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I started my career in an urban public school. The experience was eye opening, particularly because my own educational experience was from a rural middle class setting and very different. Teachers at my school had overwhelming financial support from parents. I would say that it was for this reason that I personally felt motivated to give my students everything I possible could so that they could have a winning chance. I supplied my room with paper for xeroxing, food, baby wipes, rugs, trays, plants, and supplies such as scissors, glue, etc.  My monthly budget (from my small salary) was $100.00 and it went quick. This lead to the onset of my thrifting experiences and I’ll admit, the awful onset of hoarding which seems to be a teacher trait (so I’m certain I’m not alone).

When I became a Montessori teacher, thrifting took on a whole new experience. It just so happens the items most desirable aren’t from Walmart, but in fact are from thrift stores. So for those studying Montessori’s methods and for those who are Montessori teachers, I hope this post saves you time and helps you find those awesome Montessori treasures!

Toys: Did you know there are thrift stores that do not accept toys? Due to recalls, most stores such as Salvation Army do not accept toys. Your best bet it to scout your local thrift stores. In my area, Thrift Town and Savers are my go to places. A fast and quick method is to also use Yelp! When I travel to new areas, I’ll call before heading there just to save time (yes, I shop at thrift stores when I am on vacation).

Now just because most Montessori environments stick to fantasy versus reality philosophy and hold onto the belief that we should be giving children real experiences with real items. Sometimes the lessons in Montessori deviate from this thought, particularly if the activity/work offers numerous teaching benefits. Therefore, here are the toys to look out for:

1. Plastic Baby Doll
A favorite Montessori lesson and activity is baby washing. If you don’t have a plastic doll in your child’s collection, thrift stores generally have them in abundance. I have used large plastic dinosaurs for dinosaur scrubbing, I’ve seen some teachers use a large sea shell to bring to life their study of the Ocean.

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For more of an in depth explanation this photo came from: http://mymommymakesit.blogspot.com/2010/05/montessori-baby-washing-station-on.html

2. Farm House
One of the earliest grammar lessons generally introduced to children is the Farm Grammar lesson given around age 5.5. This is from:

http://whatdidwedoallday.blogspot.com/2012/03/montessori-grammar-noun-day-3.html

You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a farm.

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The farm I purchased was purchased for $3.00. I used it for a farm unit when I taught 3-6 and then used it as the introduction to teach nouns for my older children. You’ll get a lot of use from this activity so it’s worth the investment!

3. Wooden Ball Drop
This particular toy is amazing! When the child grasps the ball, they’re working on whole hand grasp. Secondly when they insert the ball into the hole as they watch it travel, they’re preparing their eyes for reading as they work on visual tracking. Sometimes I’ll see this without the ball, and it’s worth getting it and dealing with finding a ball that fits later! This is a pricey item to pay full price for, yet also one that is difficult to find. If you have ants in your pants (as I generally do), setting aside birthday money or using an amazon gift card for this purchase is a worthy purchase for children 12-28 months.

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4. Shape Sorters
I love anything with wood. This particular Melissa and Doug Shape Sorter, are typically found in toddler classrooms however, did you know that it could be used for later activities?  You can take the shapes and create a sensorial extension by having your child/student hunt for shapes and match them in your environment. You could also use them for tracing! And another…. put them in a sock and you have a tactile guessing game!

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Occasionally you’ll find super rare toys that are stupendous! They’re not Montessori, but are independent activities that strengthen fine motor and visual discrimination. Look out for these:

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Puzzles: You can never ever go wrong with puzzles, and in fact I find that the older the puzzle the better. As my dad would say, “They don’t make them like they used to.” I’m finding that puzzles that are older are less commercial. When you see them, they’re worth the purchase particularly if your child is under the age of 6. Oddly enough on my internet quest to find you some, I couldn’t find any. So, here are my Melissa and Doug favorites. If you’re looking for ways to increase your child’s ability in completing puzzles, see my post on Puzzles Without Tears. I provide you with a comprehensive developmental scope of puzzles from my Montessori training. And yes, Maria Montessori was that phenomenal to break down the sequence in puzzles.

