In sharing these tips, I hope to not just give you specific ideas, but also lay out a primer on how you can look at the ordinary things around you and come up with your own extraordinary uses. The point is to be resourceful and use whatever you have (or can easily obtain) for whatever you need.
Following are some ideas I have come up with for different subjects using various everyday items.
You can use fly swatters, racquets, or anything with a handle to make masks or puppets for Reader’s Theater. I found all of these at my local dollar stores. For extreme versatility, use both sides!
Many picture books are simply the lyrics to popular children’s songs, accompanied by illustrations. Chances are you have a few of these in your classroom library. If students become bored or frustrated with reading books, let them “sing” books. Singing along to the printed lyrics of familiar songs is a great way to practice reading skills.
The number of things you can write on is endless. Write stories on wallpaper, calendars, paper plates, wrapping paper, greeting cards, etc., and donate them to the school library.
Turn an ordinary piggy bank into a “Kindergarten Memory Bank” and have students record memories all year long, to be read at graduation. Don’t forget the dates!
Learning about the weather? Make wind chimes with spoons, chopsticks, paper towel tubes, keys, or any other items that make a fun sound when knocked together. I found these collections of spoons and measuring cups right in my own kitchen.
To make bubble wands, bend pipe cleaners into shapes, or use cookie cutters or drinking straws. Try blowing bubbles inside and outside on a windy day to see how the wind affects their shape. Figure out what makes them pop. Watch them change colors, and look out for rainbows.
When teaching your students about diversity, play music from different eras, countries, and cultures. My husband is a music lover with a large, well-rounded collection, and he had no problem finding some CDs for me.
Have the children save their milk cartons from lunch to turn into houses and other buildings while learning about communities. Students can be clever at finding extraordinary uses, too: mine decided to add some grass from the Lego bin.
Take pictures with the sun! Make cyanotype photographs by placing objects on dark paper and exposing the paper to sunlight. Technically, you’re supposed to use special sunprint paper for this, but I found that even with regular construction paper, you can get some interesting results. There’s enough of an imprint to make it fun. (This method does take a few hours.)
Make anthotypes using the natural pigments from plants, flowers, and berries. Whether or not to expose them to the sun is up to you — I just did it as a painting activity. Since it’s winter and I’m in the desert, I went to the grocery store for supplies. But if you can actually pick some of your materials, even better.
Divide students into teams and give each team a touch light (from the dollar store). Pose a math question, and when a team knows the answer, they can press the light. Whoever lights up first wins the round!
Give each student a three-ring binder or spiral notebook to be used as a math sticker book journal. Provide a basket of stickers for each table. As you can see in the examples, you can do any kind of math lesson using stickers, including counting, composing, decomposing, patterns, and matching.
I hope I've fired up your imaginations and given you a new way of looking at old (regular) things. If you have any ideas of your own, I'd love to hear about them in the comments!