Friday, April 26, 2013

Best Children's Toys and Materials at the Dollar Store

The Dollar Tree, dollar store or Target's dollar spot can be a great place to pick up quality toys and materials for all ages if you know what to look for.  Here's a list of items I covet from the dollar store for the classroom.  These would also make great gift baskets for Teachers, Parents and Children's Birthdays.

To make it easier to shop, I will sort materials by age as well as methods and give you several uses for the less obvious ones.  In general, I look for durable items, things made of wood and cloth, versatile toys, educational value and just plain beautiful items:

Infants & Toddlers
  • Beach Ball- buy 2 and cut one up to use as a pattern to make a fabric cover for the other.
  • Bubbles- try them outside in cold weather or blowinging them onto a table top that has been wiped with a wet cloth.
  • Wooden Toy Cars- use masking tape on the floor to make tracks
  • Board Books- avoid licensed characters and holiday ones. Look for touch and feel, mirrored or reflective elements or pop ups for more fun.
  • Scarves and Bandanas- look for quality fabrics. Pull them from a wipe container, play peek-a-boo, hide toys underneath, dance with them, use them for dress up...the possibility of these are endless!
  • Classical Music CDs- perfect for nap, mornings and anytime you need a little calm.  pick a classical piece of the week and let it inspire your finger painting, dancing and other activities.
  • Muffin Tin- use plain or decorate bottom of cups with numbers, colors, etc.  Great for one to one correspondence and tons on different ways to sort items
  • Cookie sheet- use as a travel or wall mounted magnet board.  Pair with large fun magnets.
  • Balls- look for durable "gym style" or sensory (bumpy) balls that will hold up to being mouthed and sat on  : )
  • Flash Cards- Avoided licensed characters and look for photo images vs cartoon images.  Fisher Price and Playskool both make a variety of sets.  Not meant for memorization but for stimulating vision and right brain development.

  • Wooden Jacob's ladder- buy two and use one as a model to help your child build their own from cardboard and ribbon
  • Wooden Train Whistle- use it to spark a conversation about trains or as a cue noise for clean up, transitions or meal time
  • Magnet Letters and Numbers- Pair with a cookie sheet of magnet letters (check quality of magnet glue before using, some cheaper magnet letters need a bit of hot glue on the back first)
  • Wooden Spoons- turn into drum sticks, rhyme sticks, or stick puppets.  Can also be used for kitchen and cooking dramatic play
  • Play Dough Tools- cookie cutters, plastic knives and rolling pins to go with a homemade or store bought batch of dough.  Avoid metal and other sharp edges.
  • Wooden Jointed Snake- use it as a soothing toy or to spark a conversation about snakes
  • Sand and Water Toys- for use in the sensory table.  Check the toy, kitchen and housewares section. Funnels, hand shovels, hand rakes
  • Plastic Hats- look for durable construction and fire fighter hats
  • Outdoor Play Equipment- Look for durable Items that don't easily bend or break- Frisbees, hula hoops (for obstacle courses not hula hooping), bat and ball sets, sidewalk chalk, butterfly nets and badminton sets.

School Agers
  • Science Kits- grow crystals or experiment with magnets
  • Craft Kits- learn to crochet or make pom pom critters
  • Composition Notebooks- use with journal prompts.  Pair with fun pencils and erasers
  • Mini Erasers- the kind that are little images or animals.  School-agers love tiny things! Pair them with a ice cube tray or muffin tin for sorting.  Use them with math Mats for math games, use them as markers for home-made board games
  • Glass Stones- perfect for counters, game pieces, or Manacala game pieces
  • Puzzles- Cut the cover off and ditch the box, seal the pieces in a clear gallon zipper bag with the cover from the lid.  Look for scenic and fun photos.  Avoid licensed characters and cartoony images.
  • Chapter Books- look for children's classics and well know characters or series.
  • Marbles- great for painting with or homemade marble tracks.
  • Woodworking Items- hammer, nails, wood glue, sandpaper, safety goggles, golf tees, work gloves.
  • Computer Games on CD Rom- look for educational kinds
  • Card Games- ditch the boxes and put the cards in travel soap boxes or small plastic hinged boxes
  • Dominos- wood or heavy sets
  • Dice- for making games
  • Wooden or Metal Brain Teasers- Rubik's cubes are great too.

