Countdown to middle school – school supplies



Middle school hasn’t officially started yet, but it isn’t too early for new experiences. This weekend we’re going shopping for school supplies.. M’s elementary school supplied the basics – the only things parents were asked to contribute were tennis balls (for the chairs, to protect the floors) and kleenex. So we’ve never had a mother-child bonding moment over purchasing pens and notebooks.

As I parent, I liked the way M’s  elementary school approached the issue of school supplies.,  Each child was asked to bring in $20.00, which was pooled and used to buy supplies for all the classes.  The students all had access to the necessary supplies, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay.  By purchasing in bulk, the school got a better price than an individual parent. Sharing was a given, as there was no sense of ownership over the crayons, etc. Plus, there was much less waste. Instead of sending the leftover supplies home with each child at the end of the year,and possibly having them thrown out, the surplus is stored until the next year. I can recall friends complaining about much they spent on new supplies ever year, as many of the teachers discouraged the students from recycling supplies from year to year.  So what if Joey has a red duotang for Math, instead of green? Would it be so terrible to re-use one from the previous year and slap a new label on it? Admittedly, M’s notebooks start looking pretty beat up after a few weeks, so there isn’t too much left of them by the end of the school year. But unless they’re totally ripped, wouldn’t it make sense to use a notebook or a binder for a couple to years?

A few years ago, the school board came up with a standardized list of basic supplies. The idea is a good one – parents and students know from Day 1 what they need. Since the list is voluntary, parents don’t need to feel compelled to purchase any or all of the items on the list. However, I expect that unless the school explicitly tells parents that they don’t need to provide school supplies , most will do their utmost to ensure that their child has the basics.

While the  list may be voluntary, M’s school’s website indicated that the students are expected to supply their own pencils and notebooks. Since M always does better with advance preparation and I like to be organized, I checked out the list to figure out what he needed.

I admit to being a bit intimidated by the list at first. For one thing, it’s long – 16 items and in many cases, students need several of the same item. When I first looked at the list, I saw dollar signs in my head. We can certainly afford to buy everything on the list, but I’m inherently frugal. I have no problem buying M a good pair of shoes to wear to school, but spending $50 to $75 on stuff that is by its very nature disposable, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Plus, knowing M, he’ll lose stuff. I guess that’s why they have Dollar Stores.

As I looked at the list more closely, I found it quite confusing. For example, students in grades 4-8 need “12 pencils.” Why 12? Surely M doesn’t need that many pencils for the first day? He can only use one at a time. Do they have to be the same? What happens if he only has 11?

Another item that stumped me was “2 erasers (preferably white).” Don’t each of the pencils have an eraser on top? And what makes a white eraser superior to a pink one? Was there a study that I missed? Maybe specifying white erasers is an attempt to discourage the kids from bringing in fancy erasers, in different colours and shapes, since they rarely ever work properly.

I get that M needs a ruler, coloured pencils and coloured markers. But “1 pair of blunt scissors”? Everyone knows you can’t even cut properly with those puppies. It’s like trying to cut an ice cube with a butter knife. I get that it’s a list for grade 4 to 8, but surely by grade 7, the kids have enough hand-to-eye coordination to manage “real” scissors? Plus, the blunt ones are tiny and at all not comfortable for bigger hands.

Apparently M also needs “2 packages of 3-hole lined refill paper”, “6 duotangs”, “6 lined notebooks”, and “3 binders” (plus dividers). Presumably he needs one for every subject. Does he really have 13 different learning activities? Maybe if you included gym and lunch? And isn’t 13 an unlucky number? M’s Learning Plan specifies that he should use a computer as much as possible for his written work, so how much of this big mound of paper will he actually use during the year? Plus, the more stuff M has, the more likely he is to lose it at the bottom of his locker or moving from class-to-class. It seems a bit excessive to me, not to mention a lot of trees. Even if we buy paper products made from recycled materials, there’s the issue of the carbon footprint of the production process. By supplying our children with this much stuff, what are we teaching them about managing our resources in a sustainable manner? I’m pretty sure the kids learn about recycling and taking care of nature in school. But looking at this list, there seems to be a disconnect somewhere.

The middle school’s web site sensibly advises parents not to worry about sending their child to school on the first day with everything on the list (good thing, because they would each need a wheelbarrow, just to carry it all).  The various teachers will apparently be sending more information home next week on what the students need for each class. While it’s helpful to know that M and I don’t have to spend a long time at the store, running up and down the isles, trying to find everything, it does mean we’ve got a second trip ahead of us. Since we’ll already know the lay-out of the store, it may be easier to find things. But there’s also a greater likelihood that they’ll have run out of some items. We’ve got construction paper somewhere in the basement. Maybe I can re-cover duotangs so M has the right colour. Or run a stack of computer paper that’s only printed on one side through a three-hole punch?

Maybe I’ll suggest to M that he and his dad go out for more supplies. Why should I have all the fun?


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