Monday, August 9, 2010

Homeschooling bargains at Dollar Tree

I'm gearing up for the new schoolyear at the end of this month, and I'm especially excited about this year. My daughter starts kindergarten, so that means I'll have two kids to homeschool now.

Our church has agreed to let us use a large room in the basement of the church for our homeschooling, so I'm excited to get to make it into a "real" classroom. We've been using our guest room as our homeschool space, but it gets a lot trickier when you have two kids to homeschool and company comes (at least) three times a year for a week at a time.

Now I know some of you homeschool moms like spontaneity and schooling around the kitchen table, and that's great. It's just not my style. See, I used to teach in a private Christian school, and I love the classroom atmosphere. My children, never having been to regular school, are quite enamored with the idea, too. It will be more like "real" school to them, and for some reason they like that. Now if only I could have a school bus pick us up at our door and drive us across the parking lot each morning, they'd be in heaven ...

I made a visit to the local teacher's store with my friend last week, and I got sticker shock. Schooling in any form can get expensive fast! So while I'm getting my classroom all set up, I thought I'd share some Dollar Tree bargains you might want to look into if you homeschool, or even if you teach in a regular school.

1. Counters (math manipulatives) - You can find all kinds of little critters in the toy section, and they usually come 8-10 in a pack for $1. (I got frogs since our first arithmetic theme this year is pond life.) You can find these at teacher's stores for a similar price per item, but what homeschooler do you know of that needs 120-200 counters?

2. Bulletin board visuals - The selection varies, so if you see something you like, snatch it up. These go fast, and it might not be there when you go back. Some of these items include:

  • wall charts (some of them are pretty cheesy, so be picky; I've been pleasantly surprised at the nice charts I've found when I dug through the bins)
  • bulletin board borders - If I remember correctly, there are 21 feet of border in each package. Some of these are designed in such a way that you could cut them apart into squares and use them in file folder games. You get a lot of decorative squares that way! Compare to 25 feet for $2.99 (and up).
  • 4" die cut letters and numbers - Great for bulletin boards, these include only uppercase letters and numbers. You may need to buy two packs to spell out your chosen title, but it still beats the $8 my local teacher's store sells the name brand for!
  • entire bulletin board themes - these include bulletin board toppers, bullet points and full-color diecuts. They currently have Community Helpers at my Dollar Tree, which is perfect since that's one of our themes this year! For $3 or so, you can have a complete kit that would cost $15 and up at the teacher's store.

3. kitchen timers - great for timed exercises, if you don't already have a stopwatch.

4. word strips (30 ct) - one pack will last you a child's entire schooling if you use them for nameplates; they can also be used for sight words, spelling words, etc. Compare at $3.49 for 75.

5. alphabet wall borders - I think they use Zaner-Bloser, but the manuscript is easily adapted to Abeka (I just changed the direction of a few arrows with another color marker). Compare at $10.99.

6. posters (motivational and instructional) - There are some cute ones that emphasize doing your best, trying more than once, etc. There are also some educational ones about preventing colds and flu, which is perfect since we have a unit on that in health this year. These posters come two in a pack (two different ones), so that's only $0.50 if you'll use both.

7. posterboard - 2/$1, including some nice colors. These are nice and sturdy, and you can't beat the price! The white ones go for $0.97 at my local Wal-Mart, and they don't even carry any colors. I like these for making my own charts, which I'll share with you another day (when I get pictures taken).

8. large wall stickers - These aren't advertised on their website, but they're the ones from Chartwell Studio that are a lot like the vinyl word art everyone is putting on their walls nowadays. Personally, I love the script ones with quotes about family and home. But they also make some really cute child-themed ones that would be fun to use in decorating otherwise-boring charts. It's not a necessary thing for schooling, but one that can make a big difference in your kids' interest.

9. party and seasonal themes - These aren't in their school section (or even advertised on their website, that I can see), but they are a gold mine for classroom decorations! If you've stepped foot in a Dollar Tree in the last few months, you've surely seen the luau-themed decorations. Well, one of our themes this year is jungle, so I picked up some jointed figures to decorate with: two 36" palm trees, a 28" parrot, and a 26" toucan. They also have some thin plastic wall/door/window decorations that are quite large. (I used one for Cousin Camp pictures.) You can't beat that price! As fall nears, you'll likely find a jointed scarecrow. If you're lucky, he might even be cute. :)

10. plastic tablecloths - These are found with the colored paper plates and party supplies. I checked, and they're the perfect size for backgrounds on even my 4'x8' bulletin boards. If you're careful, you might be able to get a few uses out of them.

