(Family Features)--Great classrooms don't happen by accident. Teachers across the country work hard to build vibrant, energizing learning environments for their students, which often means everything from microscopes to pipe cleaners, graphic novels to oboes, class pets to field trips, and much more. As a result, teachers spend more than $1 billion from their own pockets each year on supplies.
However, parents and community members can lend a hand. Helping to offset teachers' expenses can take many forms, from working directly with your child's teacher to identify needs to participating in school-based fundraisers. Another option is sharing your assistance with a program like DonorsChoose.org, which makes it easy for any individual to address the inequity in schools, one classroom at a time.
Over the past 19 years, more than 3.8 million people have donated to classrooms through the program. Last year alone, nearly 145,000 teachers had projects funded on the site and over 255,000 classroom requests were brought to life. These requests reveal some of the key things teachers across America need for success:
Books, Books and More Books
While books may seem "old school," teachers know that a single book can change a student's life. Year after year, teachers request books more than any other resource. Many elementary school teachers ask for leveled reading books to meet their students' individual needs. Others want to diversify their libraries with books that reflect their students' identities. "The Hate U Give" and "Wonder" are among the most popular books requested this year, and e-readers have become a popular way to expand libraries beyond what the classroom bookshelf can hold.
Flexible Seating and Classroom Furniture
Many teachers credit flexible seating with transforming the classroom learning experience. Rather than rigid desks, students choose from comfy chairs, bouncy balls, bean bags or wobble stools, all designed to let students get those wiggles out so they can better focus on their work.
Because of rapidly evolving technology, 65 percent of children now entering primary school will hold jobs that don't currently exist. Resources like laptops and tablets help students learn at their own pace and practice 21st century skills like coding. For example, coding robots and 3D printers are becoming some of the most popular items requested in high schools.
Back to the Basics
Many teachers simply need basic supplies: paper, pencils and tissues top the list. Last year, teachers requested enough pens and pencils to write the complete works of William Shakespeare more than 2,000 times.
Another popular request is "hygiene closets," which allow teachers to provide students facing poverty with free toiletries to take home such as deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as laundry supplies and clean undergarments.
An Appreciation for the Arts
There are plenty of extracurricular activities at nearly every school that require care and compassion from the community. Drama teams, for example, require supplies to create music, perform plays, and more. Donations often allow students to explore their artistic abilities while learning how to create sets, write their own scenes, use instruments, and more while simultaneously building their management and teamwork skills.
Not all learning must take place in a classroom. In fact, teachers across the country often take aim at new ways to engage students, such as integrating practical life into the daily curriculum through an outdoor learning environment like a community vegetable garden. By requesting composters, rain barrels, seeds, gardening tools, and more, educators can take their classrooms outside to help make the planet healthier while students learn how to be healthier themselves. It also gives students an opportunity to give back to their community by donating food to local families in need.