A School Supply Rant

When I was a kid, one of the few things that took the sting out of going back to school every fall was getting to pick out new school supplies. Finally getting to use markers in fourth grade was the epitome of excitement until I found out they would only be used to diagram sentences.

And for my kids, this tradition of choosing a special notebook to scrawl their math work in is no different. So when we get the list of supplies, buy them, and fill and label a bag of supplies for each kid every August, I expect my kid to use what I bought.

school supplies

School supplies for my kids. Some were carefully chosen.

Every June I get a little miffed when my kids bring home what they’ve used all year and it wasn’t what I paid for. It wasn’t the special Tinkerbell notebook my daughter picked out. Some other kid got that. And look, that’s not the red folder I bought because scratched out in the tattered bottom corner is some kid’s name from the previous year.

Our school tries to encourage pooling supplies like crayons, glue, markers, and pencils. You buy it and bring it in and the teachers divvy it up for the kids. It’s a system that “works best.”

I can certainly understand that not every family can afford to buy school supplies. I’m OK with buying extras, contributing to a fund, anything. But if I splurge and spend a few extra dollars on a white three-ring binder that won’t fall apart the first month of school and Susie So-and-So gets hers from the dollar store, guess who ends up with the cheap binder and who gets my nicer one? If I put my kids’ supplies in a bag with their name on it, why don’t they end up with it? Do little elves decide who gets what? Do they run around the room and pick an item from Susie’s bag and put it on Johnny’s desk? Would Johnny like a Tinkerbell notebook? It’s like those Christmas swaps. You spend the $10 limit on a gift and end up with the gift someone grabbed from her yard sale bin, where it should have stayed.

As for the pooling, for half of kindergarten my son had only orange, brown, and gold crayons. I’m certain I bought him an entire box with a rainbow of colors. Why could he only draw muddy pictures? I volunteer in the classrooms. Pencils are never sharpened and are strewn across the floor. Glue sticks are always empty. The kids don’t care about those supplies because they aren’t theirs. But their scissors are labeled with their names, and I’ve seen kids panic when they misplace those for more than twenty seconds. So doesn’t keeping up with their own things make them take care of them better?

Kids can’t take ownership and responsibility if they aren’t required to keep up with their own things. When I was in school, we had our own bins filled with our own supplies. We had to keep things neat and in control. We learned organization. A pooling system doesn’t encourage that kind of responsibility. I’m sure it’s supposed to encourage sharing, but kids can share their own supplies. I’ve seen that in action.

Next week we take in our bags of brand-new supplies, ready for someone else’s child to get. I hope they like the notebooks my kids spent an hour picking out.



Filed under About Mom

34 responses to “A School Supply Rant

  1. That is sad!! Our school does pool some stuff…crayons and pencils but not the folders! Thank god! My daughter would be so disappointed if she didn’t have HER unicorn folder! I remember as a kid my mom always bought plain colored folders. The kids whose parents forgot to buy folders or couldn’t afford them got to go pick them out of the teacher’s drawer. I remember they got the best folders…I was so envious of their Strawberry Shortcake and Critter Sitters folders!!! I wished my mom forgot too!!!

  2. I hate this too! Like you said the fun of back to school shopping was picking out the trapper keeper that had our favorite character on it, picking out the folder with the teen heartthrob and so on. Now, trapper keepers are not allowed at our school, pooling supplies is all the rave and I am buying 4 reams of copy paper per child per class because the school will no longer supply teachers with it, and no character folders/spiral notebooks are allowed. Come On!!!! I get so irritated over back to school shopping these days lol. Love the post!

    • We’ve had one teacher who was nice enough to let my kid keep the “special notebook” they picked out. I still don’t know what happened to my daughter’s Tinkerbell notebook. They don’t say you can’t have that stuff or we wouldn’t buy it. But I do tell my kids every year that they are welcome to choose that item, but there is a big chance they won’t end up with it. I can’t control where it ends up once it’s in the classroom. They’re OK with that. I just find it a little annoying. 😉

  3. EmpoweredToday

    I’m so glad I read this! I’m not at that stage in my daughters education, but just as she is headed for her first day of preschool next month I’ve tailored all her items-from embroidered back pack to iron on and stick on labels for everything else. I imagine when she gets to primary school I’ll be just as possessive! I guess I should prepare myself early!!! Geesh!

