6 Ways to Get Cheap or Free Materials for Your Makerspace or STEM Lab
One of the biggest struggles we hear from teachers wanting to implement STEM or a makerspace is the cost of materials.
We asked members of our Facebook Group, Elementary STEM Teachers Club, to share their budget friendly tips and tricks for keeping their STEM supplies stocked.
The following are the top 6 ways to get cheap or free materials for your makerspace or STEM Lab.
1.) Ask for Donations
It takes a village to run a STEM program! Before you reach into your own pocket, check in with your school community and local businesses to see what resources they have available.
Send a letter home to families at the beginning of the year requesting items such as recyclables, art supplies, and new or used building materials such as Legos. Ask other teachers and staff members to bring in items as well.
Check in with local businesses to see if they are willing to partner with you. Many businesses have budgeted funds for supporting schools and other organizations. Grocery stores and shoe stores are also great places to ask for cardboard boxes.
2.) Yard Sales
Another place to shop for inexpensive STEM materials is at yard sales. Be on the lookout for gently used building materials such as Legos, Duplos, marble runs, wood blocks (Jenga), Lincoln Logs, and K’NEX. These items are expensive brand new, but if you find them used they are often very reasonably priced.
3.) The Dollar Store
A pack of popsicle sticks at the craft store can cost around $3. That adds up when you are purchasing for an entire classroom, and it definitely adds up when you are purchasing for an entire school! Fortunately, many craft supplies can be purchased at the dollar store.
Items to grab at the dollar store include popsicle sticks, Play-Doh, toothpicks, pool noodles, straws, plastic silverware, and cups.
4.) Recycling Center
Many recycling centers allow teachers to take materials for free or for a small fee. Places like these vary by location so ask around or do a Google search to see what places are in your area and find out what their policies are.
5.) Social Media
Social media can be a huge help when you are tracking down free and inexpensive STEM materials. Search for local buy and sell teacher Facebook groups for materials. You can also post on your personal page to request specific donations from friends and family.
6.) Donors Choose
If you are wanting an expensive item for your classroom such as robots or an iPad, another option is Donors Choose. Unfortunately, there are specific criteria you have to meet in order to post a project so make sure you qualify first. Also, not all schools are supportive of their teachers using the platform, so be sure you are familiar with your school rules.
Running a STEM program takes a village, but it shouldn’t cost you a fortune. Keep your makerspace or STEM lab well stocked by utilizing these 6 budget friendly tips.
Want to learn more about how to collect and organize makerspace supplies?
We have an entire module on this topic in our course, Meaningful Makerspace.
Meaningful Makerspace is a self-paced course complete with video trainings, tools, and resources! Each video walks you through one aspect of a meaningful makerspace and gives you concrete action steps and templates to help you build a meaningful place for students to create.