The summer before my first year of teaching, I started hoarding classroom materials. My weekends were spent driving around town, collecting materials from retired teachers and buying picture books at garage sales. My small apartment began to house an entire classroom's worth of supplies (my husband was thrilled when I moved into my classroom in August!).
As you begin preparing for your first year, think about the supplies you'll need for your classroom. Hopefully you'll have had a chance to take stock of the materials already in your classroom, the kinds of supplies that your school provides, and whether or not you have a budget for additional materials.
Once you have a sense of what you'll need, check out these (mostly free or cheap) resources for securing classroom supplies:
1. Classroom Materials List: Find out whether teachers at your school send home a list of materials for students to bring with them to class. If so, see if parents already have the lists or whether you'll have the opportunity to create your own. Basic classroom supplies like pencils, crayons, and folders are good things to put on these lists. Tip: When kids come to school with their supplies on the first day, have a designated spot to put them. I remember having my entire desk covered by markers and notebooks because I hadn't planned anywhere else for the supplies to go.
2. Classroom Wish List: In addition to sending home a materials list, create a wish list for parents who would like to donate more to the classroom. Wish lists can be created through retailers like Amazon.com or you can make your own, including links to the materials you're requesting. Think about circulating your wish list around to your own friends and family. You'd be surprised how many people would love to buy your students a nice picture book!
3. Craigslist: During the summer before I started teaching, I scoured Craigslist on a daily basis. Look in the "for sale" section and search for "teachers," "teacher supplies," or "teacher materials." Using Craigslist, I have gotten lots of materials from retiring teachers at minimal cost. Several people even gave me materials for free after finding out I was a first-year teacher.
4. Freecycle: Freecycle can be a great way to find free materials to use in your classroom. See if there's a Freecycle group set up in your area and sign up for email alerts. People get rid of all sorts of things that could have a new life in the classroom.
5. Garage Sales: Hitting weekend garage sales is a great place to find cheap books, games, etc. I remember getting loads and loads of picture books for just a few dollars. Again, make sure you share that you’re a beginning teacher. Most people love to help teachers out!
6. Ebay: If you've got some money to spend or are looking for specific types of materials, consider looking on Ebay. I bought several kinds of math supplies that I used for many years.
7. Donors Choose: Set up a classroom project at Donors Choose, where you can ask others to fund your request. In my years as a classroom teacher, Donors Choose helped me land everything from tablets for my students, to art supplies for creating a rainforest in our hallway.
8. Chalkfly: Set up a teacher account with Chalkfly.com, an online school and office supply retailer that gives 5% of every purchase back to teachers. Anytime a customer checks out and inputs your email address, you will receive 5% of their purchase price to spend on your own classroom supplies. You can also create a teacher registry to let others know what you need.
Where else have you had luck finding cheap or free materials?