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Upcycling and Classroom Hacks

I know we've barely begun summer vacation, but I'm already thinking about getting back into the classroom, and wondering what I need to replenish in my room. Teachers tend to spend a lot of our own money on our classrooms, I'm definitely guilty of this (you can check a few posts back to see just how guilty I am!). I want to give my students the most enriching program I can, and so I tend to buy materials, resources, books... the list goes on and on! But, over the years I have managed to find a few simple hacks to save myself a little bit of spending - and do some good for the environment at the same time. As we gear up to (maybe) go back to school, I thought I would share some of my favourite upcycles for the classroom! 

First up, plastic fruit and veggie trays. These are perfect for SO many activities! I use them for arts and crafts invitations, to organize materials for small world areas, they're fantastic for play dough and loose parts set ups, and of course as a way to teach and assess sorting. I use them in so many ways, and I love that grocery stores often carry seasonally themed trays as well. I've got butterflies, Christmas trees, soccer balls, snowmen - it makes the invitations even more fun for the students! They are also quite durable, I've had some of these trays for years! So the next time you're grabbing a tray or two for a small (socially distanced for now) get together, make a mental note to save them instead of tossing them into the recycling bin! 

Another great upcycle are applesauce containers, a colleague showed me this hack. We use them now in both kindergarten rooms as glue cups - it's genius! I used to use those large paint cups, but the kids always had a hard time getting their glue wands back out of them, and I struggled with cleaning them properly. Enter the applesauce container - they're low enough and wide enough that kids are able to use them successfully without help, and really easy to clean. After the activity, we simply let the small remaining amount of glue dry and then peel it out. Not only is it easy, its oddly satisfying to peel that glue out - a little reminiscent of when we would peel glue off of our hands in elementary school (tell me I'm not the only one who did that!) You can see our applesauce hack in action below:

A really great hack that I discovered this year is embossed candle lids (think of the large candles you might find at Bath and Body Works). I love rubbing plates, I've actually got a nice alphabet set - but they were a little pricey, I can admit it! I had been looking at seasonal ones to purchase, and luckily hadn't, because I came across using candle lids instead. I didn't realize that a lid on my counter was partially under something I was trying to colour for the classroom, and ended up creating a rubbing from it. So save your candle lids, or if you are in the store, you can actually ask for any spare lids that they have from their sample candles and they'll give them to you if they have any! They have seasonal designs and various patterns - it's a lot of fun for little ones to explore. You can check them out below (and there is another little upcycle - berry baskets!)

I love a free classroom hack, and this next one is the one I've used the most throughout my ten year classroom career - paint chips! I use these for EVERYTHING! If you follow me on instagram, you've probably noticed that I use them often! You can use them for decor, to teach sorting, I use them as my colour wall (I love that it shows the gradient colours), I use them for crafts... the list goes on and on! You can even use them as borders on a bulletin board in the hallway or classroom, there are so many possibilities with paint chips! Here are just a few of the ways I've used them in the classroom:

Above you can see another one of my favourite upcycles - mason jars! I absolutely love using recycled mason jars for experiments in the classroom. They are see-through, and large enough for students to get a great view of what is happening inside the jar, as pictured below. And - you can reuse them, simply write on them with a dry erase marker to label what is in the jar and then wipe it off when you're done! A really simple upcycle, but it's always a good idea to have a few mason jars stashed away somewhere.

Loose parts are a wonderful addition to any kindergarten program, they provide opportunities for open ended play and transient art pieces. I love to use lids from a few items as loose parts, and reuse them over and over again in different ways. Baby squeeze pouches or apple sauce pouches have been so well utilized in my program - I cannot tell you how many invitations I have used them in! They are great for patterning and sorting invitations as well, or using as counters. Additionally, if you have dried out markers, keep those lids! They also work really well as loose parts, and you're saving them from becoming trash. Here are a few of the ways I've used these different lids:

Lastly, I want to show you one you might not have thought of... styrofoam meat packaging trays. I know, I know, it sounds weird! But once you give them a really good washing, they make really great paint trays if you are doing any kind of stamping activity. They are shallow and wide, perfect for little hands to be successful in endeavours with paint. I like to use cookie cutters with paint, or blocks with paint to encourage students to use paint in different ways - and these trays work so well for it. A colleague also showed me that you can create stencils using these trays - simply draw or trace the shape you want, and then cut it out using an exacto knife. Its genius! 

And there you have it - seven simple ways to repurpose every day items for your classroom! What are some of your upcycles? Let me know! 


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