Money Tight Montessori: Thrifting Practical Life

One of my favorite aspects of a Montessori Education is that of the category of “Practical Life” in which the child learns independence from being allowed to participate in certain real-life activities.  These can range from dressing oneself to helping in the kitchen.
As any parents who adheres to an education principle we can often find it overwhelming to fit the items we deem necessary for such an experience into our budget.  I’ve found that in a pinch our local thrift and consignment stores can be a wealth of items once I knew what I was looking for.
The following are some of the items I’ve found easy to locate in my local thrift and consignment shops that adhere to Montessori ideas, without being directly from a catalog.
  • Baskets – Many Montessori practitioners are fans of the idea of things being useful and beautiful in order to encourage their use and I’ve seen many beautiful baskets for sale on Montessori sites for any purpose from storage to sorting and baskets are one item that never seems to be lacking in thrift stores.  Those small baskets that don’t seem to be good for much to an adult are the perfect size for little hands.  Large baskets make for much more appealing storage that plastic primary colored totes, IMHO.
  • Trays – Plastic or Wooden trays are versatile objects that can be used for organizing activities and supplies.  Divided trays are perfect for sorting activities.
  • Bowls – Mix matched plates and bowls are a dime and dozen at most thrift stores.  I’ve found that tea saucers and small desert bowls are a perfect size for little hands.  Ramekins and Ice Cream Dishes are also a perfect size for both Practical Life and Sensory Games.
  • Pouring Materials – Learning to pour water from one vessel to another is a favorite Montessori activity for preschoolers and if you think out side the box a little you’ll find that your thrift store has just what you need.  I’ve picked up a couple cream and sugar sets that are just the right size for my little guys hands.  Set the activity up on a tray with a sponge near by and you’re all set to encourage hand eye coordination!
Baskets, Trays, Cream and Sugar Set, S&P Shakers, Wooden Nutcracker, Enamel Mixing Bowls, Utensils, Plates, Bowls and Cups all Thrifted Items in our Kitchen Basket
    • Utensils – Child-sized utensils can be tricky to find, but keep an eye out for things like small spreading knifes, sugar tongs, desert forks and spoons and you’ll have a wealth of items at your disposal!  It’s not uncommon to find novelty sized kitchen utensils in the mix – tiny whisks and wooden spoons that have little to no purpose for the average adult are a gold mine to children.
    • Various Cooking Tools – An eagle eyed thrifter can easily find unusual items if you go in with the right mind set.  Think of things that you loved to play with or would have loved to play with as a child – perhaps a mortar and pestle, honey pot, salt shakers, various decorative jars for cooking oils or sugar tongs to help with hand eye coordination.  “Mini” and Novelty sized cook and bake-ware are often a dime a dozen and perfect for little hands.Whether they get used in Practical Life or head straight to the play kitchen is not really that important.
    • Cloth Napkins – Something too many people get these as gifts and never use them; if the napkin is too big for your child right now a quick cut and/or a run thru a sewing machine and you’re good to go. Not only good for kitchen and imaginative play clothe napkins are the perfect size to teach little hands to fold
    • Jars and Containers – Encourage that hand-eye coordination even more by picking up a few items with different types of lids and latches from the kitchen and knick-knack aisles.  Think of little jewelry boxes or old spice containers.  Use the items to discover sensory experiences like texture, size or color!
    A Few Other Items to Keep in Mind:
    • Scarves – Forget expensive play-silks, stock up on fun cheap scarves for imaginative play.  While you’re at it don’t forget to check out hats and shoes for dress up!
    • Costume Jewelry – Just because you’d never leave the house in it doesn’t mean it’s not the perfect accessory for a Queen or a Pirate’s Booty!
    • Sheets – Whether it’s for forts or to lay out for messy crafts, this can be a great thing to stock up! Just run them through the wash once or twice to ensure cleanliness!

    If you’d like a list of Easy to Find Practical Life Items CLICK HERE.

    P.S. While “researching” this post I managed to score the Twisting Wooden Nutcracker shown in the picture above at my local Goodwill.  That item alone tends to run between $16-18 at a Montessori supply site and I added it to our collection for a whopping $1.30.

    *I’m not a trained educator in the Montessori Method, only an enthusiast with a few years of real life experience in a Montessori Charter School and what I’ve gleaned from books.  What I share here should therefore be taken with a grain of salt and not considered a completely true and accurate account of Montessori Education Methods.*

    Shared on LivingMontessori’s Montessori Monday 

    and Frugally Sustainable  – Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways 

    and Your Green Resource 

    and Little House in the Suburbs

    9 thoughts on “Money Tight Montessori: Thrifting Practical Life

    1. Awesome, Molly! As soon as I saw the title of this post I was excited. I've already been making use of my local thrift store for practical-life-type items for my little one; this list has inspired me with a few new ideas. Thanks!


    2. I am a Montessori parent enthusiastic as well.My supply stores are charity shops and car-boots(garage sale).I loved this post! New follower!Thank God for Pinterest!:)


    3. I love inexpensive ideas for play based learning. I use these sorts of ideas at home and at work as a play therapist for kids with Autism, Asperger's, and ADHD.

      We have found great things on Craigslist and at Dollar Tree. I found 25 or so items for our light table at Dollar Tree one day. Target's dollar bins can also be a good place. I will look out for baskets next time I'm at the thrift store.

      Thanks for linking up to our February Play to Learn Blog Hop. We'll be hosting again the first Saturday in March (the 2nd of March). See you then!


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