As predictable as my kids needing to pee after I already tucked them in, it’s that time of year when first-time parents of soon-to-be kindergarteners start to question aloud on social media, “WTH is up with the school supply situation? These are communal supplies? My kid doesn’t get to keep her own Shopkins folders? Why so many plastic baggies??”

I WAS ONCE ONE OF YOU.

In 2013 my oldest started kindergarten at our local public school, and I was dismayed that my 5 year old wouldn’t get to use the special Skylanders folders and pencils we picked out together in a flurry of excitement about starting school. It was a special moment for us. It was a big (small) deal.

Back when I was in school, all the supplies we bought were ours to keep. We proudly walked in with a backpack full of folders, binders, notebooks that reflected our personalities and fav. TV show du jour. That’s what I was expecting.

But listen, times have changed, and it’s going to be okay.

I quickly learned the benefits of communal supplies for young kids, and why it was best to keep the Skylanders folders and pencils at home. It had exactly zero negative affects on my son and his ability to learn.

Still, I get that there are questions and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and out of the loop before you send your first kid off to school, so I reached out to a few friends who are or have been elementary school teachers to ask them for some answers.

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As a teacher, how do you feel about communal supplies for elementary students? How does this help you?

I can’t get my own three children to keep up with their belongings at home, so when my evaluation is based on the success of 25 students, it’s important that I do everything in my power to set them up for success and avoid the distraction of 8,000 school supplies. Also, many students don’t have a desk to store all of their belongings. Most of my classrooms were set up with tables that provided no space for storage.Lisa Felthous

Communal supplies are so much easier for the teacher and class. This way things can be replaced easily without there being any difference in supplies.  When I move students around to work in different groups or different projects, they don’t have to take supplies with them. Everyone has the same things (which is really important to the kids in the younger grades).Kristina Grum

Based on your experience, are students bothered by sharing supplies?

I taught first and third grade and no student ever minded sharing supplies. A lot of kids will tell you their parents mind, though. Students will tell their teachers EVERYTHING. I always talked about how as a classroom we work as a team and we need to share supplies. We work together. – Grum

In 11 years of education, I’ve not once had a child show stress over sharing supplies with their classmates. As a matter of fact, I’ve always approached it from the perspective of “everyone contributes to the class as a whole and we take when we need.” It’s “ours,” not “mine.” – Felthous

What do you wish parents knew about what you need in terms of school supplies?

We run out of Kleenex and cleaning wipes before December. We always try and prepare but the flu hits times ten. We want to keep the kids from getting sick so we clean our rooms 3 and 4 times a day. – Candice Kenderick

I wish parents understood that all of the extra supplies go home at the end of the year. When we run out of tissues by Thanksgiving and if our pleading for backups from home fail, then we pay for them out of our own pocket. – Felthous

As a music and drama teacher, I had to get all my supplies because we were never invited to contribute our requests to the general lists, and we’re usually not even in the supply budget because apparently kids don’t need pencils or tissues for our classes. Lots of our own money spent, lots of time staying on top of Staples deals. – Jenna Di’Pinto

Why SO many pencils and specific colored folders?

Pencils: Because a 5 year old at a pencil sharpener is like my grandmother at the penny slots in Vegas. They’ll stay there all day until the pennies (pencil) runs out. They get lost, accidentally thrown away, taken home, taken by their neighbor, taken by their imaginary friend, broken in half just because….the list goes on and on. Folders: Each color folder is usually assigned a purpose. For instance, all of the red folders are the “take home folder.” The green folder might be the math folder. So, when the teacher says, “take out your math folder” we aren’t spending learning time waiting for the entire class to sift through 87 folders to find the right one. – Felthous

You would not believe me if I told you what little boys do with pencils. ::horror face emoji:: – Kenderick

And all those Ziplock baggies you ask for?

Ziplock bags keep small flashcards, words for Word Walls, number sentences, and a million other things. It’s the easiest way for each kid to be handed supplies and to collect them again. And the zippered kind is much easier for small hands than the other kind. – Grum

Teachers make their own learning centers/stations/Daily 5 activities, whathaveyou. The bags are used to hold all of the items needed to keep them organized. They are also used for take-home readers or to send poopy pants home. Many uses! – Felthous

What if a parent can’t afford what’s asked for?

