Thrift stores are a Montessori parent's best friend. If you're just getting started making your home a Montessori-inspired environment, do consider a trip to the thrift store. At almost any thrift store, you'll find a ton of stuff to make Montessori works with.
So you're set to go to the thrift store but a little unsure of what it is exactly you're looking for? No problem. Here's a top ten list of my favorite things to look for at thrift stores when I go Montessori hunting.
1. Large trays
Look for thick, sturdy ones in solid colors. Check to see how it feels when you pick it up. Both trays with tall and short sides are nice. A tray with taller sides (like the large red one in the photo) will be perfect for a scrubbing work where water may be spilled, a sand tray, or painting.
2. Small trays
Look for solid colors and a smooth surface. These will get a lot of use a lot of use in the practical life area. For example, a small tray could be just right for holding a sponge in a tiny bowl and a drying cloth.
3. Sorting trays
Any tray with different compartments will work for sorting colors, shapes, textures, etc. Look for ice cube trays and serving platters.
An assortment of pitchers is nice. Look for a pitcher that fits a child's hand. Large plastic water pitchers can be fun for large pouring (think baby/toddler age for dumping and filling) while the small ceramic pitchers are really appealing to the 2 1/2 + age group. Glass ones break easily, and you are going for variety, so get several.
Oh, how I do love baskets! A pretty basket can make any work (even legos) classy. Look for baskets with handles on the sides or a very short handle on the top. Many times I've made the mistake of buying beautiful baskets that don't fit on my shelves because of the handle. However, if you see a basket that you love with a tall handle, go ahead and get it - you can snip off the handle with a wire cutter later.
Any size, any shape or material. I would go for smaller than a cereal bowl, as this size is particularly useful for transferring works.
7. Jars/Bud Vases
Any kind of jar or little vase. The jars will be useful for all kinds of little works and experiments, and the bud vases are for flower arranging.
Hmmm...what I'm talking about in this department are tiny forks, scoops, interesting spoons, olive pitters, whisks, egg beaters, egg slicers, tiny spreading knives, and TONGS. That sort of thing.
9. Kid Dishes: Cereal Bowl Size, Salad Plate Size, and Drinking Glasses
Montessori classrooms have a tradition of using glass tableware for kids. This is because eating off of them is just nicer. And by teaching children proper care, they will learn to be careful with them. I do not recommend breakable dishware for the 2 & 1/2 and under age group unless under the child is under supervision. Make sure you are always watching, because there will likely be broken dishes here and there while your child learns. What you are looking for is a glass dish that feels fairly thick, so if it does fall on the floor, it at least stands a chance. Just plan on having a whisk broom and vacuum handy, and don't sweat the small stuff.
10. Coin Purses and Pretty Bags
Not only are these fun to open and close, they make cute alternatives for baskets!
Happy Montessori Shopping!