Sunday, February 2, 2014

Creating Science Centers with Dollar Store Finds

6/19/14 -  I am excited to link up for Thrifty Thursday with Smorgie!  If you haven't checked out Kindergarten Smorgasboard's Blog.... today he has a Blog post for making "thrifty" Cookie Sheet 10 frames...woot woot!  Greg has a lot of really great ideas.  Pop on over and check it out! :)



Hello Friends,

I am fortunate to have the opportunity to link up with some amazing teachers for the Bright Ideas Blog Hop.   This is a Blog Hop unlike so many others.  The focus of this Hop is to share with you tried and true ideas that you can implement in your learning environment.  The subjects range from classroom management to creating centers.  I'd like to give a public shout out to Shelley Gray {Teaching in the Early Years} for putting this Blog Hop together.  Let me just tell you that Shelley has some serious skills when it comes to putting events together!  :)  Thank you Shelley! This has been a very positive experience!

Creating Science Centers from Dollar Store Finds

I decided to write a post about how I create science centers from things I find at the dollar store because there are a lot of teachers, and schools that are pinching pennies to get by.   I didn't come by this topic by accident. In the past I have worked in school districts with very limited funding.  Parent involvement in providing supplies was very slim.  In addition to working with a limited budget, many of the students that I worked with had severe behavioral issues, combined with learning challenges.  I imagine that many of you reading this will be able to relate to a room full of students that are either off their meds., or need them badly and have a hard time completing tasks.  

I learned early on that one of the best ways to manage the behavioral issues, as well as budgetary issues, I had to come up with activities that would keep students interests as well as be cost effective.  I began creating learning resources with items I found at the dollar store(s) and when applicable incorporating recycled items.

The type of dollar store that you visit may make a difference on the types of items that you can find.  In my area, we have Dollar General.  The store in the next town doesn't have a very good selection of item, but the store 20 minutes away generally has a wide selection of items that can be used for

Classroom Greenhouses   $2-$5.00



A couple years ago,  I came across the gardening section of my local dollar store.  They had these cute little trays that came with seeds, soil, and a dome lid for growing.  I thought that they would make a great indoor, classroom greenhouse. Especially for classrooms that are limited on space.

The little garden kits come in more than one size, and range in price from $2.00-$5.00 each.  They also have table top size growing kits that have just the little peat disks (compressed potting soil) that seeds can be added to in order to grow plant starts.  A lot of classrooms grow something (sunflowers, beans, etc) as part of their plant units.  The dollar store greenhouses would be perfect for this purpose.  With a project like this, you can assign students tasks to water, and observe how much light or changes the seed/plants have made. When the plants sprout out of their seeds, students can record in their interactive science journals all about it.


Once the plants have outgrown the small cell or section of the greenhouse, plants can be transplanted into bigger containers for the students to take home or plant around the school as part of an Earth Day celebration, or Mother's Day.

Seed Sorting  $2.00-4.00


Seed sorting became a huge hit with the students I worked with.  Each year,  I host a "seed exchange" with some of my friends and colleagues all across the country.  It works similar to a postcard exchange, except it's with seed packets instead of cards. I start off by going to the local dollar store and buying seeds. Just before spring, there are display racks of seeds in the stores.  They are often priced at 4 for $1.00 and sometimes even more than 4 for $1.00 depending on the location. I buy a selection of flowers and vegetable seeds.

Seed packets can be used for sorting either in the package, or put in trays and sorted for size and shape. (This will require some supervision because you wouldn't want any students to put the seeds in their mouths)


For my example, I purchased $1.00 worth of seeds, and 2 plastic sorting trays.  The sorting trays were $.50 each, and are made of heavy plastic in bright colors.  The colors will make it easier to see the seeds.  The trays have 3 compartments so you can label the sections small, medium, and large. The compartments could also be labeled flower, vegetable, other.  Hint:  The dollar stores generally have small see through plastic containers.  I recommend putting a few of the seeds in each container (specimen jar) to show as an example so students can double check their seed sorting.

The cost of the seeds, trays, and small plastic jars (complete center) is under $5.00.

Animal ID Sorting  $3-5.00

Dollar stores generally have packages of small plastic/resin animals. You can pick up a package containing several animals for under $1.00 usually.  You can generally find packages of reptiles,amphibians, zoo animals, dinosaurs, and farm animals. Depending upon how many types of animals are selected, they can be sorted based on their type, color, hooved or non-hooved, meat animals or milk animals, extinct animals, farm animals, or where they might live and what things they might eat.  

An activity this basic can be great for young children as well as adapted for older children.  Younger students are able to match animals together in pairs, sort by color, and where they live.  The animals can also be placed into sensory tubs.

More advanced students can record animal genus and species in their interactive science journals, as well as write/record information about the animals habitat, where they may live in the world, what food they might eat, if they are living or extinct, and so on.

I have found copies of National Geographic Kids at the Dollar Tree in Missouri.  They are generally $.50, and come in a variety of animal themes.  These booklets would go along with your animal ID center(s).

I priced this center at $3.00-$5.00 depending on the number of packages of animals are purchased.


Materials found at a dollar store that can be used for science centers:

• droppers
• magnifying Glasses (plastic)
• food coloring
• small storage containers (for specimen jars and bug collecting)
• ziploc bags (storage and starting seeds)
• coffee filters (for experiments with color)
• paper towels (for wetting seeds and growing in ziploc bags)
• animal cards (classification)
• animal toys (sorting, classification)
• ice cube trays (for learning about melting ice)
• iodized salt  (for melting ice and making play dough)
• flour
• cream of tartar  (for making playdough)
• jello  (liquid becomes a solid)
• corn starch (liquid becomes a solid)
• potting soil
• popsicle sticks (for labeling seeds)
• mini growing trays
• soil test kit (testing soil for Ph. or acidity)
• measuring cups
• larger storage containers (for recycling, learning about composting, science sensory tubs)

Many of the dollar type stores will rotate inventory seasonally.  To receive deeper discounts, purchase during the seasonal transition/clearance sales.  Some dollar stores offer coupon codes on the receipts after check out.  The Dollar General chain provides a $5.00 coupon on a $25.00 next purchase.

I hope that you enjoyed this Blog post.  If you have any questions, or suggestions please feel free to email me using the little envelope icon above.

I am pleased to introduce the next teacher in the Bright Ideas Blog Hop,  Meg Anderson from The Teacher Studio!  Click HERE to be taken to her Bright Ideas post.  Meg's post is about Mentor Texts.


















6 comments:

  1. I enjoyed seeing all the gems you can use in the classroom from the Dollar Store. Interesting and fun!

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  2. Wow Danielle. This is sure a great idea. My students love anything to do with Science and plants etc.

    :) Shelley
    The Perks of Teaching

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  3. The Dollar Store is my "go to " place for just about everything. Isn't it awesome? Enjoyed your post!

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  4. You found some great supplies at your dollar store! I love the classroom greenhouse. Great opportunity to make observations and integrate reading and writing into science!

    Buzzing with Ms. B

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  5. Love your ideas for sorting- that's such an important skill for science and math! Thanks for sharing!

    Katie :)
    KTP: Keep Teaching and Planning!

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  6. what great resources! Love all of these ideas and your blog!

    -Kimberly
    littlemrspreschool.blogspot.com

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