor’s offices. Everyone jokes about the outdated magazines at doctors’ offices, but those magazines are no joke to me. I use them to encourage reading, teach current events, and for craft projects where students cut out words or images. I have never had a doctor’s office turn me down when I asked if there were some old magazines I could take for my class.
2) Local banks. This is where I load up on free pens and pencils for my class. As you know, there are always a couple kids who never seem to have writing instruments. I’m sure you’ve seen free promotional pens on bank counters numerous times. Believe me, that’s the tip of the iceberg. They have boxes of these pens lying around behind the counter. Ask and you shall receive. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I will take pens from any business that will offer them, from real estate to insurance. I’m not choosy.)
3) Government agencies: Pink Floyd may have wondered whether to trust the government, but I have no such qualms. Many, if not most, federal agencies have free online resources for kids. The Department of Energy has information on grants and contests for students, a fantastic Energy Kids Web site with free lesson plans and activities, and a function where kids can submit questions to scientists! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site has free activity sheets for kids, fun quizzes, and more. I could really go on and on – just go to any federal agency’s main Web site and perform a search using “teachers.” Much of the time, you’ll hit pay dirt.
4) Not-for-profits and trade associations: Like government agencies, many trade associations produce classroom oriented content to build good will. I once received a whole teaching kit on forestry from an association that represents the paper industry. Some of it was propaganda, sure, but there were also great posters, workbooks and activity sheets explaining how trees grow.
5) Grocery stores. As Forrest Gump might say, grocery stores are like a box of chocolate – you never know what you are going to get. I have asked for and received boxes, containers I use for supplies and manipulatives, and even paper bags we use in class to make book covers. The book covering exercise is useful for helping younger students with fine motor skills, but it also can become a writing exercise where you ask students to write what they like about a subject, their goals for the class, or even something autobiographical.
I can be a junk lady — no doubt about it. But my kids are better off for it. In my next post, I’ll show you how you can recycle common household items, like egg crates, to teach skip counting, division and other math skills.
Nicole Sasso is a veteran elementary school teacher from Central Maryland.