Back-to-School: January Edition

close up of girl writing

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I’d like to know who started the Back-to-School sales traditions. It was smart; they started a good/helpful thing. In early August, absolutely no one can forget to buy pencils, notebooks, folders, planners, lunchboxes, pencil cases, locks and other student paraphernalia. Backpacks go on sale, special deals on computers for students reel people of all ages in, and everyone decides they need new clothes. At least first-day-back-to-school clothes. (This is true for teachers, too.)

But the sales in August have conditioned us to think that we only need to do it then, when in fact, if you have kids, you might need to do some back to school shopping, again. Right now. In January.

Allow me to paint a grade-school picture for you: on the first day of school, the students arrive flush with pencils, paper and new notebooks and folders. The pencils are kinda like lottery millions; they are generous and free with their “dollars” flinging them all over, to anyone and everyone (all but the most discerning and careful of students). Most teachers could easily collect 10 pencils from their floors at the end of every period. They rarely have to loan pencils because there are always more. The wise teacher squirrels these away for the lean days of January and February, not to mention April. In May, there is an utter famine of writing utensils. But in the sunny days of plenty—August—the paper is flowing, the notebooks are new, and the folders are not yet turned to Swiss cheese by multiple pencil-stabbings and thousand-times-retraced doodles.

But now it’s January.

Your student had dropped, chewed, snapped, loaned, or otherwise lost 95% or all of her pencils. Any student who is an exception is hounded by all the others for loans. Teachers, in spite of all their squirreled stores, not to mention what they’ve bought with their personal money, find themselves loaning pencils. Every. Hour. Pencils they never see again. Every. Day. To kids who lose them in between classes. No child has any paper left; if they do, it lasts them two weeks into the semester. Lined paper has to come from somewhere. Computer chargers are broken, actively dissassembled, or lost. Binders and folders are requiring Duct Tape on their spines (which most teachers have). If there are still things like glue sticks, they’ve lost their lids. Some kids ask every day for everything. Some kids will never ask for supplies. They’ll simply do nothing until they’re noticed. Just in time for winter flu, sneezes and other such loveliness, the teachers are dipping into the dangerously low stash of tissues and sanitary wipes for their classrooms. By March, if the classrooms have anything to blow noses on, they’ll have a roll of toilet paper on a shelf somewhere. So, sneezing kiddos have to be sent to the bathroom…lose classroom time…etc.

So this January, may I offer you a little Back-to-School Shopping List? Believe me, it’s necessary.

  • 2 packs of pencils
  • 1 pack of lead (if necessary)
  • 1 pack of erasers
  • 2 new lined notebooks
  • 2 pack glue sticks
  • 3 boxes of tissues
  • 2 pack of Clorox wipes
  • Send an email to teachers; they might make a few suggestions as well.

If this looks just like the list you fulfilled back in August, you’re not wrong. That is frustrating for some parents. But if it helps, think of it as grocery shopping; you’re just covering their needs for the longer, harder haul from January to May (or June, in some cases.) Students spend seven hours every day at school; that’s the equivalent of 52.5 entire days by the end of the school year. They need equipment for all that time. No teacher can meet the needs of 100+ kiddos for 52.5 whole days from either their small classroom allowance or their personal savings. So perhaps it makes more sense for some families to make these things stocking-stuffers or Christmas gifts rather than yet another shopping trip post-Christmas. Maybe these can be requests from aunts and uncles at the holidays. Maybe you can start a tradition of a school-supplies gift-card to make it more fun.

Whatever you do though, if you send your student back to school in January with a fresh store of supplies, they will be more prepared, less stressed, and your teachers will bless the ground you walk on.

close up photography of colored pencils

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