As teachers we often find amazing products or materials for our classroom and then realize how expensive these things are and so we put off getting the things we need. This can be frustrating, as we often do not have large classroom budgets or personal savings to be using to invest in our classroom materials. But I have good news! There are some great, affordable products out there that you can use for making materials, staying organized, and enhancing your lessons and activities. The best part is I have found some great items that are only $15 or less! I found all of these products on Amazon, however I am sure you can shop around and find them at other stores as well!
These products are geared towards what you would need in your special education classroom. I teach a K-5 self-contained class of students with moderate to severe disabilities. In the past I have also taught in the same setting in both middle and high school. Through my years of teaching, I have discovered many affordable materials that can be put to great use in my classroom. This includes products for making materials, sensory items to help students gain input and foucs, ways to organize curriculum and activities, as well as manipulatives for our lessons.
I have provided links to each item on the list, so scroll down and start making your back to school shopping list!
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Products for Creating Materials
As special education teachers, we spend quite a bit of resources on making our own materials. We are experts in cutting, laminating, and applying Velcro! Here are some essentials to have on hand so you always have just what your need to create amazing materials and visuals for your students.
1. File Folders
We are constantly making new file folders in our special education classroom. These activities are great for reinforcing material and encouraging independence. Using the colored file folders gives a better contrast for the background since many of the icons and symbols I use have a white background. Since I use Unique Learning System in my classroom, we have many materials left over every month. I use these materials to make new file folders to maintain the skills students have learned. We use them in our independent work systems, during small group activities, and as part of our centers.
2. Library Pockets
If you are making file folder activities, you definitely will need library pockets. I use these to keep any loose materials from the file folder activity. Glue the pocket to the front of the folder before you laminate the folder. Once laminated, slide scissors over the opening to open up the pocket. Libary pockets are also great to use to assist students with transitions. For each item on a student’s visual schedule, place a libary pocket showing that same activity in the area where that activity occurs. For example, have a library pocket with the reading icon at the table where the reading lesson occurs. Fore example when the student checks his/her schedule for reading, he/she removes the “reading” icon and places it in the “reading” pocket on the table. This brings the student to the correct area, where they can sit and get started. I use this process with students who are new to using a visual schedule or who need help transitioning.
3. Sheet Protectors
I can’t even count the different ways I use sheet protectors in my classroom. One I use them is to house important documents such as weekly or monthly lesson plans. I also I tape them to the wall so I can switch out information on display such as our classroom newsletter and monthly curriculum information. Another way I use sheet protectors, is to put worksheets in. This makes the worksheet reusable and students can work on it with a dry erase marker. This is especially useful with some of our worksheets that accompany our classroom curriculum. It saves paper since you don’t have to print a sheet for every student and make it easy to provide opportunities for repeated practice. I buy the large pack of sheet protectors like the one pictured below and they last me for at least 2 years, if not longer!
4. Binder Rings
I know I’m not the only special education teacher who always has a supply of binder rings on hand! These are so handy in the special education classroom. They can be used to bind a book together if you don’t have a binder machine. I can store related worksheets by slipping a binder ring through one corner to keep them together. Another way I use binder rings is to keep behavior visuals handy. For example, I have large icons for behaviors such as “quiet,” “sit,” “hands down,” etc. Once printed and laminated, I hole punch the corners, add a binder ring to keep them all together, and they are ready to grab when needed. I hang some on command hooks in the classroom. My classroom staff and I also each have a set on our lanyards so they are accessible whenever and wherever we need them!
5. Velcro Dots
It is no secret how much special educators love Velcro. We use them for file folder activies, visual schedules, teaching materials, classroom visuals, etc. We go through a lot in one school year! I typically buy large rolls of velcro, however it is also nice (and less expensive) to also have some Velcro dots on hand. With the dots, you don’t have the extra step of cutting pieces which can be time consuming and wreak havoc on your scissors (and thumb joints)! The dots are easy to just grab and stick where you need them quickly.
Classroom Organization Materials
So many materials, so little space! It is easy to get overwhelmed with your teaching supplies, student tasks, and other materials as far as staying organized. Here are some affordable options to keep your classroom in order.
6. Magazine and Binder Holders
These are some of my favorite products for organizing. I use the magazine holders as part of my classroom’s independent work system. I put the work activity in the magazine holder, and place an icon from the work system on the outside. The pack pictured below is the one I use and it gives you a large number of them to get started with. I use the binder holders to organize each student’s IEP Goal materials. I put their name and picture on the outside and their materials and data sheets in their bucket. This makes it very easy to grab and work at any time during the school day. Either of these could also be used to hold other materials such as curriculum materials, file folders, or manipulatives.
