How Ebates Saves Me Money on Preschool Supplies


Promotion:  (Ebates is currently offering new members $10 toward their first purchase through March 31, 2107 and will reward me as well, if you use the links provided whenever you click on Ebates throughout this article).  

Most of us know the usual ways to find less expensive preschool toys and equipment:  local yard sales, thrift stores, Craig’s List, and waiting for store sales; but there is one habit I have acquired that has saved me over $600 in the last five years.  This $600 was returned to me in the form of rebates (Ebates) by check or directly deposited into my Paypal account.  This rebate was in addition to shopping for sale items AND using coupon codes for money off my purchases — I ALWAYS search for coupon codes first.

I make ALL online and some big box store purchases using Ebates, as they offer a percentage off your purchase at hundreds of retailers, including many of my favorites: Discount School Supply; Kohl’s (for great sales on Melissa & Doug toys); Walmart; Home Depot and Lowe’s; and on and on.

Ebates does this by providing a link to the store and keeps track of your purchase and rebate amount, which is sent by check or through Paypal each quarter.

Big Purchase Tip:  I often will order a large item (lawnmower, shelving, etc.) online from a retailer like Home Depot or large toy purchase (Little Tykes) from Walmart and choose to pick it up at the store, because I can get more of a discount using Ebates than I could if I just went shopping in person.

It’s so easy to use once you sign up, and there’s no hassle or commitment. I can’t imagine not using it, as every little amount adds up to savings!   Usually you just start every purchase at, search for your store, check out the coupons they may have available (I also always search for my own coupon codes first).  Also, throughout the year you can earn double rebates during special sale months around the holidays.

Time Saver:  Now there’s an Ebates  Cash Back Button, which can sit near your browser (similar to a button that Pinterest also offers).  If you are browsing online and Ebates recognizes a retailer, the button will flash to alert you to save money through Ebates.

Any questions?  Need help?  Let me know!






Themes vs. Topics

fire sheet

Using themes in early childhood education is a way to highlight a subject and provide a framework in which to organize classroom activities in all areas; including math, literacy, science, dramatic play, and more. Themes can be broad, such as Community Helpers; or narrow and focused on one type of community helper: Firefighters.   In fact, I have used the word theme as a header on this blog, because teachers are familiar with this method of subject organization.

The trouble I have with the idea of themes currently is that the focus has shifted mainly to themed worksheets or decorative elements being designed, sold, or teacher prepared.  While crafty teachers might enjoy these projects, it sets up an expectation that daycare providers or preschool teachers must include these items to have a proper “theme.”  However, firefighter coloring sheets, firefighter handwriting sheets, and firefighter counting sheets, don’t add much more to children’s understanding of the subject other than reinforcing a visual reminder of the theme.

Three years ago I switched over to using the word Topics to describe what we would be focusing on in my home-based preschool program.  I feel that using this terminology sets the stage for the books we will be reading; the displays that will be found in the science area; the songs we will sing; and most importantly, what we will be talking about and learning together.  I love when a child walks in the door on Monday and says, “What are we talking about this week?”  The children’s curiosity sets the stage for in-depth learning.

My monthly information sheet (Blog Post Coming Soon: Preschool Newsletters), lists the topics by week, yet they are often tied to a larger theme or topic.  For example, at the beginning of the month, we will talk about the topic of insects.  Each week following, we will delve into a specific insect; such as ladybugs, butterflies, and worms.  Our month-long focus will be insects, but I will not print out worksheets with cartoon insects all over them to create my theme.  Instead, there will be insects to observe with magnifying glasses: an insect bingo game to play; insect puzzles to complete; some butterfly wings in the dramatic play area; tons of books to read aloud and look through individually; and more to add layers to our topic (Coming Soon: Layering Your Lesson Plans).

Using the word topic with children introduces them to a broader concept in a concrete way.  Someday they will research topics at the library or engage in interesting topics during conversations with others. Themes, however, will help them plan a fun party with matching cake, invitations, and decorations.

Most likely, I’m not the inventor of using topics as a basis for teaching young children, but I like to thing of myself as a bit of a trailblazer by deviating from the majority and adopting a personal teaching style that works for me in my program.

I’d love to hear what you think of using topics over themes.  Please remember to be kind; we’re all here to learn from each other!



Salad Spinner Painting

spin art galaxy 2


Salad spinner painting is such a simple, yet engaging activity for young children. You don’t need any special materials or major preparation.  Children practice many important skills, and have fun while doing it!

You can tie this activity in with many different themes, depending on the colors and shapes used (Easter eggs, Valentine  hearts, 4th of July, snowflakes, etc.).  Photos on this page are from our Space and St. Patrick’s Day themes.  I wanted to tie-in color mixing the first time we tried this; which explains why we used red, blue, and yellow paint for shamrocks!  We can’t wait to try it for Earth Day using shades of greens and blues.