11. wrapping paper - These are also good for bulletin board backgrounds, although you may have to "piece" them, depending on the size of your board. Again, if you're careful, you might be able to get a few uses out of them.

12. dice - These are found in the toy section (about 8 dice to a pack), and they're great if you're making file folder games that require them. I've also seen a spinner in the teacher section, if you prefer those.

13. science fair boards - These usually show up around the beginning of the school year. (My store has had them in for a few weeks.) They also usually disappear pretty fast. They're slightly smaller than some of the bigger stores carry, but they work just as well. Sometime I'll share another school project I made with one of these.

14. craft supplies - They have the best price around on fun foam, and you can usually find some decent (for kids) art brushes, paint, ribbon, kids' aprons (for smocks), beads, and wooden/plaster projects to paint. Keep an eye on this section, too, because you never know what they might get in. I was able to snag two sets of Paintastics (5/pack) a few months ago, and yes, they were the Paintastics brand.

15. plastic trophies - You can find these in the party favor section. I mount them onto wood blocks and use them as incentives for all kinds of things. My son especially enjoyed getting to keep it on his desk if he kept his desk neat.

16. books of stickers - These are great for grading papers or using on charts. You usually get a mix of large and tiny stickers, so check what you're getting first.

17. writing prompt books - I don't know if these are a permanent fixture or not, but my son likes them better than the Abeka creative writing assignments. They have a writing prompt at the top of the page and space to write underneath. When they're done, they can color the picture at the top. I'm pretty sure they are primary-lined.

18. mini file folders - These are in the stationery section, and I'm not sure how often you'll be able to find them. They were stacked next to recipe cards, so I'd guess they were meant to organize recipe boxes. However, I made a few mini file folder "games" with them. I'll have to share those with you another day.

19. library pockets - That's not what they're called, of course, but that's what they look like. You'll find them in the teacher section. They're great for charts and file folder games.

20. clear "Contact" paper - Just because I couldn't end at "19", I included this. I'm not sure if they always have this, but I know I've seen it recently. Personally, I prefer to get my clear Contact paper at thrift stores and yard sales (I see it all the time), but this is a decent option in a pinch.

So I hope you've enjoyed my little list. Do you have any great homeschool supplies from the dollar store that you'd like to add? I'd love to hear them!


Shore Girl said...

Glad you found lots of good deals to fit your needs/style of homeschooling! Always good when you can do "more for less."

Anonymous said...

There and the dollar section at Target. Every year around late July or earily August they get books, and lots of them, in as well as work books, they aren't thick but plenty enough for a kid to work through in addition to other things we do when home teaching our children. *smile* I just picked up a few at our store and one of them was a science one for grades 2 and 3. I was thinking that even with our three year old and five year old we could do the projects together and talk about the change with Daddy. *smile* I am excyted to have the opportunity to teach two little ones. All the best in the coming season...fall is upon us in slow easy motion. *smile* Sincerely, Mommy of two little blessings & so much more!

Sophia said...

Oh, I'm glad you mentioned Target's $1 Spot! That's a gold mine, too. I've gotten President and States flashcards (will be using those for a patriotic bulletin board this year, then later as flashcards when we learn them in schoolwork); tiny farm "counters" (themes vary); and more that I can't remember right now. Definitely check them out!

Melanie said...

Walgreens has Crayola colored poster boards for 5 for a $1 this week. They are generally $.98 each so this is a great deal!

Sophia said...


Thanks for the heads up! You caught me just in time, too. We have VBS this week, so I won't be getting out as much, but I'm planning to run out for a few things a little later today. Thanks!!

Cindy in Wisconsin said...

Sophia, Dollar Tree is one of my VERY favorite stores when it comes to educational supplies. If you like to make your own learning games, they have dice, which are a MUST. Poker chips also make great counters in math. Composition books or blank journals make great places for a child to put their creative writing, making their own 'book.'

I am also a cardmaker & have to put in a word for using those bulletin board pieces (good work ribbons, stars, etc) on cards. Giftwrap paper also works well on cards. Cardmaking is an excellent art project for the children, too, as well as a service learning project as the cards can be sent to shut-ins, military, etc. Emery boards & make-up foam triangles work well for art projects, too, or cardmaking. Use baby oil with colored pencils to "blend" colors on art projects (use cotton swabs to apply the baby oil after coloring). Paper bags can be used to make puppets or as paper on cards; cut bags open & stamp with bingo markers or draw your own designs on them to make giftwrap or book covers.

A lot depends on what is available at your Dollar Tree. I definitely recommend searching the $1 bins at JoAnn's & Michaels, too.