What supplies does my child need for school? I heard this question over and over the other evening during Meet the Teacher night at my school. It’s a legitimate question. School is starting next week, and needless to say, parents want their kids to be prepared. They are ready to head off to the mega-discount store or the office supply store or the drug store to do some serious damage.
They are bracing themselves for the cost of all those new notebooks and colored pencils and glue sticks and dry erase markers. They know what’s coming and they want to get it over with. I hear them. I’m a parent too.
That’s why I don’t have a long list to hand them. That’s why I don’t require size “x” notebooks and brand “y” crayons. In fact I don’t require those items at all. For most of my career I taught in a high poverty school where we were forbidden from asking parents to supply anything for their children. Anything. I learned how to take what little budget I had and make it stretch. Yes, I spent my own money. Yes, I gathered freebies. Yes, I shopped the back to school sales like a fiend. But my students had everything they needed and their parents never had to give it a second thought.
I’m in a different situation now, and most of my families are ready, willing, and able to outfit their kids with brand new items each time a new school year rolls around. I’m happy that those kids are being raised in homes where back to school items are considered a necessity rather than a luxury. The thing is, most of it isn’t actually necessary.
From my years of collecting, I still have a fairly decent stash of scissors, pencils, correcting pens, paper, and rulers. Last year I received tons of cleaning wipes, so we’re good with those. Our PTA reimburses us for some of our supplies, so I was able to get some nice new name plates and some bulletin board items, as well as notebooks and folders. The PTA also gifts us with various items throughout the year, which is wonderful. So far they have passed out white board markers and new electric pencil sharpeners. I also have a good supply of colored pencils, markers, and crayons, but most of the kids bring their own anyway. They also bring a pencil pouch of some sort, which is great for organization, but not necessary. I’ll give them a ziploc bag if they don’t have a pouch. The only thing they really need is a backpack for taking their items to and from school.
Most parents are relieved to hear that they don’t have to go on a shopping trip. Many go anyway and donate the items to the classroom for general use. There are always generous folks who bring in tissues and hand sanitizer and wipes and give freely of their time and talents. We are blessed with abundance. I want the children to understand this. I want them to know that while we have much, we don’t truly need most of it in order to learn.
These are the real back to school supplies that I would love each child to bring each day.
1. A strong sense of self. I see too many children who lack confidence, and others who are overly sure of themselves without really understanding who they are or what their true talents are.
2. A well fed body. We feed kids at school, both breakfast and lunch. If you are unable to provide good food for your child please take advantage of our food services program. Also, please make sure that your elementary schooler isn’t bringing sugary drinks and chips to school for her breakfast or Hot Cheetos and Oreos for his lunch.
3. A rested and exercised body. Too often kids are tired in school because they don’t go to bed. Please create and enforce a reasonable bedtime. If your child isn’t sleeping well think about unplugging him, checking what she’s eating and drinking, and making sure that you are all getting some exercise. Children in particular need to MOVE!
4. Knowledge that someone at home cares. Kids need to know that you not only care about them, but about what they’re doing and how they’re progressing. They need to know that you’ll be proud of them when they do well and you’ll be concerned about them when they struggle. They also need to know that you’ll be disappointed in them when they make poor choices.
5. Time to do what they need to do. Kids are frequently scheduled very tightly. They have scouts, music lessons, sports, religious instruction, and more. Often they are not only participating in their own activities, but sitting through siblings’ activities too. They rush around all over town and get home late. They don’t have time to study their science or complete their math homework or write their paragraph. They end up stressed out and behind. Too much is too much. I don’t give a lot of homework, but what I do give I expect to be done well. Please allow your child the ability to do that.
6. A sense of humor. Kids are funny. Life is funny. The ability to find humor in everyday life can be cultivated. Lighten up a little and let your kid do the same. Childhood is short. Yes, education is important, but so is having fun. Let’s have a good time with this learning thing, I guarantee you it will be more effective that way.
7. The ability to stick to a task. Human nature makes us want to avoid that which is difficult, hence, I am still extremely overweight. Success comes when we overcome that desire and stick to a task that we may not particularly enjoy. We have a generation of children who are being raised in a digital world, and they spend a lot of time looking at screens that give them instant feedback and constantly changing images and sounds. Many of these same kids have difficulty reading for ten minutes or writing for five minutes. If a math problem is difficult they often declare defeat within one minute. Literally. Often children get stuck, they get bored, and they get restless. They want to quit and do something else. The problem is that all of life isn’t about being entertained, and in order to be productive citizens, they will need to learn to stick to tasks and see them through. This takes practice. Lots of it.
8. A sense of empathy. Children who are able to put themselves in another’s shoes are much nicer people to be around, so in the long run this wonderful trait is not only beneficial to others, but to the child him or herself. These children are sought out, because they make others feel good, and they do it in a way that isn’t manipulative or goal oriented.
9. An understanding that everyone has something to offer. When we are able to see each person’s contribution and to understand our own strengths, we come together as a strong and productive group.
10. A love of life. Some people are dealt a difficult hand. Homes break. Parents die. People hurt you. Kids get sick. Many bad things can happen, and sadly many of my students already know this first hand. Those who have a love of life bounce back far more quickly. Instill that love of life into your child. Find and share beauty with him. Let her know how much she is loved. Spend time together. Talk to him or her. Share quiet moments and well as silly ones. Celebrate each day. What a gift that would be for your child.
So yes, parents, pack up the backpacks with the newly sharpened number two pencils and the three ring binders with the latest pop stars on them, but don’t just fill the backpacks, fill your children’s hearts and spirits too. Let them know how mighty they are and how proud you are to be their parent. Let them know how you expect them to be their best and do their best, but also let them know it’s okay if they mess up because you’ll love them anyway. Let them know that school isn’t always easy and it isn’t always fun, but it is a gift and they will come to appreciate it as they grow up. Most of all, let them know that you love them, always let them know that you love them.