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Thrifting for Child Care & Preschool

Thrift Shopping for Child Care and Preschool - What to Look ForIf you work in early childhood, you know it takes a lot of resourcefulness and materials. Items for crafts, sensory, dramatic play, science, music, manipulatives, natural items, interest centers, art supplies and lots and lots of storage containers!

Some may argue that I don’t need as much as I have but toys need to be rotated and centers changed up in order to keep them interested and learning. I know I’m much more excited about our room after we get something new or change things around so it’s the same way for the children. We need different materials for different activities.

I’ve been in beautiful centers that seem to have everything and it’s all new but I can’t do that. I just couldn’t buy it all new and honestly, I enjoy thrifting for materials! Thrifting for child care and preschool can save a lot of money and introduce the children to a wider variety of materials to use.

How to find good stuff at Goodwill or other second-hand stores:

  1. Visit stores in nicer or upscale locations. It does matter. Check different cities nearby or while you’re on vacation. It’s fun!
  2. Check in often. You don’t necessarily have to stay long. Just hit the sections of the store you are interested. If you’re needing books, go there. Stop in on Saturday when people are donating items. At our store, employees put out new merchandise all day long. In the summer after garage sales people donate what they don’t sell. Stop in just after Memorial Day when people have been cleaning out closets and garages. Also, when the seasons change, people tend to donate.
  3. Be particular. Will your kids use it? Will it break easily? Is it in very good shape? Is it safe? Can it be used multiple ways?
  4. Know your brands. Look for quality items you would buy elsewhere. They are there!
  5. Sign up for coupons or the loyalty club. I get 25% off entire purchase coupons for my birthday. It really adds up. Some stores have 50% off days or certain colored tags discounted.
  6. Be creative – can you paint it? Fix it? Use it (safely) for something other than it was intended?
  7. Know your prices. Unfortunately, sometimes items are over priced at second hands stores.
  8. Donate items if you’re not using them so you don’t collect too much stuff. Only buy what you’re excited about or what you know you will use for sure.

What to Look For


books for child care

I have a full library of books but I almost always look at the books. They are inexpensive compared to buying them new, even from Scholastic. At .50 each, you can’t go wrong. Some may cost more if they are hardcover.

What to look for in books:

  • Good shape, no tears or writing (except names in the front, I don’t worry about that)
  • Will I enjoy reading the book? If not, I probably won’t choose it often or want to read it to the kids. How long is the book? If there’s too much text, I’ll lose the group’s interest.
  • It’s it still current? Free from gender, age and race bias.
  • Keep in mind books for school-agers who may visit your program.
  • Do you need books for outdoors? Put them in a bin for protection from the weather. After a while these books need to be replaced.
  • What books can you use for this week or month’s themes or centers?
  • Do you need duplicates of favorite books?
  • Can you use books for families to check out and use at home?
  • Is there a book that you can give to a family relating to issues the child may be facing? (hitting, death, illness, separation anxiety, new baby or potty training)
  • Reference books for a parent library. I have books parents can borrow on discipline, school readiness, and potty training.

second hand books for early childhood

Dress up Clothing

I’m always on the look out for new dress up clothing. Buying new dramatic play costumes can be expensive and they don’t always hold up very well.

Multicultural Dress up play clothingLook at children’s clothing sections and the costume areas during Halloween. Often costume type clothing is saved until the month of October. Go early in the month for best selection.

  • Clothing that’s appropriate in size.   Can  the child put it on and take it off with minimal help?
  • Can it be modified? Once I bought two blouses and cut the top off at the elastic – now they are skirts. Use Fray Check on edges so fabric doesn’t unravel.
  • Look for multicultural influences.  I’ve found some great pieces with unique colors, patterns, beading and details that incorporate other cultures without being authentic ceremonial type costumes. Kids love to put on these unique pieces of clothing! Often they are considered unisex as well. These are some of my best finds!
  • Check for safety. Are buttons and beads tight? Does it have holes? Will it hold up to play?
  • What self help skills can the child practice with this piece of clothing? What might they pretend while wearing it?

dress up clothing

I like baskets for storing toys and materials in our room. Baskets introduce a natural material into the room, reducing the amount of plastic and bright colors. They can also be used indoors or outdoors. They are so inexpensive, usually .99 so they can be replaced if necessary. Goodwill stores have whole shelving units full of baskets.

baskets for child care and preschool storag

I look for:

  • Nicely sized baskets that will hold up to use. Bend them around and see if they are sturdy.
  • Shaped baskets are great for seasonal themes or different centers.
  • Must be clean and no woven pieces poking out.
  • Unique baskets, like these rope baskets (pictured above). They are great for sorting manipulatives or free play.
  • Make a discovery basket, music basket, literacy or story basket.


Craft Supplies

I often find supplies for the art cart or upcoming crafts for a fraction of the price of new. I wasn’t sure how much this box of beads would cost new, but I knew it was more than $5 so I bought it. It’s $11.91 at Walmart. Good deal!beads

  • Yarn/string, new or partially used, as long as it’s clean
  • Ribbon
  • Paper, cards, envelopes, party supplies for dramatic play or the writing center
  • Fabric for dramatic play, crafts or collage
  • beads
  • craft kits
  • tissue paper

string at Goodwill

lace a puppetToys

Melissa & Doug Puzzles

It’s hit and miss on toys. I always look though. Sometimes we need duplicates of favorite toys or replacements. You never know when you’ll find something that’s high quality and like new for a lot less than new.  Make sure:

  • It’s clean or cleanable.
  • Not broken, unsafe or recalled.
  • How will the children use it? I like the idea of Tinker Toys but my group will use them for weapons. Nope, not buying them.
  • Are all the pieces there? Check puzzles and toys with many parts and pieces to see if they are all there.

abc stacking puzzle

Trays, Bins & Plastic

Trays: Excellent for tray activities, sensory play, crafting, painting, or centers. I’ve bought most of my trays at Goodwill.


Bins: We always need storage! Broken storage containers need to be replaced. Be careful on price – sometimes you can buy them new for the same price as seen at second hand stores. Plastic crates are great for outside toy storage since they drain.

Plastic: Check the plastic container shelves for ice cube trays for sensory play, sorting and patterning. You can often find different sizes and shapes. In the plastics area, you may find small cups or scoops for sensory play. Containers for craft storage. Quality Tupperware for a lot less money than new. Utensils like long handled spoons, mashers or tongs can be used for sensory play.

ice cube trays

Unique Items

unique items

What are these? I’m not sure but they’re interesting. I checked them over. Hmm, I could use them for green houses in the spring when we grow seeds. Will that work? Maybe, maybe not… Well, they’re $1.99 each so I guess I’ll pass. Maybe I should have bought them. It’s exciting to find unique items that can be used in different ways. One thing about working in early childhood, creativity and resourcefulness are necessary and or learned skills!

What do you look for at Goodwill? What great finds have you scored?

Black And White Panda Bear Sensory Bin » Things to Share and Remember

Friday 1st of April 2016

[…] and exploring the shapes and colors. I found these little baskets at our thrift store. Read: Thrifting for Child Care & Preschool. It turns out they are like sifters! The beans and rice sift out the sides of the baskets. Fun […]