Big Ideas, Small Budget

What advice would you give to first-year teachers who want to give life to their lessons, yet they have a budget that is small or non-existent?
— J., Iowa

I always had living things in my classrooms— just going to a park or garden you can find sowbugs (pill bugs), lady beetles, earthworms, and more.

Seeds are easy to come by, and a single package of, say, tomato seeds can go a long way. You can ask for donations of equipment, such as tubs, aquarium supplies, soil, and sand in your school newsletter, website or in communications to students’ families. Consider asking for old cell phones that can be repurposed as cameras for observations. I often would get dissection specimens of fish, oysters, clams, even crabs and lobsters by going to the local grocery store and explaining how I could use any of the creatures that died in their fresh seafood section! They would freeze them and I would pick them up.

There are many, many, many shoestring budget lessons out there that don’t need fancy equipment. My classes would make planispheres—“sky maps” of constellations that you dial to the correct date. You can download one for free and then all you need is paper, glue and card stock (I repurposed file folders in place of card stock). A bit of searching on the topics you teach will net you many cheap-to-make items like this that become little projects in themselves.

Bring in classroom speakers! There are many organizations that have free travelling shows and experts that will come to your classroom. Check out the websites of nature centers, hospitals, zoos, parks, societies, and universities. A bird rehabilitation center in my city would bring owls into the classroom! Free!

Hope this helps!

Image by Chris Pastrick from Pixabay

Please follow and like us:
This entry was posted in Ask a Mentor and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Big Ideas, Small Budget

  1. Julie says:

    For public school classrooms, is where it’s at! I have had tens of thousands of grants funded for my work with students and teachers! DC is soooo easy. There are people all over the US who support public schools by funding their grants! I am no longer in a school (i’m at the district level), so I can no longer write grants, but I still help teachers write them all the time and it can change everything you thought possible!

  2. Alecia Kimball says:

    My name is Alecia Kimball. I am a fourth-year at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. As I quickly approach my last semester at Wartburg, I have realized that materials and supplies can add up very quickly when you are on a tight budget. Not everything that you need for a lesson or an activity has to be the best. If you can find ways to incorporate used materials, it can save you the money that you might not necessarily have. Reaching out to community members, businesses and your students’ parents are great ways to ask for donations or supplies that are needed within the classroom. Most community members and businesses will go great lengths to help teachers. Do not be afraid to ask.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas to help first-year teachers save the money that they might not have when it comes to creating fun and exciting lessons or activities. What is your favorite website to use to find free resources?

    With much appreciation,
    Alecia Kimball

    Alecia Kimball
    Wartburg College Class of 2020
    Elementary Education Major
    Reading Endorsement
    Wartburg Women’s Basketball
    Science Methods 385
    Dr. Michael Bechtel

  3. Emma Hanson says:

    My name is Emma Hanson and I am a third year Elementary Education major at Wartburg College. Budgeting has been a big discussion in many of my college education courses, so I found your post to be very interesting and relatable! The many ideas you included on finding low cost- and even free- resources was very helpful. Communities and local businesses are great places to look for free and cost-friendly classroom materials and supplies. Teachers need to be aware of the many great resources around them that can help save their budget, without sacrificing student learning. One of the greatest free resources we have: THE WORLD AROUND US! Learning is about processing experiences that increase our knowledge on what is happening around us. So why not give students the opportunity to take advantage of the environment that surrounds them?
    I appreciated your post on big ideas with a small budget! You provided many great resources and activities for the science classroom.

    Thank you,

    Emma Hanson
    Wartburg College ’21
    Elementary Education
    Reading Endorsement
    Science Methods 385

  4. Andrew Black says:

    My name is Andrew Black and I am a third year elementary education major at Wartburg College. I stopped on your article because of the instant connection I had with it. In many of my education courses we talk about budgeting and how teachers can be successful in the classroom without breaking the bank. I like the resources and ideas you provided on how educators can use their community around them for support. I thought that your planisphere idea was very cool! One thing I hadn’t put a lot of thought into was classroom speakers and finding free resources for that.

    Thank you for sharing your ideas and experiences!

    Andrew Black
    Elementary Education Major
    Wartburg College
    Reading Endorsement
    Science Methods 385

  5. Johanna Vander Wilt says:


    Thank you for your post. My name is Johanna Vander Wilt and I am a preservice teacher at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. Coming from a small school and also planning on teaching in a small school, I know finding the money to be able to best serve your students, especially in the sciences, is really hard to do. We all want to do everything we can to give students the best possible experiences.
    In my Science Methods course, our textbook is The New Science Teacher’s Handbook: What You Didn’t Learn from Student Teaching by Sarah Reeves Young and Mike Roberts. This book is great overall, but in context with the question being answered in this post, chapter 3 is about budget managing and I found it extremely helpful. The steps for success listed in chapter 3, “How to use your money for classroom supplies wisely” are:
    1. The best planning starts with knowledge.
    2. Many science teachers share a budget with other teachers and/or disciplines.
    3. Break science lab supplies into two separate categories: equipment and consumables.
    4. Shop around for a good deal.
    5. Science is the study of the world around us, and that would be a great place to find free or low-cost science equipment.
    6. Sharing is caring.
    7. It’s ok to play the sympathy card by telling people you are a teacher in the interest of getting supplies for science.
    (Reeves Young & Roberts, 2013)
    Some great resources outside the awesome ones the book gives at the end of this chapter are:


    Johanna Vander Wilt
    Wartburg College | Class of 2021
    Elementary Education | Leadership Minor
    Science & Reading Endorsements
    National Science Teaching Association Chapter President

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *