Creating Learning Experiences from Dollar Store Treasures

Submitted by Michelle Gilbert

Is it just me, or is walking into the dollar store a bit like teacher nirvana?  I love spending time walking up and down the aisles and dreaming about the possible ways to use both traditional and unconventional items for learning purposes.  On one recent trip, I discovered a tiny green trash can that really caught my attention.  I had to chuckle when the woman next to me commented, “How impractical!  Who would use such a small trash can?”  In my mind, I was thinking, “Oooo!  That would be a wonderful number munching snake or a shape sorter for toddler hands!  Or maybe, I could add a face and it could be a prop for ‘The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.’”  I put it in my cart without a specific plan, just knowing the right inspiration would hit.  After a little reflection, I decided to go with a letter catching frog!

I started by designing eyes.  I couldn’t decide which style I liked better, so you will see a couple of options shown.

Next, I cut out the eyes and mounted them to green paper.  I didn’t use a pattern for the green part, I just glued on the eyes, then trimmed around them, leaving about ½ inch at the bottom.  I laminated my pieces for durability, but clear adhesive paper works well, too.

After I trimmed the excess lamination film from the eyes, I mounted them to the flap part of the mini trash can.  I used clear packing tape to attach my eyes because I wanted to be able to remove them (you never know when the trash can might need to be turned into something else fabulous), but you could also use low melt hot glue if you want them to stay on permanently.  

For the tongue, I laminated a 1.5 x 8.5 strip of red paper.  I fan-folded mine to give it a little more character.  Next, I attached one end of the paper to the inside rim of the trash can lid.  I used clear tape to attach the tongue, as well, but you could also use low-melt hot glue or the adhesive of your choice.  On the opposite end of the tongue, I attached a self-adhesive Velcro dot, so the frog would be ready to catch flies!

Now that the frog was complete, I turned my attention to the flies.  I decided to make my frog a letter eating fella, but yours could eat shapes, colors, numbers, etc.  I had some leftover alphabet stickers from another project (I believe I originally found them at Michael’s craft store) and they were the perfect size for my flies.  If you don’t have stickers, you could also use alphabet stamps or just write the letters on with a marker.  I put one letter on each fly and laminated them for durability.

Finally, I added Velcro to the back of each fly.  Here’s a bonus tip for you: for small pieces like the flies, a half of a Velcro dot is usually plenty, but it also means I don’t always use the hook and loop sides of the Velcro equally.  To balance this, I use any extra “hook” (the scratchy side) pieces of Velcro on the back of felt shapes to help them stick better when used on a flannel board!  With the Velcro in place, my frog was now ready to catch flies.  Ribbit!

This letter munching frog will help young children develop a sense of alphabet knowledge in a fun, hands-on way.  Alphabet knowledge is one of the critical skills research tells us help prepare children for future success as readers and writers.  If you would like more information about early literacy skills, this website is a wealth of research and resources: