Mind bogglng choices! What is best for a 5 year old and why all this stuff??
The unique smell of school supplies – the sharp crayons, crisp paper, colorful notebooks and cute accessories are just one of the benefits of being a teacher. I am also a single parent on a budget and can’t understand why all this stuff is needed – especially for a Kindergartener!
It’s late July and the aisles of our local stores are filled with “Back to School” items. The newspaper contains sales flyers, the clothing stores have moved their swimsuits out and the backpacked mannequins in and the radio is saying summer is over. Most kids are bugging their parents to “buy my school supplies NOW!!” Don’t give in – WAIT – read this first.
Being a teacher of 20 years, 13 of which are kindergarten years, I know some of these supplies are not needed or even used. There are stacks of unopened ziplocs and piles of anti-bacterial soap in my cabinets. I also know that NOTHING is needed the first day. Any teacher worth their salt will have supplies available for their students. We don’t even use anything those first few days, we are too busy explaining the rules, showing where the bathroom is and getting them on the right bus home.
So, what is actually needed? In large stores, the supply lists are close by the school section. You can also download the supply lists from school websites. These lists are usually NOT made just by me, but are a collaboration from many teachers. What is needed and used in my class might not be in the classroom next to me. It’s always best to wait and ask your child’s teacher what they would like their students to have. Don’t pass up those great sales, however. Scan the flyers for crayons (any brand) on sale for 25 cents and glue sticks for a dime. Crayons are always needed in kindergarten – buy double what’s on the list when they are 25 cents before the store marks them up to two dollars a package. Keep them at home for later or consider donating extra to the classroom (yes, I even stock up at that price!). Glue sticks are also my favorite kindergarten adhesive – they are clean and convenient. We go through them daily – caps get lost and they dry out, someone turns up the knob and the ends fall off and they also roll under cabinets.
As a teacher, here is what parents need to know for when they drop them off at school in mid-August:
1. Don’t feel pressured to buy everything at once. Supply lists contain items which are needed the ENTIRE year. Ask your teacher what is needed the first few weeks and send those items. Most classrooms don’t have the storage space to house everything or the teacher time to sort and put away. Remember to look for great deals on basic items – crayons, glue sticks, pencils, paper, notebooks and markers will always be needed. The sales go fast and these things can certainly be used at home for projects and homework. Our house has a ‘school supply cabinet’ containing items we’ve bought for incredible prices.
Most classrooms need those spiral notebooks which are used as writing journals. You can pick these up for a steal – a package of four for 50 cents. Don’t buy the decorated ones with the princess cover – they are distracting and cause jealously. Teachers also use those cheap paper folders (again, not decorated) to store portfolio items or individual information – you can always get those for a penny or even a dime. One item used in my classroom are plastic crayon boxes to store your child’s basic desktop supplies. Some teachers have a communal supply on each table with crayons, scissors and pencils. Be sure to ask before you purchase this item, teachers have their own way of handling day to day supplies.
2. Before buying the optional items, ASK your teacher what they need. Kindergarten has certainly changed since we were tots, and it has become an important, academic year, but I still do fun crafts and art activities. Over 20 years of teaching, my cabinets contain every color of yarn, dozens of bottles of glitter, scads of tissues, rolls of wax paper, ziplocs of every size and stockpiles of pencils. What we need every year, for instance, are plastic spoons (for parties and snacks), dry erase markers, paper plates, napkins, cups, wiggle eyes and hot glue sticks. There are unique projects that every teacher does where they need cotton balls, ribbon or Q-tips. Yes, teachers LOVE it when parents supply those extras. In my classroom, we have a ‘treasure board’ of items we will need for the year and I really appreciate parents purchasing!
3. Brand names don’t matter (usually). Most school supplies can be bought at the dollar store and are just as effective as any other brand. However, the Fiscars scissors (blunt tip please) are definately worth the extra money. These scissors last for years and are comfortable for little fingers. I always give my students their unused desk supplies back and you can use these scissors again. Crayons are crayons are crayons. Don’t worry about having every color of the rainbow – the 24 box is just fine. In our class, we don’t use the large size more than a week, but some teachers require them, so ask first, they are more expensive.
Resist the urge (and the crying) to buy those neon, embellished pencils. They cause fights and tears when lost or broken. Save those for home. We have had bad luck with the less expensive yellow pencils. They do not sharpen well and break very easily. We really like the presharpened ones – saves time and very useful in a pinch! Make sure they are ‘Number 2’ pencils, it does matter for those bubble-in-the-answer tests (yes, in kindergarten). For small fingers, the larger pencils and the triangle shaped ones are great (but more expensive). Pencil grips can work for some children, but ask your teacher first, these items are usually played with more than used. In our class, the children can have small sharpeners in their crayon box, but some teachers loath them.
4. Please don’t label supplies. No kidding, I’ve had parents label each, individual crayon (3 boxes of them) with permanent marker. It’s certainly understandable – the COST and the worry of your child losing their items. However, if one child has this treatment, they ALL do. Watching little Rosie search for her turquoise crayon, with HER name on it, wastes valuable school time and makes her a ball of stress. Most kindergarten classrooms have a ‘communal supply’ mentality – tissues are used on bookcases throughout the room, crayons and pencils are put in tabletop buckets, paper towels are used to wash everything and hand soap is at the sink for everyone to use. Labeling personal items is always necessary at school: lunchboxes, jackets, napping towels and backpacks. If a teacher wants something labeled, they will label it! Things I always label are scissors, writing journals, crayon boxes and things I will definately return if children move and when the year ends.
Shopping for school supplies is a fun family activity and something children definately enjoy and relish. Teachers look forward to the bags of supplies entering the classroom – the smell and the symbol of a new school year starting. As a teacher, I have had the issue of supplies becoming a sore spot for parents. Once, I returned a large, designer box filled with special pencils, monogrammed tissues and flourescent paint back to the excited parent. The art kit simply could not fit in the child’s cubbie and would cause too much envy among the other students, I explained. The parent wrote a very angry letter to the principal (who backed me up, of course) and seemed to have a chip on her shoulder all year about this. Teachers are looking out for your child’s best interests and the harmony of the classroom when we make decisions. So, my advice to you, to save money, frustration, and to start the year off right: ASK!