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Making the Most of the Yard Sale Season

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While the older children enjoy their Montessori summer school experience, the little guy and I spend our Friday mornings tracking down yard sales.  In our area, it is common for neighborhoods to host community sales which are my favorite since I can park in one spot and walk from sale to sale.

It can be easy to overlook the usefulness of yard sales when constructing a Montessori environment.  Chances are you are never going to stumble across a pink tower or box of golden beads.  However, there are some key things I always look for and can generally find to some degree on every outing.  The trick is to understand what to look for.  Often the things I get most excited about aren't the goods that thrill the average yard sale attendee.

General Work Setup
What would a Montessori classroom be without baskets, trays, bins and other items for setting up works?  Not only do I spot these items at every outing, I often spot them at every house I visit.  I find my biggest challenge is deciding what to purchase, given the overabundance of options.  Always keep in mind that these items must be manageable for a child.  Trays and baskets should be light and appropriately sized.  While I use a few baskets with handles in the classroom, I find that those without fixed, upright handles are the most versatile.  
Baskets I purchased from a recent yard sale outing.  I paid $1 for all four.  The circular one was hand woven in Ethiopia.

I will never fail to be amazed at the books I find at yard sales.  You will frequently find me sitting on the ground pouring over a box of children's books.  I've found everything from children's classics to readers and photo encyclopedias.  Most books are typically in remarkable conditions as well.  I always have to look carefully for books because I frequently find them stuffed in a box in a forgotten corner, banished from the goods deemed more exciting.
My lastest discoveries.  I must credit my neighbor, which is where I  found a number of these books during the community yard sale in my neighborhood.

Practical Life Supplies
Kitchen supplies are another category of items easily found at most yard sales.  Granted, these are generally not child sized but often there are some tools that are universal.  A garlic press is fun for squeezing water out of sponge.  Turkey basters are wonderful for water transfers.  This is where you can get creative and use your imagination as to how various gadgets could be used for isolating fine motor skills.  In the event that something doesn't work out like you hoped, you didn't pay much for it.  I still hope to stumble across a hand powered egg beater myself.  I did purchase a real silver spoon last year so the children could practice polishing it.

Another thing to be on the lookout for in the practical life area is small bowls for holding transfer materials.  You can never have too many little containers!  

Cultural Oddities
Resist the temptation to bypass the knickknack table.  I've been surprised at the number of gorgeous hand crafted items I found from various cultures mixed in with ordinary decorative items.  A few of my finds include hand painted metal trays from England, hand carved wooden bowls from Spain and a miniature glass pitcher that was hand blown in Romania.  I am always looking for more items to place in our continent boxes or to simply add diversity on the shelves.    

Child sized furniture and shelving are relatively common finds during yard sale season.  Since these are larger purchases I recommend having a general idea of what you need ahead of time.  If you are in need of shelves, keep measurements of the intended area with you.  I also recommend carrying a tape measure to confirm a good fit.  One of my favorite tricks was re-purposing an old end table.  All I had to do was cut a hole out in the top and drop in a dish pan.  I had a fabulous sensory table for less than $5.  

Our new-to-us table and chairs.  This ranks as one of the best find I've made for the classroom so far. 

Gross Motor
I wholeheartedly agree with Montessori's assessment of a child's need for movement.  Gross motor develop is important.  I have setup an indoor gross motor area in addition to the standard outdoor fun and it has been critical on days that are too wet or cold to go outside.  I have come across a number of fun options such as climbers, slides, tunnels, bounce houses, rocking horses, ride-ons, scooters and mini trampolines.  An inflatable pool makes a fantastic ball pit and swings can be hung indoors.  Anything that encourages movement is fair game.

And last, but not least, don't forget to look for ways to store all of the fabulous stuff you are purchasing.  Tackle boxes and hardware organizers are great for organizing small items such as extra beads for math works.  Any type of caddy, organizer or drawer system can be useful.  Much like furniture, this is going to depend on what your specific needs are.  I suggest taking a quick peek at your school area, however you define it, each time you plan to shop yard sales so your storage and organizational needs are fresh in your mind.  And of course, focus on the problem because the perfect solution you stumble across may be something you never imagined.

I hope everyone has a fantastic yard-sale season.  I'd love to hear about your best finds so leave a comment.  I'll continue to chronicle my Friday yard sale adventures on the Grace and Green Pastures Facebook Page.
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