Need Suggestions, Bit of a Rant

Updated on August 18, 2011
B.C. asks from Carterville, MO
22 answers

ok, so I have not been working at my new job long, and going into I was warned it would be crazy for a while. I am working as a preschool teacher and the room I have been given is a start with today was my first day IN the room , and I had no toys...nothing for the kids, I exhausted circle time and finally got them up to the table with paper and crayons searching through a supply cabinet of mismatched broken stuff ( why they are saving some of it is just beyond me) I LOVE kids, I LOVE a challenge but today I just feel like crying...I have to set up my room on my own time and the only time i can do that is by going in early, I took the job because money is tight and I cannot afford to go out and purchase things for my classroom.
I know I am going to have to exert a lot of energy into making this work and I have a lot of desire to succeed, but I am also a little jealous, the other teachers who have classrooms are well established been there for years and have a lot of nice stuff. I guess I am just having a poor me day.
Any way, I suppose my question is...I need ideas for "Centers" I will have an art area, a pretend area, a math center and a reading corner, IF I can find a way to do it I would also like a sensory table but right now it will just have to be something of a Table top activity, because seeing as how I NEED chairs for my classroom and that is what I am asking for as a priority I DOUBT that requesting a sensory table is in the budget. So what other "Centers" should I have or be ready to switch out if one center becomes stale.
Also I know a lot of teacher have like file folder activities and games, what ideas or sites can you direct me to? I have a lot of raw material on hand and time to make things for my class.

The age group is called 4's, but it is really 3's and 4's.
Thanks in advance, part of my being so unprepared is because I really was under the impression I was going to be working with younger children.

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So What Happened?

My director got me art supplies and play dough and some starter puzzles, I was able to get some blocks and some lacing cards from a supply closet and also some baby dolls. I scrounged through my kids stuff ( I have three of varying ages and already had a bag that I had going for goodwill and got some toy stuff out of there) I went to the Dollar Tree tonight and picked up some odds and ends, I made two different games tonight that are both counting related because we need to focus on the little ones learning basics. I appreciate the many ideas and I know I will have my classroom pulled together in no time. And no I was not exaggerating when I said no toys, but that room had not been in use for all summer before I showed up, and it was by no means intentional, my director is awesome, what with the tornado that happened in Joplin in May that ended up shutting down 6 different Centers, this Center had a major influx of children and it has been a tad crazy. I just am adjusting to a lot of changes at once so I know I am a bit emotional...working with children is both fullfilling AND exhausting = )

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answers from Portland on

Maybe you could make a class wish-list and see if the parents are able to help out. For a dress-up area, people could bring capes, aprons, old halloween costumes, hats, etc.. You could make a sensory area with buckets and dried beans and other fun to feel stuff. Other ideas for centers - a building zone with blocks and/or legos, and a transporation station with different trucks and cars. You could ask for donations of books, playdoh, crayons, and markers.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Freecycle is a great place to ask for used but functional toys. You could definitely do budget sensory table with a few dish pans until you can get a real one. My son's teacher asked for parent to send in rice, pasta, oatmeal, etc. if they cleaned out the cabinets. She also asked for lots of recycling for crafts. Anything practically can be glued together and with a little paint and some wiggly eyes it is an art project. My mom (who taught parenting classes for years) saved the cardboard milk cartons, washed them out and cut the tops off and fit together one inside the other to make blocks. Small blocks were 1 or 2 milk cartons held together with duct tape or contact paper and bigger ones were 4 or 6 cartons. My son loves playing with the giant blocks still (he is 5.5).