    • Every school is different, so you never know. I don’t know if our school has had trouble in the past that has led to this, but I know of quite a few others that do it.

  4. That is one of the most bizzare things I have ever heard! I can see buying a few extra things for a “supply pool” – but what you buy for YOUR child should be YOUR child’s! My Pentel markers were MINE and kept in rainbow order at all times 🙂 – I would have been pissed if they were given to someone else.

    • Yeah, I kept my things neat and orderly as a kid. When I walk in a classroom and see pencils on the floor and dried up glue sticks and broken crayons, the neatnik kid in me comes out. Plus, I have to mention, I buy the washable markers for my kids. It’s worth the extra dollar or two, ya know? 😉

  5. Interesting, and sort of depressing! Our school also shares some items, but not others, like the folders. Everyone gets fresh crayons at the start of the second semester, with all the colors. Your school’s system seems a bit frustrating!

    • The kids do get fresh crayons when they need them but I don’t know when or how that works, and it’s likely my son didn’t ask in kindergarten. Who knows. I began letting him smuggle them in that year because he couldn’t color green grass.

  6. That is strange. My daughter is entering kindergarten but needs zero supplies as the teacher provides the class with whatever they need. But my son is in fourth grade and they gave us a HUGE list of stuff we need to buy for him…but he gets to actually keep it for himself it all year. I’m sure if he was inclined to share, he wouldn’t hesitate. The teacher always asks us to give extra supplies for the general class stuff if we can afford to, which is a good idea. But they don’t do the ‘pooling’ thing with everyone’s supplies you mentioned.

  7. I was curious and picked up a supply list. My daughter will be 3 in Dec and I wanted to see how times have changed. On the said list were items the parent had to buy to supply the teacher..printing paper, pens, and other items. What happened to the school supplying those items? It’s hard enough trying to buy supplies for your children these days. I asked a parent if they can use their old supplies and they told me no, the school said they had to have brand new stuff. She even pointed that out on the list. How did I miss that? It was in bold letters.

    • Yes, unfortunately due to budget cuts parents have to supply a lot of things: soap for the classrooms, tissues, hand sanitizer, hand wipes. We don’t yet have to supply things for the teachers but I’m sure one day it will happen. It’s really sad but I won’t complain because we still have things like art, music, PE, and science and technology in our budget. That’s just another issue.

      I do gripe a bit every year about having to buy new crayons. If I were supplying for my children and could replenish as needed (since I’m responsible and all), then I could use up the full gallon-size bag of crayons we have, plus the two crayon boxes full. Really. And every year I have to buy fresh crayons. It’s so wasteful. Half of those crayons came home at the end of every school year.

  8. K. Eley

    I have had the same experiences at my kids’ school. This year I bought the cheap paper folders to send in and the nice plastic ones to keep at home. After they get their folders, I’ll swap the paper ones for the expensive plastic ones.

    • Yep, I’ve done the swap too. It’s better to buy something that will last all year. If you buy it in August, it’s cheap. If you have to buy school supplies in December, you either can’t find what you need or it’s really expensive!

  9. We are school supply newbies, and they do collectively pool most of the things together, but she did stress that she is going to teach them to care for their supplies, and while the supply list asked for 10-12 glue sticks, she said we would most likely get eight of those back, because she focuses a lot on not being wasteful. Im not sure about folders and notebooks, but if he doesn’t come home with the ones he picked out, then I will just be buying plain ones next year! I agree that its fun for them to get to pick stuff that they will enjoy using, but if they don’t get to keep it, there isn’t a point to it! We shall see!

    • The first time it happened, the kids were disappointed. Since then, they’re fine. But I think the younger kids are the ones who need to have that special item they picked out. It’s hard enough to go to school. Let them look at the notebook they think is funny or makes them smile.

  10. NANCY

    I know this is terrible, but I had a teacher friend who needed to thin out her stash and asked me “shop” for school supplies out of her left overs from the previous years. It made me wonder if she ever really taught with any supplies. It was crazy how much stuff she had. I know this can’t be the norm, right?!?

    • Oh, that’s terrible! I do think teachers recycle folders and the like. But why ask us to buy more the next year?

      • It gets better when they get to highschool! They get a little list from each teacher of specific items and the kids keep up with them. So much better! Something for you to look forward to!