Waldorf Materials
  • Watercolor Paints- pair with an art tablet of paper
  • Nativity- pick this up during the holidays for a perfect starter fairy house.  I would scrape off the moss and put felt or moss sheet instead, it's a bit messy
  • Wooden Doll House Furniture- these are delicate but paired with natural wood disks and sections of branches or the nativity, they make fun, magical play spaces
  • Old Fashioned Clothespins- for making Waldorf clothespin dolls and fairies
  • Mud Kitchen Tools- Look for metal with wood handles if possible.  Hand shovel, hand rake, pie and muffin tins, small cake pans, metal whisk, wooden spoons, watering can.
  • Scarves- silk if you can find them, no patterns, rainbow colors are the best.  For dress up, dancing and other imaginative play
  • Felt- 100% wool of you can find it.  Great for making little dolls, dressing your clothespin characters and making dress up crowns
  • Large Utility Clips- wood is preferred but these are great for building forts.  Pair with large scarves or pieces of silk for creating play spaces
  • Baskets- for lunch or displaying and grouping toys and materials

Montessori Materials
  • Small cleaning items- like dustpans and hand brooms, small spray bottles, washcloths, dusters and dishtowels, sponges and totes for independent cleaning
  • Practical Life Items- google any Montessori supply company to see all the wonderful skills you can teach with everyday items.  Look for wood, glass and ceramic items to teach how to handle things with care or if you're nervous, plastic works too.  look for interesting shapes and colors.  Head to the kitchen section and stock up on trays, small dishes and bowls, small pitchers and vases, a variety of tongs, chopsticks, spoons and ladles in all sizes
  • Miniature Animals- great for science and language games.  Avoid unrealistic colors or squishy items.  Stock up on a variety of animals and sea creatures, dinosaurs and bugs
  • Natural Elements- look for vase fillers and decorative items like sea shells, acorns, dried flowers, natural items from unscented potpourri bags
  • Cooking Tools- Specifically geared towards young children like apple slicers, wavy cutters, butter knives, small cutting boards, bamboo or unbreakable cups, bowls and plates, for self serve snacks.
  • Baskets- for displaying and grouping toys and materials
  • Wooden trays and divided boxes- the base of many montessori materials for DIYers
  • Eye Masks- perfect for moving an activity to the next level and trying to do it blindfolded.

Teacher's Supplies
  • Masking Tape- labeling everything, marking things on the floor
  • Clear Packing tape- book tape for spines and reinforcing paperback cover edges.
  • Stapler and Staples- mini ones are ok if they open fully for stapling on bulletin boards
  • Permanent Markers- for labeling everything
  • Hot Glue Gun and Hot Glue Sticks- for repairing broken toys and crafts
  • Clear Tape- for book page and art work tears 
  • Markers, Crayons and Colored Pencils- a set for teacher use only
  • Stickers- for rewards, art, and daily note decoration
  • Hole Punch- for many craft projects and teacher-made classroom materials 
  • Scissors- a big sharp pair for teacher use only.  Consider buying a small padlock to place on handle to avoid mishaps!
  • Pens- always seem to loose these!  Mechanical pencils are good too!
  • Whistle- for transitions, games and outdoor play, never for discipline!
  • Egg Timer- for transitions, timed games, and sharing, never for discipline!
  • Sticky Notes- invaluable for family communication, anecdotal notes and reminders to self
  • Lesson Plan and Attendance books- blank and ready to use
  • Bulletin Boards sets and Classroom decor- if you're into that kind of thing
  • Hand Sanitizer- cold season, enough said. Unscented and not sparkly.
  • Hand Lotion- for dry hands due to excessive hand washing.  Look for small bottles of well known brands vs cheap perfumed or sparkly kinds.
  • Clear Contact Paper- for laminating game pieces, or your or the children's hard work.  Great for labeling shelves with photos or sticking images on the wall.  Also good for art projects.
  • Large Paperclips- for art projects and hanging items from the ceiling.
  • Insulated Cup with Lid- for hot and cold drinks.  A lid that closes is best to prevent spills.
  • Bandaids- for real or unseen boo boos and other first aid supplies

Art Supplies
  • Glue- white glue, glue sticks, glitter glue
  • Paint- Look for washable and non-toxic. Tempra or poster paint, acrylic paint for woodworking and older children
  • Collage Items- pompoms, popsicle sticks, yarn, sequins and gems, stickers, string, felt sheets and shapes, foam sheets and shapes, wooden shapes and cutouts, pipecleaners...
  • Paper- colored construction paper, artist tablet for watercolors and drawing, lined paper and writing tablets for handwriting skills, tissue paper
  • Index Cards- colored or plain. For making flashcards, games and collages.  Also good for organizing anecdotal notes.
  • Writing Instruments- look for washable and non-toxic. Markers, colored pencils, crayons, regular pencils, dry erase markers.
  • Plastic Shower Curtain- makes a great drop cloth for messy activities
  • Scissors- Rounded tips, plastic or metal safety scissors for kids
  • Pony Beads- for beading patterns and collage materials

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