I love the shoebox with a theme idea. Also, my son's preschool teacher gave the kids kitchen tongs and had them pick up and move cotton balls from one container to another. It was popular all year and she said it helped develop the small motor skills to write later on. That teacher also took the kids on a lot of sight seeing in the neighborhood trips. They walked to several places and like the library, grocery store, hardware store and the bakery.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Chicago on

One of the really cool ideas I got while I was in school was to start a collection of big shoe boxes. inside each one have what you need for a center. a center does not need to be super big huge etc. the teacher I was taught by had about a hundred of these things. she had them stacked up on shelves at her eye level each were labeled so that she could pull them out when needed. so here goes. a few that I remember. these are for "table top centers"
about ten pair of colorful socks take the pairs apart and lay them in a pile on the table. kids can sort / count / graph etc the gloves

rollers / hair bruses etc to go with one of those barbie head things so the kids can do hair

a box of dirt and some dinorsaur bones some small paint brushes etc to d excavation

tracing paper and pencils

tupper ware rubbing sqaures and paper and crayons

puzzles (4 to a table)

one of the cool things she did was to get cutouts of children and put however many children could play at a center at a time on the corner of the table. so if it was a 4 sided table 4 children. if it was a center that only 2 could play at then 2 cutout people

poster paint and sponges cut into shapes and paper plates. paperplates are great for finger painting and the shapes thing as they don't soak through as easily as paper does

duplo / lego table
kinex table
wooden block area (this is different than a table as they are bigger in the block area she also had a set of shelves that had dinosaurs and farm animals

main areas in the room need to be:
home life (think little kitchen / dress up area)
art (paints and chalks etc on easels)
blocks (big blocks not lego stuff)
circle time / reading area (squares of carpet for kids to sit on and maybe some bean bag chairs

a great place to find stuff for your room cheap and or free is to put a message out on freecycle that your looking for stuff.

oh another great thing she had regularly was a big box. sometimes it was a fridge box sometimes a washer or dryer box. her husband would cut out a door or sometimes just a small opening for kids to crawl through and some windows. then she went to a wall paper store and got some misc rolls of wall paper which were cut into squares of like 6x6 inches. kids could get them wet and glue them on. it would take weeks for this to be done. kids loved it. sometimes it was a house, sometimes an igloo sometimes a rocket but she would tie it into the lesson with a story and art project.
another resource you can look at is putting a list up on the wall with a note that says something like supplies we need.... sort of like the extra stuff the teachers ask for the second week of school that wasn't on the supply list.
good luck

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

you might want to try your local freecycle too, maybe some folks in your area have stuff they'll give you for your classroom. Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Spokane on

I would TOTALLY hit up the parents for whatever they can spare: TP or paper towel tubes, egg cartons, coffee filters (you can make tie-dye flowers with watered down food colouring), old clothes for dress-up, books.

Scour your local thrift and dollar stores and if there are any more farmer's markets. You never know what you'll find!

As for 'centers', my daughter's preschool had dress up, lego, puzzles, books, a play kitchen. They focused on one letter or number each week and based crafts and activities around that or whichever holiday or season it happened to be.

Is there an outside area? I know most places require outdoor play at least once per day....could you milk that while the weather's nice?

What about games that encourage counting and stuff, like "how many balloons can one person hold at once" or having the kids carry pennies to jars between their knees? And then everyone can guess how many are in the jar?

Sorry you got a crumby deal here, but I bet with a little time and a lot of creativity you'll end up with the best classroom :o)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

Crayons and paper are marked down now to 15 cents. Maybe you can ask for donations? Can you see if you can find some things at Goodwill? I guess its not really your responsibility to pay for these things but may be worth it just to make you day go smoother. Good luck!!!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Albany on

Got a boom box, cd player, for 'movement', 'dance'?

Large plastic bowls of raw small pasta, or rice, you can dye it if you want color.

Sing, sing, sing. Sing everything. Sing TWO MORE MINUTES (until clean up time), sing CLEAN UP, do the weather for the day, pick 'jobs' for the day, Show and tell. Calender.

Follow the leader, always a hit with the 3-4 set.

I would think they'd've had a curriculum in place for you to follow.

Google preschool activities....

You'll be fine.....