  11. lisa

    As always I’m amazed by your memory. I can’t remember a single lunchbox or book bag I had in school. But I do agree about the pooling. My first visit to my daughter’s kindergarten class last year and saw in her crayon box those cheapo crayons not the Crayola that I bought her. Who buys their kids those waxy things anyway?

  12. Reblogged this on Domesticated and commented:
    Mine isn’t old enough for school supplies yet, but I would NOT be impressed if his supplies were pooled. Like you, I donate to his daycare, and I would have no issue with doing that once he got into kindergarten as well. You are SOO right; I remember shopping for the brand new supplies when I was a kid, and that was the most exciting part of going back to school in the fall–it’s not cool that they take it away.

    • Thanks for the reblog. It’s bad enough we have to walk up and down the aisles twenty times to look at all the notebooks and other school supplies. There’s a bit of time put into these choices. 😉

  13. This past June was our first go at this and like you I was quite surprised to find that Baby Girl brought items home that weren’t what I sent her with. I was a bit disappointed. So, this year, I went cheap on the items that were returned and yes, I’ll admit, I even went cheap on the crayons. Most of the coloring I’ve seen her do has been during homework when illustrating sentences, so we’ll keep the Crayolas here at home.

  14. sj

    Oh, UGH! This is completely ridiculous! If you buy supplies for your children, they should stay with your children. We used to have drives at the beginning of each school year where people could donate folders and markers/crayons/pens/pencils/whatever else, but nothing like this.

  15. in our school, half the supplies are pooled and there are asteriks next to supplies to be labeled specifically for your own kid. there’s a lot of waste. regardless, my kids will inevitably loose what’s theirs or someone else’s by year’s end. so it’s lose lose over here.

  16. I agree with you on the sense of responsibility and ownership leading to the kids taking better care of their supplies. Cody’s first grade supply list included a box with lid in which, I assume, he will be storing his markers, crayons and other various school type things. I hope that is the case and it is not all pooled together.

  17. I’ve never heard of this system and would feel the same way you do. No question. Our school asks each parent to pay a “supplies charge” and the school buys all the supplies our kids will need. I hate not getting to buy school supplies (so much fun for me), but I like their process better than the one you describe. Three crayons all year? I’m bugged for you!

  18. I am reading this and it makes me sad.My daughter is a kindrgarten teacher and I can tell you she spends a LOT of her own money to supply her little kids with school supplies.Her goal is to always make sure every kid has what they need and she does it with a smile on her face.Everyone in her classroom is responsible for their own folders and she teaches responsibility.At the beginning of the school year she spends a lot of money buying supplies because they are cheaper and then when the kids need them she has them.Any teacher that holds back supplies or doesn’t use what their family sends in with their child should be ashamed.

    • I’m not sure that supplies get held back, but definitely mixed up. I do know how much money teachers spend on their classes during the year. And with what they get paid, it has to hurt their wallets. We’ve had teachers who have been very generous with giving to the kids as far as gift cards at Christmas, parties, things they don’t need to do. But I can’t say I understand the school supply system!

  19. tabpaige

    I think its ridiculous how much we need to get considering they don’t end up using it.

  20. That is so unfair! Maybe some teachers will read this and try to be more sensitive to those who obviously took some care to pick out their supplies!

  21. Oh wow that would totally piss me off. Is there a way you can opt out of it, or ask the teachers not to do that? Maybe items that you want your kid to use exclusively can be marked with their name, and anything else without names can go into the pool.

    I suppose it’s because it’s hard to keep track of whose is whose, but they should also do a better job of keeping things neat and not strewn across the floor!

  22. elje

    Whoever in the school system thinks that pooling supplies brings responsibility is a fool. Especially for kids they take good care when its theirs otherwise its a- he did she did thing and that item will become a neglected orphan.
    The first year I got these nice plastic folders without knowing the pooling thing. I once marked my kids names on scissors only and the teacher decided to put it in a pool of supplies. I also see so many get away with not supplying anything(its not an income factor but a mentality factor I am talking) sso whoever gives the school supplies is like blind donation. I prefer the teacher ask me an open donation when she thinks the supply is not enough.
    Now I dont care much for the brand and the paper and plastic folders because the teachers dont care who get what.

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