7. Meal Prep Containers for Work Tasks
Plastic shoe boxes are definately a favorite for work tasks when creating an independent work system area in your classroom. However, I have several tasks that are smaller and just don’t require a large container. We started using these meal prep containters and they work great for tasks with smaller materials. As far as adding them to our visual independent work system, we just place the icons on the top of the container and it works out great. Plus, they take up way less space!
It is so important for your special education students to have access to various forms of sensory input. Some items can be hard to find at an affordable price, especially the larger items such as bean bags, weighted blankets, swings, etc. Your school’s Occupational Theraptist can help you acquire these types of materials based on your student needs. For smaller items, there are still some affordable options for us special education teachers.
8. Sensory Packs
One thing I try to have in my classroom is a box of small fidget items that I can grab for students to use when needed during any activities throughout the school day. Fidget toys, stretchy noodles, textured balls, and therapy putty are some great items to include in this “Sensory Tool Box.” You can save money and time by purchasing them in packs such as the ones shown below. You can keep them all in a plastic tote or box that can easily be brought to any work area.
Teaching Materials and Manipulatives
We are constantly looking for materials to use in hands-on lessons with our special education students. There are some great, affordable options available for manipulatives to help with counting, letters, fine motor, and money activities and lessons.
Puzzles are great for praciticing fine motor skills, turn taking, vocabulary, and language skills. They are also great to use in your independent work system or as a center. One great place to look for puzzles is at children’s consignment stores. I try to have a mix of puzzle types for all levels in my classroom. Here are a few different types of puzzles you may want to have on hand for your students.
10. Tweezers for Fine Motor Activities
Tweezers provide a great strengthening activity that can be incorporated into many other activities. For example, sorting colors using pom poms or picking up and dropping items for counting activities. There are several different types and sizes of tweezers to choose from based on the needs of your students. Here are some of my favorites.
11. Magnetic Letters
In my classroom we use magnetic letters of all sizes for letter and word activities. These can be used to match or independently spell words in small group activities or as part of an independent work system activity. Try to have a combination of small and large letters and well as both upper and lowercase. To start I suggest getting lowercase letters first since you will use these the most when working on sight words. I like the ones pictured below because they come in a nice, small box and are easy to give to individual students to complete tasks.
12. Tactile Letters
In my classroom, I have several students with significant disabilities. For these students manipulating items is a challenge so it is helpful to provide tactile input when accessing materials. These letters provide a great option for them to touch and feel each letter. We work on spelling their name or unit sight words, and prompt them to trace each letter as we say them.
13. Counting Manipulatives
It is nice to have various types of manipulatives for math activities. Our students use manipulatives for counting, sorting, patterns, completing math problems, and comparing sets. I am a fan of the counting bears since they come in many colors. They are versatile and can be used across many activities. Counting chips are also great because then can be stored easily and also be used for bingo activities, which we do a lot in our classroom.
14. Money Manipulatives
Learning about money is a skill we work on quite a bit in special education because it crosses over from academics into life skills. It is helpful to have enough manipulatives to make multiple activities and tasks involving money such as counting money, identifying money, calculating money, and making purchases. Some of the larger money sets are a bit more expensive but the set below is a good place to start. If you are willing to spend just a little more, you can get some sets with more realistic looking money.
15. Classroom Games
My students enjoy playing games and this provides a great opportunity to also work on social skills, turn taking, following directions, and sportsmanship. Bingo is an easy game to grab and implement at any time and you can find versions that address different academic areas. Memory is also a great game because you can control the number of matches based on how long of a game students are able to tolerate. Again, check your local children’s consignment shops for some of these games or others! Listed below are some of our classroom’s favorite games.
Where Else Can I Find Affordable Classroom Resources?
Amazon is definitely a great resource if you are looking for low cost items for your special education classroom. I use Amazon to make a public wish list and share this list with friends, family, and student’s families and have received many donations this way! You can even share your wish list on social media.
As I stated throughout this post, children’s consignment shops are a great resource for special education teachers! You can find books, toys, puzzles, and games at great prices and in great condition!
Another great place to check are the discount sections at Target and Walmart. Especially during back to school time, they always have some great classroom materials such as binder holders, magazine holders, bulletin board materials, stickers, puzzles, etc. And don’t forget to check your bargain stores. You never know what you might find at stores such as Big Lots or Ollies Bargain Outlet! I found a fantastic rug for my sensory area at Ollies last year for only $10!
Hopefully this post gave you some great ideas of affordable items to help stock your classroom for the school year. Please comment below with your favorite affordable materials for organizing, prepping, and teaching. What are your go to places to get affordable school materials for your special education classroom?