3 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

I don't think I would have lasted an hour before I declared field trip to one of the other classrooms. :p

I know my kids old preschools used to have discovery toy parties so they could get new stuff without the teachers paying for them. Oh and book fairs. Maybe you can kick up the schedule? Beg the parents to bring toys.

Just beg?

Go on daily field trips?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I am going to homeschool my son, and I have been jotting down all kinds of ideas that I've seen. One, was getting cheap clear plastic containers, and putting them on top of the table. Each tub is a different sensory experience. I also bookmarked this link:

Here is a great blog for lots of ideas:

Here's two good one for crafts: ,

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

Family Fun magazine is a treasure of ideas. Alot of the art and craft projects use everyday items. Make a list of needed items that your parents can help donate. Egg carton and such.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Medford on

Hang up a big "wish list" on the door and ask parents to please read and check off anything they think they can spare from home. Im sure a couple toys, and dress up items, puzzles and art supplies will come flowing in the next day. If you show the parents how little their kids have to work with, I bet they will come to your rescue and fill the room with wonderful things. Just ask. I cant wait for Friday when I get to meet my grand daughters preschool teacher and ask if there is anything he needs for the classroom. I know I have a lot that Id love to send somewhere.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Charleston on

Look on craigslist - toys are pretty cheap on there, and sometimes you can find stuff that is fine for free! Even if you could spare $15-20 to get a few things, it would be a start. It would show your parents that you care, and that you're trying. Ask your student's parents to consider donating unwanted toys to the classroom. I bet every parent could get rid of at least 1 toy from home. (I could get rid of tons!)

As for centers: Dress up center - think old costumes - halloween costumes, dance costumes, princess dress up clothes or fireman hat. Stores mark their Halloween costumes down to 75% off the day after Halloween - you can get them really cheap; ask nearby dance studios if they have unwanted dance costumes they could donate, contact your local fire department to see if they can donate those plastic helmet fire hats.

Kitchen center - see about a toy donation program for the room for the Christmas holidays. Ask parents to pitch in to buy a mini-kitchen or just keep checking craigslist.

Puppet center - make a puppet center by taking a 2 old sheets and hanging them over a cord/fishing line. Let the kids make puppets with old socks, small brown lunch sacks, etc...

It is sad that your school thinks it's ok to have students in a class who are paying monthly tuition, and not to have more supplies readily available to their teacher. Basic toys/books/tools of teaching for preschoolers should be provided by the school. How the teacher "supplements" that framework should be left up to her.

Good luck! You sound like a really conscientious teacher and one who CARES, which is sometimes hard to come by in the preschool age. Hope you can make the kids and your dreams come true in your classroom this year! :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Just a suggetion.. Start a wish list. Many parents have things laying around their house that they aren't using. Ask parents to save things like small plastic food containers that you could use for storage.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

How far from KC is Webb City? I have more art supplies than I could use in 3 years. It sounds like you need to put out a wish list among family, friends, local churches maybe...people you know.

My 3's and 4's love to pretend, make up little skits, play house with babies and blankets and infant toys, cut, color, paste, take nature walks which I don't know if you can... Very soon leaves will be on the ground. Find the orange and red ones and melt them between two sheets of wax paper.

You can also do books on tape which you can get from the library. Sensory tables can be made easy with cheap plastic buckets and rice, macaroni, and you can make home-made play dough. Someone on here had a recipe for some stuff with corn starch and water??? I forget what that was.

Did I say blocks? My kids love all kinds of building sets, cars, and how about show and tell?

What about some board games for kids?

Does your center have wifi? If you can get a hold of a laptop you can let them take turns doing Desktops are cheap these days since so many people switch to laptops. But I find that it's easier to teach them to use the touch pad.

With cardboard and construction paper you could help them design paper dolls, clothes, etc.