No worries! We buy all of that stuff anyhow. I buy backpacks, lunch boxes, shoes and jackets on a regular basis. We will not think less of you or your baby. Not even a little. – Maggie Sengele

If you can’t afford it, then please don’t stress!!! PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE tell the teacher! These are the people that we WANT to help. Your teacher WILL find a way to make sure your baby has anything and everything they need to be successful. The school will make sure your child has everything, and where the school fails, the teacher will fill in. – Felthous

So you already bought a bunch of really rad, personalized stuff for your kid. What now? Well, we wound up setting up an awesome homework station at home. And even now, with my 2nd starting kinder this fall, I’ll still let her get some Shopkins pencils and folders if she wants them. They’ll just live at our house. And it’s possible her teacher will be okay with her using some of these at school from time to time for non-essential things. A Skylanders folder did make it’s way to Kendall’s classroom when his teacher turned it into an incentive for him.

I just know now that our kids teachers are trying so hard to do everything they can to make our kids successful this year, and the least I can do is purchase exactly what is requested on the supply list, and not make a big deal out of it. It’s not arbitrary. They have their reasons.

24 thoughts on “So Here’s The Thing About School Supplies”

  1. My oldest is entering 1st grade this year. Last year I thought “it’ll be fun going school supply shopping with her.” No, no it’s not. If your school offers to do the shopping for you for $50, let them do it.

  2. Our school has a “supply fee” that we pay. The school purchases everything in bulk and distributes it to the classrooms. Do I think my 5 year old needs 180 dollars worth of supplies each year? No. But I understand that the school as a whole benefits from this fee. Also, NOT having to go back to school shopping is awesome!

  3. I just spent over $100 on k supplies for my girl and now they’re also asking for $40 for supplies. Also there’s a note that says they’ll be asking for more halfway through the year. It just seems like a lot from each student. My biggest complaint is the request for all name brands. Crayons, Kleenex, Clorox, Elmers, etc. We use off brand at home. It seems like that would be ok for school use as well.

    1. As a first grade teacher, I can give you some answers. Crayola because 1. there are cheaper brands that don’t work as well (as well as cheaper and more expensive brands that work much better) but if you are being communal, it’s better for things to look the same, and 2. Crayola has turned into some monster wannabe monopoly and is brainwashing everyone. Their colored pencils stink, by the way. Little kids lack the finesse to keep them from breaking. Kleenex because otherwise parents get cheap and send in dollar store sandpaper tissues that hurt little noses. However, there are other soft brands that I agree would be just as good if not better. Clorox because someone in the school has decided they work better than the off brands and perhaps have a more acceptable odor, don’t have dubious chemicals? I don’t specify brand, just say no triclosan, and some of the brands that come in smell bad to the children and teachers. Elmers because sometimes there is a quality issue with off brands. Note that I know this because I don’t specify brand and have seen the best and worst of whatever gets sent in.

  4. My kid’s supplies need to be labelled with her name. This means EVERYTHING. They want individual crayons labelled. I get that, but when it comes to pencils and glue sticks, I’m a bit lost since I assume some things are communal and other things will be just hers. If it’s so important that every kid have the same stuff, why not make it cheaper by buying it all in bulk and asking us to pay a fee like the person in a previous comment said? That would be easier than going to 2 stores looking for the right brand of notebooks and fat triangular pencils.

    1. After twelve years of teaching first grade and trying out both personal and communal ways of handling supplies, I would guess that parents are being asked to label everything because 1. Sometimes parents who are quite capable of buying things (I teach at a private school)just plain DON’T. This way we know who to “remind” so that they do their share, and 2. A second after first graders drop a crayon or a glue stick onto the floor they will completely deny that it is theirs, so we end up with a huge basket of crayons, etc. that apparently don’t belong to anyone but turn into an adventure every time we do group work requiring specific colors. While I would love to cultivate community responsibility, communal supplies just seemed to foster individual irresponsibility and carelessness. I have bought little sticker dots and am going to waste even more of my summer writing mailbox numbers onto them so that when the crayons, etc. come in, I can pop the stickers on. I know the kids will peel them off, but I have to try. I won’t ask parents to label everything because that will get things off on the wrong foot.

  5. We used to have a school fee plus buy supplies. Last year they upped property taxes and that caused every single student in every elementary and middle school in our county didn’t have a school fee! It was great since its $45 for each kiddo unless they received free or reduced lunch. This year my “baby” is starting middle school. I’m curious as to how the supply thing will work out since they change classes every hour or so. I’ll find out Monday.

  6. This is so interesting–I had no idea schools were moving toward communal supplies. Seems like a pretty clever and practical solution.

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