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Must haves for the preschool classroom

I’ve taught toddlers and preschoolers for 6 years, at three different schools, in 4 different classrooms.  Through each of these moves I’ve come up with a list of items that are must haves for the classroom.  Whether you teach preschool, elementary school, or even home school, the vast majority of items on this list will be helpful for your classroom.  Some of the items on my list may be things that you use every day, but I’m sure that there are a few items that will surprise you, or make you think.  If you know a teacher, any of these items are always appreciated, send some in with your child on the first day and the teacher will be so thankful!

1. Plastic zipper bags. Oh. My. Goodness.  I use these for everything! Storage for my own supplies, gathering students’ things to send home, keeping track of tiny pieces and parts, every single day I need a ziploc bag, and the fact that they come in different sizes is part of why I love them so much!

2. Paper towels.  This is pretty self explanatory, but the ones supplied by the school don’t always cut it. I actually have a stash of old wash cloths for cleaning up the big messes, but paper towels are heaven sent.

3. Cookie sheets.  Old cookie sheets can be easily painted and they instantly look like new. I use cookie sheets as trays for activities, experiments, and art projects.  The best feature of a cookie tray is that magnets will stick to them , so they can also be used for almost any activity that can be magnetic (magnet board stories, matching and sorting activities, magnet letters, etc.).

4. Waxed paper and aluminum foil.  These are great for protecting surfaces from messy projects, wrapping up art projects to take home, and even for creating artwork with.  Waxed paper is wonderful for projects that involve glue because it will peel off after the glue dries, and aluminum foil can be molded and sculpted to create any thing that little imaginations can come up with.

5. Label Stickers.  I label everything.  Not just the supplies in my closet, but also the items and objects in the classroom.  This helps children become familiar with the words associated with familiar items, and helps them learn where items belong.

6. Plastic silverware.  I never know when a situation will call for a fork or spoon.  We might need silverware for a snack or treat, but we also might use the silverware with sensory materials, to help children improve fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

7. Painters tape.  I go through masking tape or painter’s tape pretty quickly, but I don’t really use it for hanging things on the wall.  I use masking tape to make shapes on the floor for the children to walk on, to label artwork, to put letters on the floor to drive toy cars on, to create obstacle courses, and to build forts.

8. Cotton balls.  There is an endless list of science experiments that can be done with cotton balls – exploring absorption, soaking them in extracts to smell and identify, trying to stack or unroll them. They are also great for art projects, counting, practicing depth perception, and dramatic play.

9. Q-tips.  Q-tips fall into many of the same categories as cotton balls.  They are also ideal when small groups have to share containers of glue.

10. Muffin tins and ice cube trays.  Muffin tins and ice cube trays are perfect for sorting exercises because they are sectioned into a number of different mini-containers.  They are also wonderful for art projects because they can store a number of items.  My students love to use them in the sensory table to scoop material into.

11. Sheet protectors. If I can’t make it to the laminator, but I really want to share a photo or document with my students, I’ll slip it into a sheet protector.  The sheet protector keeps it clean until I can decide if I want to laminate it and leave it out.  I also use sheet protectors in my planning binders, this way I can work on them in the classroom, while my students are working, and not worry about things getting spilled, or someone accidentally drawing on my paperwork.

12. Post-it notes.  I can’t seem to remember anything anymore, so I am constantly leaving little post-its in cubbies with notes for parents.  When they get the note they’ll usually come talk to me about it, so essentially they are reminding me what I needed to talk to them about.  I also like to use post-its to write down what children say about their work, then I can stick the post-it to their paper until I have a minute to write out a separate card or create a documentation panel.

13.  Pens. Do your pens disappear too? I can never find them (generally they end up at the bottom of my bag).  I’m picky too, I only like black pens, so when I lose mine It makes it even harder to find a new one.

14. Food trays. I am forever collecting trays from cupcakes and fruit and veggie platters.  These are perfect for math sorting and counting, and I love to use them on the light table.

15. A matching set of plastic bowls and cups. I use bowls and cups for everything from science experiments to art projects.  They can hold paint brushes and markers, be used to mix ingredients, or hold items for activities.  If they all match then it makes the classroom much more aesthetically pleasing, and they are harder to lose because they are distinctive.

16. Food coloring. It seems like every classroom project on Pinterest contains baking soda or cornstarch and is colored with food coloring. I go through food coloring like water. We often use it for paint as well, simply because young children end up with all manner of things in their mouth, and food coloring is safe.

17. Scrap paper.  If I had a dollar for every drawing that my students had ever done, I’m sure I would be a millionaire.  Unfortunately, way too many of those drawings end up in the garbage because they don’t want to take them home, and I can’t possibly keep all of them.  I live for donations of scrap paper, then I don’t feel like I’m wasting good paper or killing entire forests.

18. Clothespins.  These are great for encouraging fine motor skills, but they are also wonderful for projects, and my students love to use them in the block area to make people, or hold pieces of building together.

19. Balloons.  What kid doesn’t love a balloon? Any time that I bring out balloons, my students will gladly do what ever I ask them to in order to play with the balloon.  I’ve successfully taught a number of concepts using balloons, simply because my students were willing to pay attention to the activity.

20.  File folders.  Many people think that all of the files are in the office, teachers have so many of their own files it will blow your mind (unless you’re a teacher, then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about).  File folders can also make you look more prepared for a meeting – simply placing all of your loose papers into a file folder before walking into the meeting will make you seem organized and professional.  I have a bad habit of doodling on my file folders, and I hate re-using them, so I’m constantly searching for new folders.

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