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ManipulativesMontessorian’s are infamous for turning junk to treasures. Certain thrift stores will sort and bag these items and sell them in bulk. This is from my local Saver’s. Items are bagged and categorized: holiday, office, art supplies, kitchen supplies, and toys. Thrift Town also does the same.

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The items you’ll want to look out for in these categorized bags are:

  • magnetic letters
  • letters from games (see easter egg photo for example)
  • shapes
  • ABC stickers
  • small items for counting (gems, erasers, marbles, pompoms)
  • plastic ice cubes (for practical life water scooping/tonging

This was my find on 5/23.


If your a homeschool parent or teacher looking to make literacy extensions I hunt for items with letters printed on them and game pieces. These items can be repurposed and used to make Montessori inspired activities! I plan on using the Uno Stacko game pieces for a word family sort. My personal budget and limit for each bag is $2.00.

Also, in these fabulous bags of goodies are random miscellaneous tiny objects filled with tiny toys! Montessori teachers use these objects for initial sound activities or word building activities. Here are older posts I did with some examples on how you can reuse and repurpose both trays and objects:
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Kitchen Items: Kitchen utensils are neat lil tools children enjoy using. They feel empowered and little do they know how their exploration and engagement are preparing their hands for writing and minds for academics.

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I’ll be mentioning Indonesiamontessori on Instagram later in this post. I love what she’s doing with her lil one. With her permission, the photo above captures some of the kitchen items you’ll want to look out for. They are:

  • tongs (metal tongs from ice cube bar holders are the best)
  • wooden tongs
  • pitchers (creamers are nice and small for lil hands)
  • funnels
  • scoopers
  • waffle cutter (for food preparation activities)
  • egg beater for making bubbles
  • flour sifter
  • rolling pin (art and Play-doh)
  • mortar and pestle
  • escargot holder (great for tonging items into one another)
  • tortilla press (to use with Play-doh – my kids could get enough of this)
  • wooden miniature cutting boards
  • jam/butter spreaders (for making toast)
  • old school coffee grinder (mine broke from excessive usage)
  • misc. (items you can use for practical life) medicine droppers and bath tub gripers
  • toaster (for making toast)
  • cheese grader (used for making soap shavings and also art if you use crayons)
  • potato smasher (used for art activities)
  • turkey baster
  • juicer (non-electric… old school)

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Curious about old school flour sifters and their benefits? Please see my post from February, 2014! Sifters are my all time favorite practical life treasures. Now most thrift stores charge under $2.00 for kitchen utensils. You can’t go wrong with spending money on these helpful learning tools. Hopefully you have some of these items in your kitchen! And please don’t feel pressured to have it all. This is just a Montessorian’s crazy comprehensive list.

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Old school kitchen utensils are the best and potentially you can turn them into this…

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…an outdoor play area, great for hours and hours of exploration.

A wonderful way to embrace and encourage independence is from https://threeoaksblog.wordpress.com

I love this set up. Execuse the awful screen shot. I wanted to be sure you got the blog information! Some parents fully embrace Montessori’s Methods by making things in their home accessible to their child. The photo above is a wonderful example. They even included a tiny sponge! Yay!

Another example of creative repurposing is from an Instagram follower, ‘thelittlemontessorischool.’ For more creative ideas, follow her on Instagram!

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Trays: Defining the work space is a critical component in Montessori activities. Trays are used to help the child access the material when they are placed on shelves. When the child retrieves the tray, this effort allows them to directly develop gross motor skills of coordination and balance. As they lift the tray they must walk and balance items simultaneously. Trays are also used to either define the work space or to carry items for large activities that are designed to be completed on a rug. The rationale for using trays are genius of Maria Montessori if you ask me.