How about making paper mache beads and them paint them and use long shoe strings to make them into manipulatives for counting and just for free play?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Orlando on

Goodwill has a lot of great toys for your centers-just sanitize them. How about checking out They have a free section and most of they toys are cheap. We love b/c its preschool based and you can do a lot of printouts for your crafts,etc. Also the Dollar Tree has preschool workbooks for a dollar. Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Get the book The Arts and Crafts Busy Book by Kuffner. Lots of awesome and easy and cheap/often free ideas for making your own crafts and such.
or her wiggle book for physical activity ideas:

Today we made slime, just some water, glue, borax and food coloring, then store in ziplock bags. So easy. You can even make your own glue.

Also, get colorful duct tape. Use it to make train tracks on the ground, or for four square, or hopscotch so you have cute 'active' ideas like that around the room.

You can have a nature center for experiments and such. Pinecones, stones, acorns, leaves and sticks, shells in jars...

Have music time.

Get preschool workbooks for letters and numbers really cheap at half price books, dollar store...

Make things like beanbags, letters out of felt, things for counting like tangrams, musical instruments (paper plates stapled together and filled with beans, or paper towel rolls or cans filled with rice/beans and taped shut. You can spray paint them or cover them with pretty paper and stickers. You can make puzzles.

I am totally perplexed how they have nothing, what did they have before you? Bizarre.

Also, craigslist, freecycle, goodwill... all have super cheap stuff for kids.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

We used to encourage "Want and Need lists" from our teachers, so we could send them out to the parents..

Make a plan, make a list and send this out and see what comes back..

Just breath. You are clever and smart, you can do this..

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I hope you are exagerating when you say NO toys! You've gotten ideas about asking parents to donate toys and art materials, shoe boxes, paper towel and toilet paper rolls, old magazines,
Cheap ideas: shaving cream on tables, fun to scribble and make shapes and letters and easy to clean up. You can make home made playdough and keep in ziplock baggies. You can make home made blocks out of milk cartons, shoe boxes, etc. Kids that age love to cut up old magazines. Collect leaves, acorns etc and make collages with good glue. Take the kids outside and let them "paint" with water and big paint brushes on brick walls or blacktop. Use chalk to outline their shadows at different times of the day. Make your own books putting together the kids names and pictures. "Our families" or "We like red" ask them to draw something red and write the kids words down. Good luck

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

Don't hesitate to ask the parents of your students for help. Perhaps you could write a letter introducing yourself and explaining that you are still working on compiling your classroom essentials. You could ask if they have extra items at home such as arts and crafts items, dress up items, or even if they hear about great garage sales to let you know.

I would certainly be willing to help out with my childs teacher. I may have a better knowledge of how it works because I have a lot of friends that are teachers, but I think most parents would be happy to help.

You could also ask if there are any parents that would like to help you in creating bulletin boards or other classroom decorations. If you bring in a couple of parents they will be able to see first hand what you are needing.

Good Luck,



Don't hesitate to ask the parents of your students for help. Perhaps you could write a letter introducing yourself and explaining that you are still working on compiling your classroom essentials. You could ask if they have extra items at home such as arts and crafts items, dress up items, or even if they hear about great garage sales to let you know.

I would certainly be willing to help out with my childs teacher. I may have a better knowledge of how it works because I have a lot of friends that are teachers, but I think most parents would be happy to help.

You could also ask if there are any parents that would like to help you in creating bulletin boards or other classroom decorations. If you bring in a couple of parents they will be able to see first hand what you are needing.

Good Luck,


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I don't know if these have been suggested but what about Legos and a dress up area ? Most kids like both of those and they both inspire creativity.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

You can make colored macaroni for stringing on yarn & for other crafts pretty easy & cheap. Get 1 or 2 boxes of pasta with large holes (penne or rigatoni, etc.), food coloring, and rubbing alcohol (or high-proof vodka). I used the directions here: After dyeing, lay them on paper towels to dry.



answers from St. Louis on

Definitely put out the wish list for parents. Don't be afraid to ask your friends and family. I'd rather give to a program like this than a 'charity'. You can also make clay from flour, salt.... lots of recipes on line. Bubbles. Good luck.

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