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Early years on a budget: Free, found and frugal!

date May 25, 2022Vikkie Murray

Budget is always a topic for debate within early years settings! Money makes the world go around, but sometimes it can make us feel like we are being brought to a sudden halt.  However, there are so many ways to provide good high-quality teaching and resourcing for your setting on a sensible budget – if you follow the 3F’s: Free, Found and Frugal!

Free resources

1. Natural objects and loose parts

Sticks can be used for SO many things – building, counting, bundling, writing with, painting, whittling, leaf kebabs! Stones, pebbles, shells, pinecones, leaves, petals… There are so many beautiful natural loose parts that you can collect with the children and all for free!

pegs, bottle tops, nuts, plastic pots, cardboard or bubble wrap
2. Household packaging

Aka BOXES! You can make out of and hold just about anything in a box! Egg boxes are great – they are set out in arrays for counting, and sorting, you can number them, paint them, put shapes or pictures in them to match… they have so many uses! The same goes for plastic bottles, pots and tubs, spice jars/tubs, recognisable branded boxes and tubs from your home kitchen.

3. Ask and you may receive…

Ask your children’s parents and local community and you will be surprised what they may be able to offer. In your entrance way you could make a wishing tree and hang leaves from it with simple household object requests that parents may have lying spare at home – cups, kitchenware, ribbons, bangles, fabric.  I asked on my local Facebook page and now get regular gifts from our kind postal worker! If you don’t ask, you will never know!

Vikki murray image free play
Image Source: Little Acorns Childminding, Banbury Facebook

Found resources

1. Raid the kitchen cupboards!

You can use cornflour for so many things – oobleck/gloop, pavement paint (cornflour, water and food colouring), play bases.  The same is true of flour which can make a good play base, playdough, salt dough or even moon sand! You can find some fab recipes online! Spice painting can be a really good sensory experience as can adding citrus fruits or cucumber into sensory, water or kitchen play!

BONUS! Get creative using dandelions with your children – view Vikkie’s fun activities.

loose parts play and kitchen objects by vikkie murray
Image source: Little Acorns Childminding, Banbury Facebook
2. Charity shops/ car boots/ community selling sites/ online market places

Bargains can be found everywhere! One man’s trash is another’s treasure! It is always worth rummaging around in sale baskets and at car boots for hidden treasures – especially household and real-world items! I find that the bargain bins and odd toy bric-a-brac can be a great place to pick up loose parts and character figurines!

3. Scrap stores and local businesses

Scrap stores are a brilliant place to find all kinds of usual items, big or small! Fabric, wooden cut-offs, loose parts, even cable reels! Local businesses (and businesses such as B&Q) often have odd and spare bits that they will offer you for free or low cost such as wooden cut-offs, drainpipes, carpet samples, tubes, cable reels, flooring boards and many more items that you can repurpose!

4. Get creative

Have a go at making some resources of your own. Create animals from egg boxes, insects from pebbles or buses from boxes. You might surprise yourself with what you can create!

Vikki Murray childminding images
Image source: Little Acorns Childminding, Banbury Facebook

Frugal resources

Being frugal does not mean being stingy or buying cheap (because if you buy cheap, you can end up buying twice!), it means buying SMART! When considering a purchase of a resource (or an investment piece, as I call them!) ask yourself some questions about it:

  • Why do we need this resource now?
  • Why this specific resource?
  • What will it add to our enabling environment?
  • How will it benefit the children’s learning?
  • Can I think of 3 different ways this can be used in the setting or by the children?

If you can answer all these questions, then plan for it, save for it, and buy it! High-quality resourcing is an investment: for your setting, your children and yourself.

However, never forget that the greatest resource your setting and children have cannot be bought in a catalogue… your greatest resource is YOU! Invest time, invest passion and invest love into your practice and you will be giving your children the most valuable resources of all.


About the author

Photo of Vikkie Murray Kinderly Ambassador

Vikkie Murray has worked in education for over 15 years – as an qualified early years teacher, SENDCo, early years specialist teacher for a national daycare company and most recently as an ‘Outstanding’ registered childminder. Vikkie is a Kinderly Ambassador and is a passionate advocate for child-led learning.

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