Mary, the “mom”
It’s that time again…time for back-to-school shopping. I don’t mean the new outfits my daughters just have to have. No, I mean the school supplies. It’s not so bad in our high school, but the amount of supplies required at the middle school is blowing me away this year.
I had a supply list for my fourth grader and I figured my other daughter, as a 13-year-old, eighth-grader, could decide how she wanted to organize herself and select the appropriate materials. Which she did…and quite well, in my opinion. (One binder for her morning classes, one binder for afternoon classes and a separate small binder for French.) Then, a few days later, the letter arrives indicating the eighth grader’s homeroom assignment and a list of required supplies. It includes 8 ½ inches of binder! (That’s three – 2-inch binders, one – 1 ½ inch binder and one – 1-inch binder.) In addition, she needs a three subject notebook and a marble composition notebook. I guess she’s going to be doing a lot of writing this year! Of course, there are many other things on the list including index cards, post-its, mechanical pencils, pens, crayons! and more.
Besides the issue of expense (this stuff really adds up!), and, besides the issue of wasted paper (how many years do they come home in June with three pages used in that marble composition book?), there’s the practical issue of how does a 5’ 2 1/2” (can’t forget the 1/2″!), 90 pound girl carry around 8 ½” of binder?
Is the supply list this big in your schools? Do you always follow the list? Or, do you just say “this is crazy” and buy what makes sense?
Rach, the “teen”
I hate binders. The last time I used one was in middle school when all my teachers demanded that we have separate binders for every class (and they took off points if you didn’t have one). I think middle schoolers should be able to make their own choices about their supplies. And most middle schoolers are totally capable of doing that. But, there are those kids who stuff everything in their backpacks. The kids that don’t care about the papers or the kids who just don’t know how to organize stuff. Those kids are incredibly common in middle and high school, and it makes sense that teachers want to correct that.
When it comes to carrying all that stuff around, there is a very simple solution. Getting quality backpacks and wearing them right. Getting a real backpack (not a tote bag, or-or messenger bag), and wearing it with both straps will all of a sudden, make all that stuff you have to carry seem a lot lighter.
Here’s another hint: it’s a back-pack, not a butt-pack. Wear it on your back, not bumping around on your butt.
Brad, the “dad”
Yes, I have tried my own little rebellion against the Paper Avalanche. I’ve even contacted teachers and said, “Look, I priced this out: you’re talking $150 if I buy everything every teacher is asking for. How about this idea instead…?” And I’ve had very, very little success. Most of the teachers just look at me like I’m from Jupiter for even suggesting a change to the lesson plan. The others shrug and then have the kids do their dirty work. The poor li’l girls have both come home teary-eyed on more than one occasion, convinced they will be flunked, flunked if they don’t have EXACTLY the right three-ring two-inch double-pocket, lime-green, slip-covered binder that EVERYbody has.
And trust me, you want to have real fun, get your kid into a “project-based” school. There were times, I swear, when “project-based” seemed to mean little more than “spend another $50 on art supplies, binders, presentation boards, Styrofoam, and other stuff you thought you’d stopped buying when your kids got out of elementary-school art class.” They know me by name at Michael’s Art Supplies. I think they jack up the prices when they see me hit the parking lot.
My only line of defense: we stockpile like a son-of-a-gun. I scan the school-supply-and-stationery ads every week like a hawk hunting a bunny, and if anybody’s putting three-ring binders, notebook paper, gel-pens or pipe cleaners on sale, I am there. I’ve even been known to stop by the local stationery chain when it looms large in the windshield just to dredge through the “clearance” bin. And we’ve reserved a large chunk of closet space for inventory. We also have a standing rule: throw NO school supplies away until Dad’s had a chance to forage for re-useable (like the binder that’s broken after a week but has an inch thick of PERFECTLY USEABLE paper inside.)
Does it really save us much money, especially given the time Daddy spends harvesting staples? Probably not. But it does make me feel better – the illusion of control over one of the many leaks in the financial pipe that defines Parenting: The Teen Years.