Supplies needed:

  • Salad spinner – Ikea has an inexpensive option that works well, but we used an older one we had on hand
  • Tempera paints or any other types you want to use up
  • Children’s Scissors
  • Card stock is best for this project (heavier/firm weight plus absorbent)  Tip:  I purchase in advance when on sale at craft stores like Michael’s or JoAnn’s.  Recycled Materials:  Old file folders can be used in place of card stock
  • or Water color paper

spin art galaxy 3

spin art galaxy









Age/Developmental Levels:

  • Beginner – Adds shape to spinner, squirts paint, spins handle
  • Intermediate – child cuts out traced shape, adds to spinner, squirts paint, spins handle
  • Advanced – Child traces and cuts out own shapes , adds to spinner, squirts paint, spins handle

Skills/Learning Goals:

  • Fine/Gross Motor – large arm movements – squeezing paints, turning spinner handle, tracing and cutting out shapes
  • Science:  Awareness/Experimentation with centrifugal force and color mixing (if desired)

Theme tie-ins (endless):

  • Shamrocks, St. Patrick’s Day
  • Space, Solar System, Galaxy, Planets
  • Earth Day
  • Snowflakes, Winter
  • Hearts, Valentine’s Day
  • Easter, Easter Eggs

spin art shamrock2



spin art shamrock

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Paint Scrapers – Rainbow Colors


Supplies needed:

  • Patterned Paint Scrapers – We loved our sets of four (4) variations of paint scrapers because they were well-made, durable, and washable to be used over and over again.  Each colored scraper was a different pattern, so it was easy for the children to pick and choose.  Frugal Tip:  Parents or teachers of small groups could make their own using cardboard and scissors (patterned or not); but for larger groups or the non handy/crafty teachers like me, these are well worth the purchase.
  • Tempera paints work best for this activity (or small acrylic craft paint bottles for smaller hands)
  • Water color paper is my first choice, as it is absorbent and will highlight the colors
  • Card stock will also work, but create an alternate effect of much of the paint sitting and drying on the surface, adding texture
  •  Tip:  I purchase card stock in advance when on sale at craft stores like Michael’s or JoAnn’s 


Age/Developmental Levels:

  • Beginner– squirts paint, experiments with paint scrapers (limit number of paint colors (3 maximum) and offer only one type of scraper at first (you can offer more later if child continues interest).  For younger children, use smaller bottles of paint, as they tend to love the squeezing part and end up with too much paint to use effectively.
  • Intermediate– squirts paint, experiments with paint scrapers (offer more paint colors and scraper options)
  • Advanced– squirts paint, experiments with variety of paint scrapers, types of paper, and many paint colors


Skills/Learning Goals:

  • Fine Motor – squeezing paints, manipulating paint scrapers for different results
  • Science:  Color mixing (using specific colors for desired results), Absorbency of different paper materials
  • Preschool Math – experimenting with patterns

Theme tie-ins Pictured (but limitless):

  • Rainbows (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple)
  • Easter, Easter Eggs (pastel shades – we used small bottles of craft acrylic so children could squeeze their own bottles, rather than mixing our Tempera primary colors)



Best Preschool Egg Hunt


The best egg hunt for preschoolers is one that is simply fun with no fighting, complaining, or disappointments.  Ways to accomplish this perfect egg hunt?

  1. Limit the amount of eggs per child
  2. Each child searches for an assigned color
  3. Do not fill the eggs
  4. Let children turn in their eggs for a treat bag

I’ve tried all types of egg hunts, this has been my favorite for four year straight. The children are excited, happy, and content! What more can you ask for?

Why does it work so well?

  1.  Assigned colors (chosen or randomly picked) give children a mission and a focus.  It eliminates that overwhelming feeling of having to grab every  egg they see.
  2. Limiting the number (we do 10) allows children to search just long enough that it doesn’t become boring or exhausting.  It also encourages them to stop every so often to count how many eggs they have and how many they still need to find.  (As a teacher, this is one of my favorite parts — counting practice that is initiated by  children).
  3. Empty eggs – egg finding is the goal, not stopping to check each egg and being excited/disappointed with contents or the fact that you are not finding the same types of fillings as the other children.  Empty eggs are also fun to hide again for each other once all 10 have been found.  In my experience, the children invent their own games to play with the empty eggs and often ask to take their eggs home.
  4. When all the eggs have been found (and outside play time is over), we head indoors to get our identical treat bags.  I usually fill them with 10 identical items — one for each egg found. (Another Option:  The first year I numbered all the eggs and then gave them a number of specific treats based on the number, so they could practice number identification and one-to-one correspondence.  For example, #1 was one tiny notebook, #2 was two sharpened pencils, #3 was three small pages of stickers, and so on, but I found it difficult to continue each year.)


More tips for a perfect egg hunt:

  1.  Have a basket of each color to match the eggs the children will find.
  2.  Start the hunt with one egg in each basket to help children remember which color they are searching for.
  3. Remind children of rules before hunting:  find only your color; do not pick up other colors; only help a friend if he/she wants help (remind them that we all like to find our own eggs)
  4. Once a few children have found their ten, ask the remaining children if they would like their friends help them find their eggs.  This provides help for younger children or those becoming frustrated.
  5. Recycled Materials Tip:  The same baskets (and most of the eggs) can be used each year.  A few children have asked to take home their eggs the last two years, so a few color sets had to be replaced.  Plastic eggs are readily available on sale after Easter, so why not?

Treat bag ideas (non-edible):

  • Wikki Stix (always a favorite or other crafty obect – individual play dough, set of crayons/markers)
  • writing object (sharpened pencils are my favorite – can be used right away)
  • small spiral notebook
  • cute figure of some type (duck, chick, animal)
  • cute holiday socks (inexpensive and useful to families)
  • themed stickers
  • reusable bag or container to hold items to bring home
  • card game or book
  • one parent-approved snack, such as organic fruit gummies or  crackers
  • one tiny chocolate bunny (because to me that says Easter)!