Hi! My name is Jennifer and I love props. I mean, I really, really love props. I will try/use just about anything in my music classroom IF it will elicit a musical response. I have about every puppet under the sun. I have probably every kind of bean bag made for children: different shapes, different weights, different textures, cloths, fillings (rocks, rice, plastic pellets) - you name it, I have it. In fact, if I'm being honest, there are times I walk through the dollar sections of certain stores just trying different products to see if they will make for a good prop. I have a problem. I know - but my problem is your gain! So what are some inexpensive ways to get your hands on props?
First, make your list and dream big. I'm a big proponent of writing my wishes down, no matter how outlandish they may seem. When I came to my school nine years ago, I inherited a program in decline with very little in the room. I made a list that included African drums, new Orff instruments, computers, among a million other things. Within 3 years, I had it all. So write it down. All of it. Then check out sites like DonorsChoose.org. I've had several projects funded by total strangers. Check out other grant opportunities too. Meemic Insurance (Michigan/Wisconsin) offer grant cycles three times a year to teachers. Talk to your PTA and share with them your wishlist. They may not be able to do everyone thing at once, but they may be able to do a few things at a time!
If you're a Music Learning Theory practitioner, most of your props will be used to elicit resting tone responses. The prop of choice is usually the bean bag. If your school doesn't have them - make them! I purchased a bunch of discounted scrap material and made my own. You can also ask parents for donations too! (The advantage to doing that is your "sewing parents" identify themselves!) Purchase a bag or two of aquarium rocks for filler and you're good to go. My first set I sewed by hand. My second set I found a parent to sew them for me. And if you do have a little money for bean bags, I highly recommend Bear Paw Creek bean bags. You can get plain ones or textured ones (great for special education students). You can purchase them directly from the company, or through West Music.
Love me some scarves! They're great for movement and resting tone responses but super expensive. If you can't afford them right off the bat, talk to your PE teacher. They almost always have "juggling scarves" laying around that they use once a year. The thing I love about the PE teacher's scarves is that they are small and hemmed. They're a manageable size for little hands and they are hemmed to prevent fraying and tears. I purchase mine from PE catalogs, which are always a bit cheaper than the music catalogs. Search for juggling scarves.
Other inexpensive props include a resting tone ball, streamers, and die-cut shapes made from foam. The resting tone ball can be purchased at any toy section (Target) and sometimes if you are lucky - your local Dollar Store! Make sure to wash YOUR hands after every use!
As for streamers, there are so many great online tutorials on how to make your own streamers. I lucked into these from discountschoolsupply.com years ago. At the time, they sold them for $1 a piece. I'm pretty sure I bought 4 dozen and they've held up wonderfully. I love these particular ones because of the clothe handle!
As much as I love my bean bags, I sometimes feel the need for more seasonal props. A great way to accommodate for the different seasons is to use your Ellison Die-Cut machine. Instead of using colored paper, try the flat foam sheets you can buy in any craft section. They don't tear easily and because they have a little weight, they move differently than paper. As you can see, I have them for multiple seasons. Very inexpensive way to get more props for your money.
Lastly, look around your speciality stores. A friend of mine mentioned she saw a shooting star at a children's boutique. It's made out of a silky material, so it flows beautifully and inside the star is a little bouncy ball. It has enough weight to throw across the room, but is light enough not to hurt if it bumps a child.
What are your favorite go-to props in your room? What budget saving props have your created for your own students? Share your ideas below! I'd love to hear what you use!