Friday, September 13, 2013

Christmas in September: Shopping for school supplies

Every year, my mother and I would make two pilgrimages to K-Mart: one to get my school lunch box for the first day of school. Then, the afternoon after the first day, we would return and get my school supplies.

We didn't have a prefabricated list, so pretty much the shopping session involved me asking for whatever I wanted and my mother giving in, because she could never deny me anything 'educational' even if was a pen that wrote in purple glitter.

I feel sorry for kids today for a number of reasons and the enforced lack of creativity regarding their school supplies is one of them. Today, the school districts send out lists that demand complete uniformity.  Just to see what parents have to face, I did a random Google and came up with this list. 

If you click on the link, I am sure you will have the same reaction as me. An atlas?  Why in heaven's name are children being required to purchase an paper atlas? A plastic shoe box?  Composition books in mandated colors of red, blue, green, and yellow?

Clearly the kids today don't know they are missing out on....

The Awesomest School Supplies of Yesteryear

1. Fuzzy green paper

Image credit: Pacific Pediatric

I learned how to print on paper like this: I guess I also learned cursive, but I haven't written in script in years, other than to sign my name.  I wonder if that is a kind of illiteracy? The paper was always very soft and they gave us thick red pencils with points that sank deeply into the paper, often piecing it straight through...I got straight Us in penmanship in kindergarten.

2. Trapper Keepers (and other character notebooks and folders)

Image credit: Flickr
Pretty much the way to distinguish which parents cared about their kids or not: did your parents buy you an expensive, flimsy Trapper Keeper and assorted notebooks and folders with your favorite cartoon characters on the covers because they loved you or did they condemn you to social suicide by getting you a cheap, sturdy plain binder and a serviceable five-subject spiral notebook?

3. Stickers

Stickers were currency--puffy stickers, stinky scratch-and-sniff stickers, glittery heart stickers...even the slightly lamer stickers teachers gave out for the holidays that you had to lick and press to make stick.

Image credit
You could buy friendship and popularity by trading stickers. As an adult I can't and sometimes that makes me a little sad.

4. Glitter

Image credit: Chica and Joe

Every now and then, I still find a little bit of glitter in the corner of a drawer of my home.  And I haven't used glitter since I was ten.  Back in the 80s, we'd just spackle on glue and put glitter on top of it and shake it off, meaning that our art would shed sparkles all over like a sheepdog. Honorable mention to less messy puffy paint, which could be used to decorate a t-shirt to give 'texture.'

5.  Magic markers that smelled like food

Image credit: Independent Living
I loved these, even the flavors that you weren't supposed to like: black (licorice) and yellow (very tart lemon). I'm sure I lost at least a few brain cells sniffing all of those chemicals.

6. Pencil grips

Image credit: Sensory Corner
Completely useless and probably actually inhibited rather than enhanced my ability to write, but my they were brightly-colored and were fun to trade.

7.  Pencil boxes and cases

Image credit: Flickr

Bought to theoretically bring order to the chaos of my book bag but really just to lord over the other kids how I had the coolest one.

8. Erasers

Image credit: Flickr

Erasers don't really erase, merely smudge whatever you write into an incomprehensible blob.  Besides, actually using them would interfere with their potential to be traded: better to leave the mistakes 'as is' than lose a part of Vanity Smurf's head or the end of your glittery rainbow.
Image credit: Hello Giggles

9. Pencil 'toppers'

Image credit: Before It's News
If you survived the 80s, you made one of these and drove at least one teacher insane as you twirled it again and again and again in class....

10.  Construction paper

Being handed construction paper as a kid made everyone salivate like Pavlov's dog: it meant that no work of any consequence would be done for the rest of the day, even if the activity was ostensibly educational, like making a poster about water conservation or a handprint Thanksgiving turkey.

Looking back, I have to say that none of these were really 'necessities' or helped me learn academic subjects but some of them taught me social skills and how sometimes what is supposed to be easy or play actually ends up being more work. 


  1. Those supply lists the schools send out baffle me. Evidently, schools provide nothing now? There was a news story just the other day about a 5th grader who was sent home with a note saying that the package of 10 Bic pens his mother had purchased was insufficient as the list had clearly specified that he was required to bring a package of 12 Bic pens. When I was a kid, we'd buy a couple of Pee-Chees, a package of filler paper, and that was pretty much it. The pen you took to school was whatever pen you found lying around the house before school that day.

    1. Yes! I've heard stories like that and they seem insane. A couple of my teachers required us to use black ink for certain things or not to use erasable pen for others (a 'hip' new school supply, then). But that was it. The school supply requirements seem more to function as a 'reading test' for mothers than to have actual use. Except for the requirements like sandwich bags and wet wipes. Seriously? I guess schools do expect students to not only bring their own supplies but to stock the classroom.

  2. Yeah, that list is pretty ridiculous. I'm not sure what's going on around here.. but I wouldn't be surprised if it was something similar.
    They have phased cursive out of the curriculum for kids here, they better hope finger print authorization is a thing before their kids are required to sign their names.
    My mom probably liked the back to school shopping more than I ever did, and not for the obvious reasons, she just loves that stuff. I definitely had Ninja Turtle erasers, and new pencil crayons every year, but the new mechanical pencil was probably my favourite.

    1. They phased cursive out of the curriculum? How is that even possible--like you said, don't people have to sign their names? But then again, I've had to give so many electronic 'signatures' online so maybe it isn't so incomprehensible.

      I would always end up breaking the mechanical pencils (hangs head in shame).

      Out of curiosity, I Googled some Canadian-named cities and 'school supply list' and came up with none, so it could be that once again you guys are saner up there.

    2. Yeah, they did. Ridiculous right? My friend who is a grade 5 teacher refuses to abide by it though, and will continue to teach it. And that is the concern, that kids now will not be able to sign their names, it was all over the news during the summer, but since school has started I haven't heard anything about it. In a few years kids aren't going to be able to function without a keyboard.

      I try not to use any paper at work (I hate printing things) so I don't have a mechanical pencil, but I'm kind of getting nostalgic for one now :).

      They might be better at hiding it and/or part of a classes internal sites, I'll ask my friend and see what she says.

    3. It is weird too because certain languages (Russian anyway) ONLY have cursive script when written, no print (I took a semester of Russian before dropping it because I needed to have a life in college). I would think that some cognitive and manual skills might also be 'lost' as well as the ability to write in script entirely.

      Although, like you I tend to use computers for EVERYTHING and rarely write. I even prefer reading on the computer...

  3. i love the garfield and smurf.. my old time favourite collections.