Classroom supplies

I will start teaching in an elementary school this year. When I looked in what will be my future my classroom, but I didn’t see supplies or equipment for teaching science. What can I do now? –  —G., Michigan

Describe the situation to your principal before you panic. There may be a central storeroom or she may ask other teachers to share materials. She may also guide you through the purchasing process.

Fortunately, science teaching at the elementary level does not necessarily require a lot of expensive equipment. I’ve attended many NSTA conference sessions in which we investigated science concepts with marbles, balloons, straws, paper clips, plastic cups, hand lenses, rubber bands, craft sticks, blocks, and small plastic cars.

Browse through the archives of Science & Children, and you’ll see students investigating plant growth, examining rock samples or insects, studying mechanics and motion, or collecting weather data with simple, inexpensive materials. (However without safety equipment such as goggles, there may be activities that you cannot do until you get them.) Check the science curriculum for activities that your students will do and make a list of materials.

As a last resort you may have to purchase things yourself, as many teachers do. Discount stores have low-cost items that can be repurposed for science. Take a prioritized wish list everywhere you go—you’ll never know what you’ll find at a flea market or yard sale. And save the receipts—the principal may have discretionary funds to reimburse your purchases.

In an ideal world, all schools would be fully funded and teachers and students would be provided with the materials they need. Until that happens, many teachers will continue to be generous toward their students and provide supplies. Welcome to the profession!

(For more science-on-a-shoestring ideas, refer to The Frugal Science Teacher, PreK-5 from NSTA Press.)






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  1. Stacey Sangtinette
    Posted August 23, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    As the response to your post stated, science concepts can be investigated with inexpensive materials. In my classroom, we created experiments with whatever we had in the classroom, playground, and at times raided the recycling bin. Unfortunately I also spent quite a bit of my own money on supplies. However, instead of purchasing additional materials, you might want to think about putting together a proposal and posting it on a crowd funding website such as (non-profit funding organization for public schools),, or Good luck!

  2. Maureen Skayhan Dutr
    Posted August 25, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    You may also want to check with a local college as they sometimes will have materials that you can borrow for classrooms.

    • Mary Bigelow
      Posted August 30, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Museums and nature centers may also have materials to give out or lend. Good suggestion!

  3. Lewis Rashe
    Posted September 8, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Good article thanks I agree in the ideal world it would be best if teachers where better funded so they could provide their students with the materials and school supplies they need but unfortunately we don’t live an ideal world and teachers budgets are tight. A good store I would recommend that provides school supplies at great prices is I would check it out.

  4. Caroline Madsen
    Posted November 1, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Similar to suggestions above check with local businesses to see if they are willing to donate supplies. In my experience local businesses are more than willing to support educating their children. Furthermore, exploration into different virtual labs offered on the computer might be beneficial. There are many free resources that allow labs to be done online.

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