Tuesday, February 6, 2018

15+ Ways to Find Inexpensive Loose Parts

One of the beauties of loose parts play is that the materials are often free or low cost. That's a win in my book! While I may invest in a few key seasonal or signature items, for the most part, my loose parts obsession is often very inexpensive. Here are the places I often get/find loose parts:

  • Shop your house! You probably have plenty of loose parts right where you are. Major places to look: craft supplies (fabric, ribbons, pom poms, buttons, etc.),  kitchen (stainless steel bowls, canning jar rings, silicone muffin cups, muffin tins, ice cube trays, etc.), electronics (old electronics that can be taken apart and then parts used as loose parts), containers (baskets, divided trays, old cookie containers, etc.), recyclables (clear plastic containers, lids, egg cartons, plastic packaging, boxes, etc.), garage (balls, tools, rope, nuts and bolts, washers, etc.), decorations (seasonal, potpourri, vase fillers, etc.), landscaping (rocks, mulch, sticks, etc.) 
  • Nature! Nature is a great place for loose parts and it's all locally appropriate. We typically collect fallen leaves (short term use), bark, sticks, tree cookies (cut with chop saw or chain saw), sweet gum balls, conkers or buckeyes, nuts of all kinds (especially like black walnut shells the squirrels have chewed), rocks, etc. We sometimes find something special, like a butterfly wing! Steer clear of toxic natural items, such as poison ivy and other toxic plants. Also, in the United States, most bird feathers and nests are protected so let those be. 
  • Garage Sales/Yard Sales/Boot Sales--I look for things made out of wood, baskets, gardening tools, scoops, books, bowls, arts supplies, scarves, "decor" that has many pieces, blocks, frames, etc. I find that toward the end of the last day, they really want to get things moving. My favorite find? A $5 wooden disc cupcake holder leftover from a wedding. 
  • Thrift Stores--I look for similar things as garage sales. I like to watch their seasonal collections, raid their kitchen stuff for mud kitchen and art items, and look at their games and toys. They often have half off days to make it even cheaper. I just grabbed several sorting trays. 
  • ReStore--I never quite know what to expect when I stop at ReStore. At my local one I can typically find tiles, molding (cut down for ramps or decorative elements), cabinet doors which we use as frames or signs or trays, lots of nuts and bolts and other metal items, a sign painted "Art", letters, fake flowers, and much more! 
  • Creative Reuse Stores--We do not have one of these locally, but use them if you have them near or plan on visiting one when you travel. Here is a list of many. I love what Treasures4Teachers does in Tempe.  I went to one years ago 
  • Dollar Stores--I look for seasonal items, rocks, glass pebbles, felt pieces, containers, tongs, trays, etc. I often check the seasonal section (whatever holiday stuff), the kids toys (bugs?), party supplies (clear colored shot glasses, tongs, containers), and the kitchen area (funnels, mashers, etc.). In other countries, pound or 100yen shops may have similar products. 
  • Craft Stores--Stores such as Michael's and Hobby Lobby will have table scatter, seasonal items, peg people, wooden cutouts, glass pebbles, shells, rocks, etc. I check the clearance and after holiday sales as well as using a coupon to get a large percentage off. I also often buy clay there. They often have a large bag of wooden odds and ends for inexpensive. 
  • Amazon--Amazon sells all kinds of things such as tree cookies, wooden acorns, animals, wooden cut outs, etc. See my post here.  I have Prime which gives free shipping in just a couple of days.
  • Online Wood Stores--There are a few stores that specialize in wooden products, such as Casey's Woods Products or Woodcrafter
  • Swaps--I've really enjoyed doing swaps! I make 5 of something send them in and then get stuff back in return. I liked the Seasonal Classroom: Handwork and Mama-made Materials. You could host your own swap as well!
  • Freecycle/Online Garage Sales--Put out an ISO (In Search Of) with specific details on what you are looking for. 
  • Free Ads in Community Papers--I put an ad in our local community paper for "nature stuff" for kids to play with. I was contacted about buckeyes, pheasant feathers, specialty rocks, furs, and more. What a great way to meet people in the community and collect stuff!
  • Decluttering Friends--Know friends who are decluttering? With as many people going to the minimalist route, be alert to what they are getting rid of. They are typically happy to know they can pass things along to people who can use it. 
  • Resourceful Friends--I have a great friend, Annette, from RAW Sustainable Living who is a great scavenger. She loves keeping things out of the landfill and has gathered baskets and baskets of bits and pieces for loose parts play. I never know what she will bring, but it's always a pleasure to figure it out!
  • Make it! I asked for a chop saw for Christmas one year so I could make tree cookies whenever I wanted. Of course, we use it for other things as well. Investing in some basic tools (even a hand saw will do) can allow us to make some of the loose parts we might desire. Check out what is in the catalogs--can you make it? Find my tutorial on making ramps here
  • Cardboard--Cheap and plentiful! Find my suggestions for cardboard here
  • Grow It--Some loose parts can be grown in your garden. Find my tips for plants in an outdoor classroom here. Think of sunflowers, pumpkins, gourds, flowers, and so much more! 
Tips!
  • Let people know your vision--they will help! I use my local social media and friend base to ask questions and send me in the right direction. I recently quickly found an overhead projector at a discounted price by letting people know what I was looking for. 
  • ASK! People don't know what you need until you ask. The worst they can say is no, right? 
  • Share specific ideas of what loose parts you would like to collect, but also be open to what others might have available in quantity. Have a box near the entrance for parents to dropped things off.  Or, send home a bag with each child and follow the Beautiful Stuff approach to collecting supplies. 
  • Talk to local service or business groups about what you do. They have different byproducts that may help and another base of people to ask for loose parts. 
  • Plan ahead for seasonal items. How might you use these in future sessions? 
What tips do you have for finding inexpensive loose parts? Looking forward to hearing your tips!  

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