When you are purchasing trays, flat rectangular trays are best. My favorite are the Japanese trays because they don’t look cheap, particularly if used in practical life water activities. The black tray is great as a control of error when the child can readily see water drippings versus spilling on a white tray. These are a little more difficult to find, Daiso a Japanese $1.50 store has these in abundance. I always included a small sponge on my practical life water activities to remind my kids to wipe their spills. You can find them at Dollar Tree 2 for a $1.00.  Cut them into fourths and you have 8 sponges!

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Second, trays are often used to define the space and are sometimes used for sorting. Therefore trays with compartments are always good finds!

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Trays with compartments are also great for math extensions! My favorite math extensions are from ice cube trays!

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Compartments used for baking are also great for practical life, sorting activities.

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Both photos were taken from Instagram. Please find both users for more inspiring ideas!

Items made from wood: Montessoriian’s generally have a love affair with wood. We are big on anything natural and well earthy. When you’re putting a Montessori activity together, beauty is often a criteria as you want to draw the child’s attention to the work. Wood items tend to make items pop. I found this a few weeks back at my local Goodwill. Believe it or not, I walked away and didn’t buy a darn thing!

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Lastly, lately I’ve been into wooden wine boxes. I have been able to find them for under $4.00.

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See my post on how I turned this box into a mutl-sensory math activity!

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These make fabulous practical life wood polishing items and likewise for silver!

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I also can’t forget baskets. In my opinion, square baskets look better on shelves and offer a little more uniformity.

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I’ve learned the hard way that baskets with handles don’t work. They’re bulky and most don’t fit on shelves.

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Some thrift stores charge a lot for baskets and trays. I wouldn’t pay more than $2.00. Michael’s from time to time will have 50% off baskets. Sometimes it’s worth spending a few more dollars for a basket that you’ll get more use from than a basket that collects dust on your shelf. And, sadly I can attest to this slight basket dilemma due to being frugal.

Cultural Subjects: In recent years and with the growing popularity of Pinterest, many classroom teachers have moved towards the direction of creating cultural boxes. Cultural boxes are continent studies. In these boxes are 3 part nomenclature cards about the country, maybe animal figurines from a particular country, miniature flag replica, examples of money, maps, and cultural artifacts that also serve as a point of interest (see prior post for more information on point of interest). This is from http://discoverymoments.com/uncategorized/north-america-contient-box/

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I also like Vina’s work from http://www.indonesiamontessori.com. She used Safari Toobs as artifacts and 3 part nomenclature cards.

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Also, thrift stores generally have National Geographic Magazines. These are great to add photos for your cultural boxes!

Games and Workbooks: Earlier I went on a rant about old school puzzles and how they were less commercial as opposed to now a days. This goes true for games and in particular lotto.

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These games are simple and aren’t overly done. Simple in my opinion is always the way to go. I also like using game pieces and workbooks to make hands-on learning materials. I haven’t written a post on how to do this just yet. If you’re interested let me know. Here’s some examples of what you can do with an unused workbook or even game pieces like the photo above.

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Books: Thrift stores are also a great place to find children’s books. Just last week I saw an entire series of Hooked on Phonics for $20. You can never go wrong when you invest in books.

Furniture: You can bet, this is on my husband’s ‘Honey to do list’ and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with. He’s extremely creative, and even took a Radio Flyer Wagon and with spray paint and stickers he made from Illustrator and Photoshop to  replicate a BMW M3 for my girlfriends wedding. Until the time comes, here are some awesome ideas I pinned on Pinterest. If you don’t see the blog information, the photo was from a random search on the web (my apologies to the person who owns the photo).

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If you have found awesome finds or have repurposed items, I’d love to post about your finds! You can find me on Instagram or Facebook! Tag me! I hope you feel charged and excited. A special thanks to Vina for inspiring this post.

As more ideas come, I’ll add to this post! Happy Thrifting to you!

Warmly,

Mandi