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Teacher Series: Creating a Dream Environment on a Discount Budget

Updated: Mar 15, 2022

Posted January 4, 2021

Article and image by Montessori Rocks! Written by ROCHELLE.

The Montessori curriculum provides children with an opportunity to learn in a beautiful environment with real materials. However, creating an environment with natural and realistic materials can get quite costly, especially if you buy from Montessori stores and websites.  Montessori educators spend a large amount of money working to create an environment made up of mostly natural materials and calm, natural colors because, in Montessori, it is believed that the prepared environment enables curious learners and allows children to be independent.

One of the largest parts of the pre-primary curriculum is Practical Life, where children learn how to be courteous and obtain life skills. In this curricular domain, children work with a small suitcase and clothing to master packing and folding, several pairs of socks to master matching and fine motor, a mortar and pestle to grind cinnamon sticks, and even colanders to practice sifting.  Estate sales, garage sales, and thrift stores are fantastic places to find inexpensive materials to stock the Practical Life area.

Some of my finds:

Index cards, garage sale stickers, small Tupperware containers, and Target dollar spot erasers make a perfect, and very inexpensive, math activity.

I found beautiful bamboo bowls as a set of four at an estate sale. I also found a set of six at the Salvation Army. I use these bowls for an endless amount of activities throughout each year. I think the ten bowls cost me $4. I also found a grater for a quarter – the plastic makes it less likely for my preschoolers to hurt their fingers.

The beads, colored rice, and heart counters were 25 cents for each bag. These materials can be used for transferring, sorting, counting, sensory table experiences, anything really. I also found this gorgeous solid wood serving tray for 50 cents. I’ve used it for numerous activities and it’s perfect because it can double as a tray and sit directly on a shelf.

Some of my peers’ finds:

One of my peers uses birdseed, colanders, and scrabble letters in her sensory table – all of these items can be found at thrift stores and garage sales. They can all also be used for several other activities, such as sifting, letter matching, pouring, and making a bird feeder.

Another one of my peers uses this large basket to hold her work rugs.

I typically choose to shop at estate sales over garage sales because they have so much more to shop from.  In an estate sale, usually, the entire house and garage are stocked with items that the previous owners collected throughout the years.  Always remember to shop the garage because I have found some absolute gems in garages: locks and keys, nuts and bolts, old screwdrivers and other tools, small gardening tools, brooms, birdseed, sand, and potting soil with pots and seeds. I’ve also found beautiful things in the houses of estate sales: sets of bamboo bowls, wicker baskets, wooden trays, miniature spoons (some were the collectible ones), clipboards, tissue paper, and wrapping paper, art materials, miniature pieces for Sound Pouches, small beads and transferring materials, fabric, towels, vintage suitcases, socks and cloth napkins (to practice matching and folding), rugs, serving utensils and measuring cups, dishes, and decor. Because it is so easy to buy way too much,

I keep this quote from Maria Montessori in mind as I shop; “education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment”.  As I walk through the garage sale or the aisles of the Salvation Army, I think “what can I buy here that the children in my environment can learn from?”

I also always stop and consider the following:

  • Is this object aesthetically pleasing?

  • Can this material be cleaned or sanitized?

  • Is this a natural material?

  • How often can I use this?

  • What can the children in my environment learn from this object?

Let the children use the materials in a manner that pleases their curiosities but stock your environment with purposeful materials. Happy thrifting!

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